VH1 Gets Out of the Trash TV Business
By John Mitchell Posted Apr 22nd 2010 05:00PM
In an unexpected move, VH1 is scrapping the majority of its lineup and starting from scratch. The network recently revealed the most comprehensive slate of original programming in its history, and missing are the very franchises that helped transform the one-time purveyor of music videos into a (much-watched) three-ring circus of "celebreality" and sometimes crass dating shows.
"I think it was really just part of our evolution. We're a pop culture network by definition, so we do always have to be molding and moving," Jeff Olde, executive vice president of original programming and production at VH1, tells PopEater exclusively. "We've had such a great run, and really had a blast with all those shows, but it just felt like, 'OK, what's the next thing gonna be?'"
VH1 will unveil a total of 44 original series before the end of the year. Each series is expected to fall into one of three categories: music, celebrity and "real life stories." "We're expanding the ways we tell a story so that we have more ways to reflect on what's happening in the music and pop culture that our viewers love," Olde says of the network's new direction.
Olde notes that the staff at VH1, who he feels reflect the net's audience, was largely responsible for the overhaul. "Our audience is also a lot of the people who work at the network. There's especially a lot of twentysomething women. And I swear every one of them was having a baby or they were getting married, and I thought we're missing an opportunity here ... It was like a light bulb went off, and we thought, we need to be in this place also. Because I always want the network, in addition to being this fun place to go, to feel relevant. And the challenge with our team is to pick those life moments and put them in really engaging and entertaining types of formats so they have that VH1 flavor to them."
The new shows are being developed to appeal to VH1's target audience, which it is calling "Gen Mix," a demo composed of "young adults who make up the tail-end of Generation X and the very beginning of Gen Y or the Millennials" -- that is, those ranging in age from about 25 to 34.
"It really came down to zeroing in on who our audience is, where they are in their life and what things are important to them. And we pulled some things out that felt great," Olde says. "Let's try to see if we can take our brand of storytelling and our way of connecting with culture and tap it into real life issues for our viewers. Because it just felt like it would be more substantive and yet we could still have a great time."
VH1 is also painting the change-up as a return to the network's roots -- the net's original moniker was Video Hits One -- with 40 percent of the new programming focusing on music. This includes the return of stalwart programs like 'Behind the Music' and 'Storytellers,' both of which will kickoff on June 13 with episodes featuring Christina Aguilera.
Other announced series include 'You're Cut Off,' featuring nine spoiled party girls in dire need of a reality check, 'Money Hungry,' a new take on the weight-loss competition genre in which contestants wager $10,000 of their own money, and 'Wedding Wars,' a competition-elimination series that pits eager engaged couples against one another for a dream wedding.
The network will also continue its 'Divas Live' concert series with 'VH1 and the USO Present Divas Rock The Troops,' airing in December, and is working with Queen Latifah's Flavor Unit Entertainment on a scripted film.
Noticeably absent from the lineup are signature reality shows like 'Rock of Love,' 'I Love New York,' 'Charm School' and 'Tool Academy.' "As much as they've enjoyed the 'Love' franchise, our audience was getting a little fatigued by all those manufactured reality shows," VH1 President Tom Calderone told the Hollywood Reporter. "They want more authenticity in their reality, which isn't to say that it can't be comedic and light."
Indeed, after years of indulging in programming that critics often labeled tawdry or demeaning, VH1 was forced to confront the faults in its casting process -- and really, in the type and quality of the shows it was airing -- when, in August of 2009, Ryan Jenkins, a contestant on the then-airing 'Megan Wants a Millionaire,' who was also reportedly filming the third installment of the network's 'I Love Money' series, stood accused of murdering his ex-wife in California. A week later, Jenkins was found dead of an apparent suicide in a Canadian hotel. Both series were immediately canceled.
The New York Times notes that many former VH1 executives have speculated that the "sleazy nature" of the 'Love' franchises may have turned off advertisers -- a charge the network has denied. VH1 insists the decision to revise its content was in the works long before the tragic events associated with Jenkins. "We'd already begun that process and we were already trying to reframe the lens and reset where the network was going and have a clear vision of where we wanted to go," says Olde. "So that architecture was in place quite a while back. We had a real determination last spring -- like, 'Ok, this is going great, now what's behind these stories. Let's start producing new kinds of storytelling for the network, and get our audience to start watching other kinds of shows.'"
The net is revising its "celebreality" formula, with new shows that are more purpose-driven -- like the Jessica Simpson vehicle 'The Price of Beauty.' "I want VH1 to feel like an interesting place for interesting talent to be," says Olde.
"Our doors are always open and we're always talking to celebrities, but I think they have to be interesting. You have to have a story that you want to tell," says Olde. "We're not interested in doing puff pieces. I love the message behind Jessica's show, I really do. I love that she has put herself out there in that way."
Advertisers once weary of having their products associated with VH1's content are already coming forward to admit they are relieved by the net's new direction. "A lot of their new stuff should be an easier fit," a national TV buyer, who once avoided VH1's programming, told THR.
The only question remaining is one of viewer response. The first season finale of 'I Love New York' pulled in a whopping 4.8 million viewers (then a record for the network) and the first season of 'I Love Money' helped the network lead all cable channels in the 18-34 demographic during the summer of 2008. Will the same viewers who made these shows hits tune in en masse to a new, more-adult VH1?
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