NEW YORK (AP) — Over the years, one of the last things you’d see on the youth-obsessed MTV was a parent.
Now moms and dads aren’t unusual sights, even on the twin totems to wild behavior and its consequences — “Jersey Shore” and “Teen Mom” — that are key to the network’s latest resurgence. Many young viewers targeted by MTV have no problem with parents being an active part of their lives, even during rebellious years, and expect their presence on television.
Understanding such generational nuances is crucial to MTV, which has the brutal imperative of reinventing itself every five or six years to appeal to a new group of 12- to 24-year-olds. Their viewers eventually grow up. MTV never can.
The latest reinvention has MTV with its best ratings in five years. The third season of “Jersey Shore” was the network’s top-rated show ever, and the second season of “Teen Mom” similarly zoomed up the charts. The challenge now is figuring out how to build on that success and know when to be ready for the next reinvention.
This spring, MTV has steered in a surprisingly traditional direction.
MTV debuts a remake of the “Teen Wolf” series on June 5, brings back “Beavis and Butt-head” later this year, has its own weight loss series for teens and two “Jersey Shore” spinoffs in the works. Between recycled ideas, spinoffs and a new focus on establishing scripted series, MTV’s approach feels more like a typical broadcast network than ever before.
MTV viewers “want more from us,” said Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks Music/Films/Logo Group. “They expect more from us.”
Toffler, who has been with MTV since 1986, and newly appointed network president Stephen Friedman, at MTV since 1998, have survived its ups and downs over the years. The latest cycle began with the expiration of “Laguna Beach” and “The Hills.”
After a reasonably successful first season of the reality competition series “Paris Hilton’s Best Friend,” the second season proved disastrous.
“The audience checked out,” Friedman said. “You saw them not believing it. We found out they wanted something more honest. The manufactured reality felt phony to them.”
After all, how many BFFs can you really have, even if you’re Paris?
A couple of years ago MTV Networks acquired rights to a short reality series, “World’s Strictest Parents,” and it was put on the CMT network. MTV decided to run a few episodes, too, and was surprised at how many people watched. At the same time, MTV’s head of reality programming had seen statistics about a rise in teen pregnancies and the series “16 and Pregnant” was born in spring 2009.
“Jersey Shore” began in a completely different form, as a pilot of a competition series for VH1. It was retooled into what now exists and MTV knew just by the way people were talking about promotions for the new series that it had a potential hit.
“When you get a little bit scared,” Toffler said, “you know something might work.”