MTV is preparing to greenlight a handful of unscripted series in proven genres that are bound to take the 26-year-old cable network in directions it has never explored.
The channel is expected to order at least three new series for the summer and fall in upcoming weeks. They all mark firsts for the network while sharing a common essence with past shows that have struck chords with MTV viewers. Among them: “Room 401,” a show dealing with the paranormal from actor and “Punk’d” producer Ashton Kutcher; a look at the touring life of hip-hop powerhouses Nas and Kelis Jones entitled “Mr. and Mrs. Jones”; and “Scarred,” hosted by members of nu metal band Papa Roach and featuring content from viewers who share video of their personal horrific injury stories.
“All of these shows represent themes that have been emerging with our audience,” MTV Entertainment President Brian Graden said in an interview last week. “We don’t rely on individual hits to get us through a decade in any way, which is why we are continually looking for strong shows that appeal to our viewers and turn things over so quickly.”
The development plans come as the network is recovering from an unusual ratings dip in 2006
Last year, prime-time viewership fell 9 percent among the channel’s key demographic of adults 18 to 34 versus 2005, according to Nielsen Media Research.
However, recent additions to the programming lineup have helped MTV climb back up the charts. In the most recent cable ratings scores, MTV managed to squeak past TBS last week in prime time to take first in the demographic, averaging 495,000 viewers in the category compared to TBS’s 494,000.
Ratings have trended up for MTV since adding series such as “Rob and Big,” “The Hills,” “Juvies,” “Bam’s Unholy Reunion” and the return of “Road Rules” to the schedule. MTV recently renewed “Rob and Big” for a second season.
The upcoming series “Scarred” represents the channel’s first show featuring exclusively user-generated content. Jerry Horton, Jacoby Shaddix, Dave Buckner and Tobin Esperance of Papa Roach will host the series.
The program will provide audiences with a look at some of the most brutal-looking spills, tumbles and crashes ever seen on television, all provided by viewers. Producers of the show have been scouring Web sites in recent months in search of the best footage available for the series as it prepares to launch.
“We have never done anything like this before,” Mr. Graden said. “Video on this show is entirely homemade, and the stars of the series are unintentionally finding themselves on television for something that didn’t end so well. What people are going to see is wildly different and that’s what makes this show work.”
Putting “Scarred” on the channel’s schedule adds to MTV’s roster of series in the emerging television category that could be described as the “blood genre.” Like the network’s well-performing “Wrestling Society X” and “Bam’s Unholy Reunion,” this type of show features people regularly putting their bodies on the line either by performing insane stunts or by fighting in a ring. It provides a ratings draw throughout the cable world via shows like “Ultimate Fighting Challenge” on MTV’s sibling network Spike.
“Mr. and Mrs. Jones” is expected to follow the lives of hip-hop legend Nas Jones and his wife, R&B singer Kelis. The series will detail their lives as they prepare to go on tour in the spotlight as music industry royalty. While a number of cable channels, including MTV with “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica,” have featured celebrity couple-based reality series before, Mr. Graden said that the duo brings a fresh look to the genre.
“This is a show featuring two people whose dynamics are entirely their own,” Mr. Graden said. “He tends to be very quiet, and she knows exactly what he needs when he needs it. While other shows have focused more on the domestic side of these couples, we are taking a much stronger point of view and catching up to them when their tour is beginning. In a lot of ways, this show is closer to [MTV series] `Diary’ than anything else.”
Nas Jones first shot to fame in 1994 with his debut album “Illmatic” and followed that up with “It Was Written” in 1996 and “I Am” in 1999. He also performed on the soundtracks for a number of movies, including “The Departed” in 2006, “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” (2003) and “Big Momma’s House” (2000). He released his latest album, “Hip-Hop is Dead,” in December. Kelis Jones scored big with her 2001 album “Wanderland.” The couple were married in 2005.
The series that could end up drawing the most buzz, however, will be the Ashton Kutcher-produced “Room 401.”
Although the program will be a hidden-camera series, the show is not expected to be similar in any other way to Mr. Kutcher’s MTV hit “Punk’d.” The series will instead focus on people’s perceptions of the supernatural.
“This is a series that will challenge our existing knowledge of time and space,” Mr. Graden said. “In `Room 401,’ I really thought this show was one that clearly stood out for us. Ashton has been prolific for us in the past and brought us hits and he continues to deliver with this show.”
Mr. Kutcher first shot to producing fame with partner Jason Goldberg with “Punk’d,” scoring huge ratings on MTV. He subsequently scored a slew of deals for other reality series including The CW’s “Beauty and the Geek” and the upcoming NBC unscripted series “Wedding Crashers.”