MTV Gets ‘Hard,’ Goes ‘Ape’

Punxsutawney Phil may have called for six more weeks of winter, but MTV’s already thinking of where it’s heading for spring break.

Hours after the prognosticating rodent emerged from his hole in Gobblers Knob, Penn., MTV kicked off upfront season Tuesday afternoon, marking the earliest official presentation to media buyers since Oxygen showed off its wares in January 2007. While kid-targeted nets like Nickelodeon will present their new programming slates in March, most general entertainment channels don’t start showing off for clients until April.

Despite having prepped only a handful of clip-worthy new series, the network’s sales staff was looking to ride the tsunami of media attention whipped up by its latest unscripted venture, Jersey Shore. The Jan. 21 finale drew 4.83 million viewers, of whom 2.81 million were members of the 18-34 demo.

Two of the screened clips were intros to spinoff projects. Warren the Ape, an offshoot of the 2002 Fox comedy Greg the Bunny, was greenlit in September, while an earlier incarnation of the proto-Jackass import The Dudesons in America earned a brief run on MTV sibling Spike TV back in the summer of 2007.

Warren the Ape will premiere in June. The Dudesons’ 12-episode flight is in production.

Also given the green light last fall was The Hard Times of RJ Berger, a scripted comedy about a maladroit teen with a heart as big as his, um, generative organ. Starring Paul Iacono, Hard Times suggests what might happen if scientists were to merge the DNA of Kevin Arnold from The Wonder Years with that of Ray Drecker from Hung. It, too, hits the airwaves in June.

Also in the hopper is The World of Jenks, a new documentary series from 23-year-old filmmaker Andrew Jenks. The clip screened for buyers focused on Jenks’ evolving collaboration and friendship with a Brooklyn hip-hop artist who served a 10-year prison sentence before releasing his first record. Jenks debuts this summer.

MTV will show off its emo cred with If You Really Knew Me, an unscripted series about a motivational program aimed at high school students that looks to break up exclusionary social cliques. Re-imagining the 1985 John Hughes movie The Breakfast Club as a series of “teachable moments,” the show tries to break down the barriers between freaks and geeks, jocks and JDs.

While MTV kept its ad sales crew backstage, the network got a lot of mileage out of special guests like Usher and Pete Wentz. And if the network refrained from making many overt plays for client dollars, MTV did introduce one new partnership opportunity in “Your Brand. Your Band.” The initiative allows advertisers to line themselves up with emerging artists, drafting young singers and rappers to serve as brand ambassadors.

As an example of the sort of talent on offer, MTV trotted out pop-rock prodigy Just Kait, an 18-year-old singer-songwriter from Jersey with a four-song EP and 8,000 MySpace friends.   

After having endured a rough 2009, MTV appears to be back on track, as deliveries among the core 12-34 demo are up 19 percent year-to-date. The network boasts three shows that rank No. 1 among the demo in their respective time slots: Jersey Shore, Teen Mom and The Real World: D.C.

Sean Moran, executive vp, ad sales, MTVN Music & Logo Group, said there’s much more to come in 2010, so much so that the network is contemplating a second New York upfront presentation in May. While Moran didn’t furnish a specific date, he suggested that a alternatively formatted follow-up pitch could coincide with broadcast’s upfront week (May 17-21).

Related: AdweekMedia’s Upfront Microsite 2009