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Writing a new chapter for MTV: Scripted shows

This undated image released by MTV shows David Janollari, MTV's head of programming. Janollari is pushing to make MTV a full-service entertainment source by supplementing its popular reality fare with a slate of scripted dramas and comedies. (AP Photo/MTV)

NEW YORK (AP) — Maybe even more than other media bosses, David Janollari has to keep a moving target in his sights.

Of course, wherever you look, the media landscape is in flux these days.

But for Janollari, MTV's head of programming, the task is further complicated by the audience his network is aiming for: Young viewers who expect to get what they want when they want it, and whose tastes are constantly changing.

To keep this crowd happy with MTV, Janollari is pushing to make it a full-service entertainment source by supplementing its popular reality fare with a slate of scripted dramas and comedies.

So far, so good.

— Earlier this month, the supernatural drama "Teen Wolf" returned for its second season of troubling transformations, forbidden love and monster attacks.

Airing Mondays at 10 p.m. EDT, "Teen Wolf" attracted more than 1.7 million viewers in its debut in that regular time slot while ranking as the day's top original cable series among the 12-to-34 demographic — up 31 percent from last year — with robust social activity from Facebook, Twitter and Get Glue to boot (more than 205,000 mentions logged so far).

— On June 28, the second season of the comedy "Awkward" continues the tale of an endearing but misunderstood 15-year-old girl who experiences high school as a social outcast.

— "The Inbetweeners" is an upcoming comedy that, based on the hit British original, will follow four high-school boys as they navigate the tricky transition from adolescence into adulthood. It's expected to premiere later this summer.

— And this fall, MTV plans to introduce "Underemployed," which tracks five kids graduating into post-collegiate life who find the outside world much different from the one they imagined from the comfort of campus.

MTV had aired scripted programming in the past, including the controversial "Skins," whose so-so ratings and advertiser defections over its depiction of teen sexuality led to its cancellation last year after just one season.

"For a number of reasons, 'Skins' didn't completely connect with our audience," Janollari says. "But what it did for us was plant our stake firmly in the scripted ground: It got people's attention on many different levels."

The network's full-scale leap into scripted series has taken hold since Janollari joined the network two years ago as head of scripted programming. It's an ongoing commitment, he declares.

"We know they watch scripted shows everywhere else," he says. "They go to the movies. They see it on other channels and online. We asked ourselves, how do we keep the audience that is watching our network here? The answer is: By offering them other genres of programming they are already watching all around the universe.

"And," he adds, "while we will never run away from our bread-and-butter, which is reality programming, you can't dabble in the scripted business. You have to be very focused and strategic."

Janollari, 49, has brought to MTV a range of programming experience and successes.

As entertainment president of The WB network, he was responsible for developing hits such as "Beauty and the Geek" and "Supernatural."

Before that, he co-founded (with Robert Greenblatt, now chairman of NBC Entertainment) The Greenblatt Janollari Studio, an independent production company whose series included "Six Feet Under" and "The Hughleys."

And prior to that, he helped develop series such as "Friends" and "The Drew Carey Show" as comedy development chief at Warner Bros. Television.

Now, at MTV, Janollari is targeting his programming skills at the 12-to-34 demo — and even more narrowly, 18-to-24 millennials — with the mission of reflecting their experiences back to them with entertainment.

It's an audience he describes as fickle and sophisticated.

"They're exposed to so much, so they're smart," he says. "They've been raised to believe that the world is their oyster, so they can have it all."

And to add to his challenge, they quickly outgrow that demo, to be replaced by a new audience to be won over.

That's the story of MTV.

"MTV has always been the go-to place where you could hide from the adult world. It was for me, when I was growing up," says Janollari. "But it's had to reinvent itself for each new generation, and that's not an easy thing to do. We've got to run on that treadmill extra fast to not only keep up but hopefully stay a beat ahead of them."

He points to the upcoming "Underemployed."

A series he describes as "a comedy mixed with drama," it has been in development for a couple of years. "Since then, you've probably read countless articles about the 'underemployed' generation. With this show, we're trying to tap into the zeitgeist of what they are worrying about, and have a little fun with it, and assure them that somehow it's all going to be OK."

It's just part of being a programmer-as-prophet, says Janollari, summing up: "What do they want today? What are they going to be thinking about tomorrow?"





EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier