While MTV is moving further into scripted territory, Tony DiSanto, its president of programming and development, says reality is still key. Here he shares some tips for hitting the right note for the channel with realscreen.
How would you describe MTV’s approach to factual programming?
Our approach is probably the same as it applies to every format. We’re always looking for what’s not on our air or, really, what’s not on other networks. We really want to be ‘disruptive’: when you’re flipping through the channels you’re forced to stop on MTV, either through a really loud concept or an execution, approach or attitude. We really like to go left when everybody else goes right.
Right now what we’re finding with reality programming is that what’s connecting more with our viewers is authenticity. [They are] shows that have a pure vision and a creator-driven voice, but you don’t really see the puppet strings and the production. So [it's] non-formatted reality and reality that is probably closer to cinéma vérité than what we’ve come to know as ‘reality’ in the last couple of years. Things like 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom and even the hands-off approach of a Jersey Shore are a little unstructured, a little raw, a little rough around the edges and they feel a little bit more authentic.
Where do you see your budgets going over the next couple of years?
What’s working for us [with reality programming] actually tends to be more cost-effective because it is more down and dirty. With the spread of prosumer cameras and edit systems we can be very cost-effective on the reality side while still getting the best vision on screen. It actually works to our benefit as well, particularly as we start branching out into scripted, animation, movies – it allows us to divert some of the funds from reality. But we’re definitely out of the big-budget reality game.
What were you especially proud of airing over the past year?
There were a few things. On the reality side 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, Jersey Shore – each one of those shows really delivered on the vision behind it and each worked differently but in the way that it was meant to work. Each one attracted a large audience. In terms of reality genre-busts, because we’re always looking to break new ground and try new things, I think My Life as Liz [a 'stylized reality' program that follows the life of high school student Liz Lee and that airs its finale tonight] is the sleeper hit of the last six months. It’s doing so well for us, and it really, for me, feels like a fresh take on the reality genre, just the way Laguna Beach was back in 2004. I think on the reality side alone I’m proud of the breadth of creative from a Jersey Shore to a 16 and Pregnant to a Buried Life – it’s great to be at a network where you can have all of those coexist.
What advice do you have for producers who would like to work with MTV?
[My] advice is: don’t come in assuming we’re looking for what’s on our air. I’m not looking for that umpteenth Jersey Shore spin-off. Come in with ideas that feel fresh, feel new, or have a layer of execution that really makes them stand out. Again, I really want to have stuff that feels like it doesn’t belong on any other network, and we also don’t like to repeat ourselves. So the advice is to really think through the idea to ensure it’s not something that either we have on our air or that seems to be following a trend that’s going on right now, because we want to be ahead of the trends.