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'The Shannara Chronicles': What does the new show say about the changing fortunes of MTV?

MTV's new fantasy program 'Shannara' debuted on Jan. 5. The network has been releasing more scripted series. Last year, it struggled with ratings compared to years before.

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    'The Shannara Chronicles' stars Poppy Drayton.
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MTV’s newest venture into original programming, a TV show titled “The Shannara Chronicles,” debuted on Jan. 5.

The show is based on the fantasy book series of the same name by Terry Brooks and stars Poppy Drayton, Manu Bennett, and Austin Butler. 

“Shannara” follows recent scripted efforts by MTV that include “Teen Wolf,” “Awkward,” and “Scream.”

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The network has attempted to expand or change its offerings to viewers many times since going on the air in 1981. After first focusing on airing music videos, MTV famously moved away from this, changing its logo in 2010 to take out the text “music television.” 

In the early and mid-2000s, MTV put an emphasis on reality television, with shows like “Laguna Beach,” “The Hills,” “Teen Mom,” and “Jersey Shore” dominating the lineup.

While it had aired scripted shows like the animated series “Daria” before, MTV has launched several scripted shows since 2011, the year after it took “music television" out of its logo, showing a new emphasis on non-music offerings. “Awkward” and “Teen Wolf” debuted that year, while shows such as “Faking It,” “Finding Carter,” and “Scream” have since followed. There are of course reality programs still airing on the network as well. 

But have these scripted series won over viewers? 

“Shannara” is seen by many as a push to get MTV back in the conversation. The network has been struggling, with the ratings for 2015’s first quarter down 29 percent compared to the same time the year before. MTV says these measurements don’t capture engagement from their young audience, who consume content in ways that Nielsen doesn't track – such as watching programs on a DVR and using MTV apps.

Billboard estimates between 65 and 70 percent of those who watch a show like “Carter” do so online, either on demand or via DVR. 

Will “Shannara” be a hit? Reviews so far are fairly negative. Ratings will be interesting to see, but they may not provide a real glimpse at how much of an impact the show is having on MTV’s target audience.

As with so many other cable networks trying to stay successful in an almost unprecedentedly crowded marketplace, MTV seems to be trying to craft a program that will keep its name in the pop culture conversation. We’ll see if MTV can successfully borrow an idea from HBO, home of “Game of Thrones,” and cultivate its own fantasy TV hit.

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