NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The upfront season has officially begun. More than three months before the broadcast nets flaunt their new shows for advertisers in their annual mid-May ritual, MTV helped kicked off the cable upfront presentations with an event at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom yesterday.
The Viacom cable network is riding a lot of ratings momentum, having experienced its biggest ratings gain in over a decade last year -- up 16% from 2009 -- thanks to popular reality series such as "Jersey Shore" and "Teen Mom." But it's also come under fire among advertisers such as Taco Bell, Subway, Schick and General Motors for racy teen drama "Skins," which has attracted criticism for combining racy content with young viewers and actors.
MTV's slate going forward will continue mix more edgy scripted programming into its topical reality fare and a few animated shows thrown in for good measure. "Teen Wolf," a TV remake of the 1980s Michael J. Fox movie, will premiere June 5 and will aim to do for werewolves what CW's "The Vampire Diaries" does for bloodsuckers. Another new scripted show, "This Is Awkward," will tackle weighty issues such as teen suicide in a comedic light, featuring colorful dialogue like "You are the shit." Such risky elements are not lost on MTV General Manager Stephen Friedman.
"We always measure and are in constant dialogue with our advertisers about where the best fit will be," Mr. Friedman told Ad Age.
"This Is Awkward," which will premiere in the 10 p.m. time slot like all of MTV's scripted fare, is meant to be an old-fashioned teen comedy with a modern twist. "The key point for us is really diversifying our entire lineup," Mr. Friedman said. "That's key for our audience and also key for advertisers. Many of them are looking for different ways to connect and hopefully these shows will do that."
Also look for the return of Mike Judge's "Beavis & Butthead" later this year, alongside the new animated show "Good Vibes" from co-producer David Gordon Green ("Pineapple Express," "Your Highness").
Animation's resurgence on MTV is an answer to fans' requests, MTV said, for a return of its "Liquid Television," which introduced shows including "Beavis," "Ren & Stimpy" and "Daria" in the 1990s.
"Liquid Television has huge fans historically and it's primed the pump for a lot of great stuff," Mr. Freidman said. "Animation allows you to really get multilayered, nuanced comedy and fast, quick commentary on so much going on in pop culture."
"Smart and funny is the new rock and roll for this generation," he added.
Mr. Friedman and his corporate colleagues were actually absent from MTV's presentation itself last night. MTV's ratings stats, insights into its millennial audience and even its sales pitches were all delivered by talent, including opener Justin Bieber (star of Paramount Picture's "Never Say Never," opening next weekend), MTV on-air host Sway Callaway, pop star Bruno Mars and cast members from "Skins," "My Life As Liz" and, of course, "Jersey Shore."
Even "Teen Mom" star Maci Bookout appeared alongside a representative from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy to share a stat that teen pregnancies were at a 70-year low -- partly, they said, as a result of the show. "Teen Mom" and its stars' media coverage has been accused of glamorizing teen pregnancy.
Cultural milestones have gotten harder for MTV to achieve in recent years, but a renewed commitment to audience research on the ever-fickle 12-to-24 demo seems to be helping. "We say we kind of worship at the altar of our audience," Mr. Friedman said. "For us that starts with understanding them and understanding every generation is different, so therefore we continually have to reinvent ourselves to give the audience the MTV it wants."
Comcast's TV One cable channel, which aims to attract African-American viewers, also held an upfront presentation Wednesday, introducing a new tagline, "Experience Black."