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Graden's Old/New Strategy for VH1

Perhaps a mix of old and new—say, 1980s retrospectives bumping into 21st century hip-hop—will be the right formula to revive VH1. The Viacom-owned music channel, victim of stagnant ratings for the past two years, is striking out with a fresh batch of originals that taps into past manias and present trends, hoping to reverse its own course.

Brian Graden, Entertainment president for VH1 and MTV, describes the new slate as a mix of "pop culture and post-TV Land culture of the last 20 years." Translated, that's anything from Hip-Hop Babylon, tracing the roots of hip-hop music, to a special on Top 100 Pop Culture Idols.
Other new programs include Destination Diva, a reality show searching for the next young songstress, and 25 Greatest Fads,
from fashion to flash-in-the-pan products.

Fixating on pop culture didn't exactly jump-start sister MTV Networks channel TNN. But VH1 clearly needs some kind of injection. Its franchise workhorse Behind the Music
has lost its luster, and the music net has leaning on theatrical movies to fill some prime time slots.

One new series is inspired by VH1's history. Behind the Movies, an offspring of Behind the Music, is set for a February debut. Graden usually dislikes spinoffs, ("a lot of things are overplayed"), but Movies, he says, should work because "it has a natural fit to the brand."

Under Graden and new General Manager Christina Norman, an MTV Networks marketing veteran, a revival is under way. VH1's ratings have pepped up recently. The network averaged a 0.5 in prime time for January, up from a 0.3 in January 2002.

Media buyer Tom DeCabia, executive vice president of PHD, says, "They are moving ahead. Hopefully, they will gain some steady viewers."

Unlike sister net MTV, which cycles in new series all the time, VH1's upcoming schedule heavily favors specials.

Graden says specials let VH1 keep up with changing viewer interests. "VH1 should act like a pop-culture magazine, like US Weekly
or People. Whenever we put on quasi-current specials, they do disproportionately well."

As for movies, Graden says they will continue for now, adding, "We really hope the movies we traffic in are about music or have pop-culture resonance."