Even as he puts the final touches on a revamped lineup that will debut next month, the new MNT president says he is looking for reality and game shows and other unscripted programming for the fall.
In assembling My Network Television last spring, Fox bet that America was ready for telenovelas, primetime soap operas with a new episode every night, and more sex and action than their daytime counterparts. Heck, Fox reasoned, the rest of world is crazy for them.
Bad bet. America wasn’t ready.
MNT and the telenovelas debuted last September, but never caught on. Ratings quickly fizzled.
So, with the second round of telenovelas set to come to a quiet end on March 7, Fox has put forth over the past three weeks a new man and a new plan.
The new man is Greg Meidel, an experienced syndicated programming executive who knows his way around Hollywood. In other words, he can find watchable programming on a budget.
His new plan is to cut back the telenovelas and supplement them with a new spin on professional wrestling and movies that might appeal to the same wrestling crowd.
The first full week for the new lineup begins March 12.
On Mondays, MNT will air two hours of International Fight League’s Total Impact, in which 12 five-man teams will vie for the league’s martial arts title. The planned 22 programs will cover the action in and out of the ring.
On Tuesdays, MNT will go with two back-to-back, one-hour episodes of American Heiress. On Wednesdays, it’s two installments of Saints & Sinners. Under MNT’s original plan, episodes of the telenovelas would have appeared each night, spanning just 13 weeks.
Thursdays and Fridays are movie nights and Saturdays will repeat the Monday’s Total Impact.
In this edited interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Harry A. Jessell, Meidel makes clear that MNT is evolving and says the next iteration in the fall may feature reality and games shows and other unscripted programming.
What’s the future of the telenovela on MNT?
We are cutting back on them, but, even next fall, I’m very confident that the novella will still be on the air one night a week,
Trust me, I’ve been watching them more now that I’m here, and they’re getting better. They’re getting better every day, every week. I think our next story arc is very exciting. Just the fact that we’ve cut these down to two nights a week, two hours a night, so they play almost like a made-for-TV movie, is going to enhance their value. Viewers are going to watch them and stay with them.
The challenge that we’ve had is that the novellas have been on five days a week and the competition is good. It’s tough to get someone to commit to watching a particular show five times a week. It’s a real challenge. So, going forward, as our production values improve and the acting and promotion come together, they’ll still make a great one night of programming on the schedule.
So, it will be two nights of telenovelas through the spring and summer and then one starting with the new fall schedule.
I am leaning that direction. If we can demonstrate that we’re creating value by having them in this two-hour form, we want to continue with one novella going forward in the fall.
Is the telenovela for the fall in production yet?
Not yet, but it’s well into development. I mean it’s just a matter of saying go.
But it sounds as if the foundation for the new schedule will be the International Fight League.
The International Fight League is what we feel will become a tremendous franchise for us. We hope that is will get sampled and viewed and watched by a wide audience, but, more important, that it will become a promotional platform for the rest of the week.
I’m thinking the IFL delivers young men, and telenovelas deliver young women. How do they mesh?
The International Fight League should be the same as what you see with the WWF on the USA Network, which has a large fan base of women. The core audience of television is women and the value added here is also attracting men to our network. So, if the size of the audience just grows proportionately, we know we’re going to have a bigger platform to promote and that’s what I’m looking for.
The reason why the USA Network has been successful over the years and the reason why it brought wrestling back was because wrestling was the promotional vehicle for the rest of the week. The made-for-TV movies, in particular, were targeted directly at women and yet the promotional platform for those movies was wrestling on Monday nights.
The league is being structured in the same way that the National Football League is structured, that the NBA is structured and the National Hockey League is structured. We have 12 teams that will compete and, over the course of the 22 weeks, someone will be crowned the grand champion.
Excuse the analogy, but it’s more like the XFL in that all the teams are owned by the league. You don’t have separate owners, do you?
No. It’s all owned by one, but it’s still a team sport, and no one has ever done that in the mixed martial arts and no one has really done that in wrestling.
So, you go from the IFL to telenovelas—two back-to-back episodes of one on Tuesday and two back-to-back episodes of another on Wednesday.
Right. And, again, these are being structured and edited to play like a two-hour movie so we feel that if you’re watching it at eight o’clock there’s no reason not to stay for the nine o’clock. It’s going to be a perfect flow and the story arc will continue, but we think we can get them one night a week.
And then movies or Thursday and Friday.
Our big blockbuster movies. We call them MyMovie nights. We’re buying big, high-end branded theatrical movies that are primarily action and comedy. A lot of these or many of these will be broadcast premiers.
So far, you’ve only announced the movies for the first week of the new schedule, The Rundown and Rocky IV. Of all the movies in all the world, why those?
The Rock [the star of The Rundown] and, obviously, Rocky IV have a loyal fan base that we think would find International Fight League entertaining.
You announced that on Saturday nights that you will air an encore performance of the International Fight League. So, the movies you began showing on Saturdays are just temporary?
Yes. The recap of the novellas was not living up to our expectations so now that we’re repositioning them as two-hour events on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, there was no need for the recap.
So how solid is this? Is this the schedule through the fall at least?
This is the schedule through the fall and, if it requires a little tweaking, I’m sure we’ll do that. I think that we’ll demonstrate that we can get sampled and hopefully grow our audience base.
And what kind of numbers are you going to promise us?
I’m not promising any numbers. I just want to do better than we’ve been doing.
Well, that’s not a high bar.
I just want the arrows to point up.
Are you going to be doing anything special in terms of promoting the new schedule?
You’ll see our local affiliates, which also include 10 stations owned by Fox, have a sizeable promotional campaign that will be done on the local level.
It will be up to the stations to promote these things?
Yes. Our stations have a very favorable arrangement with us. There’s an incentive for them to promote and obviously create value for themselves in primetime.
The affiliates were pleased with the promotion you gave the telenovelas last summer. You’re telling me not to expect a repeat of that?
I don’t think you’re going to see a push. Our strategy is to spend on what’s going on the air and our station affiliates have been very supportive of that. The reason we’re putting the IFL in there is we think that expands our audience base. We will get sampled and we’ll use that as a promotional platform.
We’ve also run out and invested in these theatrical movies to use them as a promotional platform, too. We have gone back and reedited and reformatted the novelas. So, we’ve done a lot in two weeks.
And what kind of feedback are you getting from the affiliates?
The feedback has been great. They’ve been very, very supportive. Because our own company owns stations that air the programming, we feel their pain. Therefore, there’s every reason for us to move quickly and create value not only for our affiliates, but for our own company.
I know that they are encouraged that at least now there is a point man at Fox whose full-time job is making this thing work.
That truly was very important to them, and we’re here to make it happen.
So, what are you cooking up for the fall schedule? Since you’ll only be running one telenovela, you’ll need at least one night of new programming.
We are thinking about that and we have been approached by the major reality producers. Really, the best reality producers in the business have come to us because obviously we have a need and they have a need too. They need beachfront property and because we are a broadcast network we have a wider footprint than the cable networks. We reach about 95% of all U.S. homes.
We have the budget and we are looking primarily at reality and games and other kinds of non-scripted programming going forward. Now, if the right one-hour drama or half-hour comedy came across our desk, we would invest in it, but that’s not our top priority. It’s an expensive business to get in, and we’re not going in that direction as of yet.