"This is where Justin Bieber got his start," MTV's on-air personality Sway Calloway reminded the audience at the network's upfront presentation on Thursday evening.
As the TV world's broadcast presentations get closer, cable networks are upping the ante. Rather than a blowout party or a nice breakfast, Calloway emceed a show that felt like last year's Fox upfront, right down to the venue (the Beacon Theater on New York's Upper West Side).
The presentation itself ran about 90 minutes, with clips from new series including Underemployed, Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous and Catfish. Talent was in heavy attendance; alongside new roomie/co-star Jenni "JWoww" Farley, Jersey Shore's Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi took the stage in wedge heels and a very brief maternity dress to promote the pair's eponymous new show.
If there was any lingering doubt as to whether the network is in on the Jersey Shore joke, it was laid to rest during the preview of Zach Stone. The series follows a character who, in the words of lead actor Bo Burnham, "doesn't have any talent—but that doesn't have anything to do with being famous."
Zach Stone is one of two scripted comedies the network is adding to its slate this year; the other is Inbetweeners, based on a U.K. format but repurposed with U.S. characters. The network also previewed a scripted drama on the way called Underemployed, which strongly recalled HBO's Girls in subject matter, if not in execution.
MTV made serious use of its access to rock stars: the pop-rock trio, fun., played its ubiquitous single "We Are Young" during the presentation, with Alicia Keys closing the night with a mini-set that included a never-before-performed song and her hit "Streets of New York." The after party at the Roseland Ballroom included "molecular mixologists" who served treats like margarita-flavored marshmallows and rum-and-coke pop rocks, as well as photo booths where starstruck ad buyers could pose with network stars.