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Reindeer Games: truTV Gets Younger, Funnier, Merrier

TruTV makes its first foray into Christmas content with the reality competition series Santas in the Barn, which debuts Dec. 2. It’s a search for the nation’s best Santa Claus, with 10 jolly hopefuls competing in a host of Christmas-esque challenges and the winner getting $100,000.

The series is part of truTV’s push to break from its no-nonsense past and get younger and more fun. The Santas format comes from Norway; Chris Linn, truTV president, said he saw the abundant excitement around Santa-Con events across the nation, and wanted to capture some of that zany spirit. And while those gatherings typically turn into booze-fueled bacchanals (at least here in New York), Linn says Santas in the Barn remains “very, very respectful” to Mr. Kringle.

“No one gets drunk and ends up in a hot tub,” he says. “These people truly revere all things Santa.”

In fact, the contestants take a “Santacratic Oath,” he says, to remain faithful to the true spirit of Santa and Christmas.

The contestants are male, female, white, black, even an Elf on the Shelf.

Santas in the Barn is produced by Half Yard Productions and is hosted by Jon Gabrus, veteran of MTV2’s Guy Code and former host of game show The Substitute. Linn knew Gabrus from the exec’s days as executive VP at MTV, and says the husky, bearded funnyman was “far and away the best choice” to host Santas. “He’s jolly in the best sense of the word,” says Linn.

A little over a year ago, Linn orchestrated a major rebrand of truTV, appealing to “funseekers” with more humor and fewer blue-collar reality series. He told B&C last year, “When I joined there were three pawn shows, three towing shows and two container shows on the air and that was the bulk of their programming.”

The prime slate was wiped clean except for Impractical Jokers.

These days, Billy on the Street, Adam Ruins Everything and The Carbonaro Effect are prime staples. “Comedic formats are pretty much our bread and butter,” says Linn. “It’s fun, entertaining, useable information.”

TruTV was, of course, Court TV in another lifetime. Since its rebrand last fall, viewing among adults 18-34 is up 13% and median age is down four years to 34.

TruTV debuts its first scripted comedy, Those Who Can’t, about a trio of dysfunctional teachers, in mid-February. Linn says the series will “broaden out our comedic brand.”

“I can’t wait for people to see it,” he adds.

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.