- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 31, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) - MTV is finally getting its mojo back, thanks to the tanned twenty-somethings of “Jersey Shore.”

Ever since its December debut, the show’s buzz has been huge - even making it into one of President Barack Obama’s speeches. The July 29 start of the second season, shot in Miami, drew 5.3 million viewers, nearly quadruple the original opener. And audiences have been staying put ever since.

“It’s like a train wreck,” said Tina Cordova, a Washington, D.C.-based contractor, who gathers with her “Jersey”-loving girlfriends to watch every Thursday night. “You just can’t look away.”

“Jersey Shore” is just one contributor to a ratings rebound that MTV has enjoyed since January. It marks MTV’s first consistent gain in three years.

That’s a big win for parent company Viacom Inc., as its movie studio Paramount Pictures has been paring down its slate. Higher ratings mean advertisers from fast food chains to clothing retailers are lining up to get on board. Analysts say that should help boost the stock price in the months ahead.

Executives say that it’s no fluke that many of its shows including “Jersey Shore” are taking off. The executives credit new programming spending and plenty of research into what young people want to see: more real situations, less fake glamour and fewer competitions.

“‘The Hills’ was definitely a fabricated reality and ‘Jersey Shore’ and ‘Teen Mom’ are more harsh, authentic realities. And that is what’s resonating much more today,” said Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks’ Music and Logo Group, which oversees the flagship network and other channels such as CMT.

MTV’s ratings had been steadily declining as some of its reality shows such as “Real World,” now in its 24th season, were getting old. Sister networks Comedy Central and Nickelodeon have ebbed and flowed for several years.

But since the beginning of July, MTV’s ratings are up 22 percent among its core audience of people ages 12 to 34, and ratings are up 15 percent in core demographics across key Viacom channels MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and TV Land.

A mix of new reality shows, scripted comedies and such up-and-coming comedians as Daniel Tosh on “Tosh.0” are all helping the mix.

“Our anchor tenants in the building are connecting with their fans,” said Judy McGrath, MTV Networks’ chief executive. “A lot of work went into it, and it’s working.”

Toffler said that Millennials - young people born roughly since 1980 - are more conservative and family-based than the generation before them. He said they like to learn their life lessons alongside mindless fun.

Edging away from contrived scenarios and extravagant lifestyles and toward regular people and their problems is also striking a chord with audiences during hard economic times.

It’s no mistake that “Jersey Shore’s” partyers enjoy their late-night clubbing after stints working at a gelato shop, or that Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino’s formula for success consists of such mundane tasks as “gym, tan and laundry.”

“It’s people they can identify with,” said Brad Adgate, a senior vice president and director of research at ad agency Horizon Media. “Really, a part of their success has been driven by that.”

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