Susanne Daniels, MTV's just-hired president of programming, joins a channel that has seen its primetime ratings slide 31 percent this season. New series like Teen Wolf and Awkward have high viewership and buzz, but MTV is about to lose its signature hit, Jersey Shore. Daniels, who developed faves like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Felicity at The WB and later helped reinvent Lifetime, will now lead the charge to develop MTV's next generation of shows.
"I am really excited about it," says Daniels, who is married to The Office and Parks and Recreation executive producer Greg Daniels. "MTV is such a complex and meaningful brand." Daniels, who most recently has been working as a consultant at Oprah Winfrey's OWN network, doesn't officially start at MTV (where she replaces another WB vet, David Janollari) until next week.
"We have had our eye on her for a long time," Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said during a Thursday call with analysts. "She will bring with her some additional talent who will bring to bear more development in both the reality and scripted areas. So we've got a good pipeline now and this will only turbo-charge it."
Dauman added that he didn't think that MTV was "broken," and that he has "no concerns about MTV's vitality as we go forward." Daniels took a moment to chat with TV Guide Magazine about her new gig.
TV Guide Magazine: What attracted you to the job?
Susanne Daniels: When they told me the median age was around 19, I was sold right then and there. That is my favorite demo to program for.
TV Guide Magazine: With three teens at home, you've now got a built-in focus group. What do they watch?
Daniels: Glee is a show my daughter loves and you could easily see that on MTV. The Voice feels like a show that maybe should have been on MTV. And my son loves Tosh.0.
TV Guide Magazine: You hail mostly from the scripted world. What will the balance be like at MTV?
Daniels: I've definitely worked on more scripted programming over the years but I love reality TV. In terms of a balance, for me reality TV or scripted TV is about telling good stories. It's not about whether we need 50 percent of this or 50 percent of that. I don't think there's an agenda that I'm coming in just to do scripted, it's going to be who we can get into business with and what shows we feel great about.
TV Guide Magazine: You've worked with MTV in the past as a board member of the Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Daniels: One of the things I love about the MTV brand is its pro-social element. I love that they're using Jersey Shore to help raise money for the actual Jersey Shore. That is quintessential MTV. And I really think they made all the difference in Teen Mom and making that show pro-social as opposed to exploitative.
TV Guide Magazine: You've admitted that you weren't a big fan of Jersey Shore.
Daniels: But that's OK. I'm not developing shows for me. I can watch Jersey Shore and see its appeal.
TV Guide Magazine: What's the target MTV audience now? Do they still watch TV?
Daniels: It skews slightly more female than male, but just slightly. I think they're watching TV, just not necessarily on the TV set when it's being aired. My 15-year-old daughter is watching Hulu, Netflix and YouTube.
TV Guide Magazine: Is there anything from your WB or Lifetime experiences that you can apply to MTV?
Daniels: I think all of TV programming is about developing hits. When I came into Lifetime we did a brand study and it pretty much told me what I would expect the brand study to tell me about MTV, which was that there was nothing wrong with the brand. People liked Lifetime. But they just wanted new shows, new programming. It's always about refreshing and developing a new slate that will resonate with the teen audience.
TV Guide Magazine: The young female-targeted space has gotten more crowded, with networks ABC Family and The CW. Who's your key competition?
Daniels: ABC Family obviously, they've done a really nice job of taking over where The WB left off. Which was The CW's mission, but it feels like it went over to ABC Family. And obviously The CW, too. And then Fox, to the extent that they do more shows like Glee.
TV Guide Magazine: Has the new job just upped your "cool quotient" with your kids about 100 percent?
Daniels: When I told my son I was going to MTV, he said, "OK, here are some ideas for you, mom." I said, "OK, I've got a pen, I'm ready, what are they?" He said: "Attack dogs, models, free things, funny web videos." He just went on and on. It was hilarious. I told him, "It's not far off!"
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