Before 'Scream': MTV's Scripted Drama Casualties
It has been a long and pothole-ridden road to “Scream,” which premiered on MTV tonight (June 30).
While the one-time music video channel has produced reality shows that have been both genre-defining and ratings-winning (including but not limited too “The Real World” and “Jersey Shore”), its history with scripted dramas makes the Philadelphia Phillies current win-loss record look impressive.
MTV has been trying to break the scripted drama code for more than 20 years, with very little to show for it. Personal crises, sexual mischief, groundbreaking depictions of same-sex relationships and other elements that have worked for reality TV have rarely struck gold with the network’s audiences when an actual script supervisor involved.
“Awkward” and “Teen Wolf” -- a pair of shows that premiered in 2011 -- are still on the air, and have garnered mostly positive reviews to go with small but devoted followings. (“Awkward” will begin airing its fifth and final season in late August). But those are the exceptions. Can “Scream” be another?
Below, take a look back at the dusty graveyard of MTV scripted dramas— a few of them forgotten gems— and the reasons why many of them may have been doomed from the get go.
“Dead at 21” (1994)
A rare example of a ticking-clock sci-fi that wasn't based on an existing movie, this one-and-done series starred 90’s hunk Jack Noseworthy as a dude with brain implants that made him super smart but destined to die before he can legally purchase a Bud Ice. The self absorption of the half-hour series film noir-lite plot seemed tailor made for early generation MTV acolytes. It was still difficult for them to accept serial thrills from the same place you went to immerse yourself in the latest Guns N’ Roses video.
“Live Through This” (2000)
The few of us who remember this show recall it as being better than its terminally low ratings would suggest, but it was a bad fit for the network. A cross-generational drama about the reunion of a ’70’s era supergroup and its effects on the next generation of would-be rockers, "Live Through This" boasted music from Graham Nash and Pat Benatar, names that meant little to the Britney Spears-obsessed teens that were watching MTV at the time. Credited as the network's first hour-long drama, it would have been a natural fit for ABC Family Channel, had such a thing existed back then.
This anthology series -- created by the seemingly odd fit Roland Joffé, director of "The Killing Fields" -- was a rarity among MTV's attempts at unscripted television in those days: it lasted more than one season. Noted for its frank depiction of sex and romance— both gay and straight— among Los Angeleno twentysometings, "Undressed" was remarkable for the sheer volume of future TV stars whom were featured in episodes, including Christina Hendricks, Chad Michael Murray and Adam Brody.
“Spyder Games” (2001)
Reportedly, "Spyder Games" was an attempt to do for soap operas what "Scream" had just done for slasher flicks. This over-the-top melodrama was about a video gaming family and the murder of their patriarch. The show was pilloried for its weak production values and wooden acting; critics and audiences pretty much missed the attempts at tongue-and-cheek comedy. It didn't help that it began airing in the days around 9/11.
When MTV imported this UK drama, the network figured they were getting an even more button-pushing scripted version of “Laguna Beach,” the reality show that helped define the network five years earlier. Unfortunately, its depiction of teen sex and drug use pushed the wrong buttons of the wrong people. The Parents Television Council asked the Justice Department to file child pornography charges against the series. Advertisers including Clearasil, Subway, and Kraft pulled their ads from the show, which was eventually tagged with a TV-MA rating. In the end, MTV cancelled the series for reasons more quotidian than controversial: low-ratings.