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MTV's Tony DiSanto, president of programming, is stepping down

September 30, 2010 |  7:13 pm


Now MTV really does have a situation on its hands.

It's losing the man who helped put shows such as "The Hills" and "Jersey Shore" -- with its characters Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino and Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi -- on the map.

Tony DiSanto, president of programming, is exiting the cable network along with Liz Gateley, senior vice president for development, according to a person familiar with the situation. The duo are departing to join former NBC Entertainment President Ben Silverman's new production entity Electus.

David Janollari, the former head of the now-defunct WB Network who joined MTV as a development executive this year, is expected to take the reins as the network's top programming executive. Janollari was brought on board to help MTV lessen its reliance on reality shows and focus more on scripted programming. News of the shake-up was first reported by Deadline Hollywood and Daily Variety.

The departure of DiSanto will be a big blow to MTV. He has spent more than two decades at the network, starting as an intern in the late 1980s when the channel was in its heyday and rising through the ranks to president, a position he has held for the last three years. Under his watch, MTV regained some of its prominence with young viewers. 

Fueled by the popularity of "Jersey Shore" and "Teen Mom," MTV's ratings are up 14% so far this year compared with 2009. The third quarter was particularly strong, with ratings growing  30% over the year-earlier period among the network’s target audience of viewers ages 12 to 34. The third quarter included the launch of MTV's new series the “World of Jenks.”

MTV is the crown jewel of Viacom's far-flung media empire and as of late has even become a focal point for the company's 87-year-old Chairman Sumner Redstone, who has expressed interest in getting a reality show on the air about a female band called the Electric Barbarellas that he apparently likes very much. DiSanto was able to resist giving in to the programming desires of the big boss. Now we'll see whether Janollari will do the same.

-- Joe Flint and Meg James

Photo: The cast of "Jersey Shore." Credit: Mark Davis/Associated Press.