The fact that Pivot, a new network for millennials, is launching Aug. 1, the date MTV hit television in 1981, is purely coincidental. But here’s something that isn’t: The first thing Pivot will air at 6 a.m. ET on Thursday is a video for “Video Killed the Radio Star.”
You may recall that the Buggles’ video was the first one played on MTV 32 years ago. For its update, which celebrates a new generation’s creative power, Pivot recorded independent artists live all over Los Angeles, including Run River North, Goldspot, London Thor, Far and Away, Musical Mammal and Rainbow Jackson. Watch it below. Then, read what Pivot president Evan Shapiro, formerly of IFC TV and the Sundance Channel, has to say about what’s to come on the network — starting with the imported Australian comedy Please Like Me and Friday Night Lights Fridays (thank his millennial daughter for that).
First, the basics: Pivot is a network targeting viewers 18-34 from Participant Media, a company focusing on entertainment that sparks conversations and inspires change (its films include Lincoln, An Inconvenient Truth, and The Help). Pivot — which will be available in about 40 million homes to start, and integrate a live and on demand streaming option via its Pivot APP — will program original series and acquired programming, along with documentaries and films that will not be edited for time or content. Here’s just a tease of what’s on tap:
• Please Like Me: The half-hour comedy is inspired in part by events in the life of 26-year-old Australian comedian Josh Thomas, who created, wrote, executive produced, and stars in the series about a young man who realizes he’s gay (his girlfriend and friends aren’t exactly surprised) and who moves back in with his mother after she attempts suicide (which happened to Thomas). The six-episode first season will air as a marathon starting at 8 p.m. ET Thursday. “Everybody got their bells rung by, ‘Oh, Netflix is making so many episodes and putting them up all in a row’ — well, hey, TV can do that, too,” he says. (A 10-episode second season has already been greenlit.) “This is a great example of what I like to call a quarter-life crisis comedy,” Shapiro says. “[Ages] 20 to 25 — that’s a hard place to be right now when you were promised the world on a silver platter, and now you’re finding the world full of challenges that you didn’t create. I think this show and Josh perfectly personify that.” As with all Pivot programming, viewers will be encouraged to “Take Action” during the show and access more information on the issues raised — in this case coming out, depression, and suicide — and share on social media. (Shapiro says there will be 160 different “actions” that viewers can take while watching the network in August alone.) Please Like Me‘s issues may be serious, but Thomas’ take on them is funny, slyly heartwarming, and nowhere as cringe-worthy as Girls. You can watch the first episode below. We’ll post a conversation we had with Thomas on Thursday.
• Friday Night Lights: Shapiro’s daughter had binge-watched all six seasons of the show. “She came to me and she said, ‘You should get Friday Night Lights and you should put it in as a binge-watch on Friday nights called Friday Night Lights Fridays,” he says. Three episodes will air back-to-back. Another show familiar to American audiences that will repeat on Pivot: Farscape. “The analogy here is that these renegade people of completely different cultures live on a living ship flying around in space, forced to work together. If they don’t work together, the ship actually dies. It’s a living being,” Shapiro says. “Science-fiction has a long history of addressing challenges that society faces through allegory, and that’s what I think Farscape does incredibly well. Plus it’s a gorgeous show that’s never been presented in HD.”
• Little Mosque on the Prairie: It’s a Canadian comedy that Shapiro can only assume has never been broadcast in America because it has the word “mosque” in the title. “Right now we have a media that portrays Arab Americans and Muslims as primarily not good people,” Shapiro says. He wants to change that misconception with Little Mosque, a show he’s admired that has done it for seven seasons. “There’s a great parallel to be drawn to Please Like Me and shows like Will & Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and the fact that for over 25 years positive role models of gay men and women on television helped basically change the attitudes toward homosexuality and gay marriage in America,” he says.
• TakePart Live: It’s a late-night news/talk show that will air live Monday through Friday at midnight hosted by Jacob Soboroff and Cara Santa Maria, whom Shapiro describes both as legitimate journalists and legitimate nerds who happen to be funny and easy on the eyes. “It will help demystify the memes and information that’s flying around the Twittersphere every single day and helps people wade through the morass of bulls— that’s out there and make their own decisions by learning what’s behind the headlines,” Shapiro says. Please Like Me‘s Josh Thomas will be their inaugural guest on Thursday’s show.
• Raising McCain: Shapiro admits his first meeting with Meghan McCain was tense (“She and I don’t always see eye to eye on politics”), but they came together on an idea for a show that he describes as “if This American Life and Chelsea Handler and Jackass had a baby.” She picks a subject at the beginning of the episode and goes out into America to investigate it. Each week, she’ll have a co-host with her to add to the conversation. “While she’s doing that, she also deconstructs the entire idea of a reality show,” Shapiro says, explaining that she’ll make the sound guy sit in the front seat and talk to her or she’ll turn the camera around on the producer who’s shooting her. The show premieres Sept. 14.
• Jersey Strong: Also debuting Sept. 14, this classic docuseries from the team behind the Peabody Award-winning series Brick City centers on two families in Newark, New Jersey. It follows two former rival gang members — a Blood (Jayda) and a Crip (Creep) — raising two kids while pursuing their dreams, and a lesbian couple. Brooke is a criminal defense attorney raising two teens with her partner in life and business, Maggie. “You’ve got the social action of violence and gang life and stopping that cycle and everything Brooke does in her professional life, and gay marriage equality issues as well,” Shapiro says, “but we don’t really beat you over the head with it. It’s really just a great drama about two families trying to make their way in post-recession America.”
• Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s HitRECord on TV!: Premiering Jan. 18, 2014, the variety show is the manifestation of Gordon-Levitt’s open collaboration production company. As Shapiro explains it: “He said, ‘Okay, we want to pick the themes to the episodes.’ He put it out to his community [online]. They all put up ideas for themes, and then he chose the eight themes, which include patterns, the number one, money, space. Then he said, ‘Every episode is going to have an opening monologue. I need people to write me jokes.’ Everybody writes him jokes, and then he pulls them all together and he finishes the final monologue, and then does it himself. ‘I need music.’ Somebody will put up one piece of music, and the community will then expand upon it, and then he and his producers turn it into a really great short film.” You get the picture.
• Will: Also coming in 2014, an hourlong drama series imagining William Shakespeare in his early 20s — from Craig Pearce, writer of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet, and Strictly Ballroom. “He feels trapped in a marriage of convenience with kids that he didn’t know he was gonna have to raise. His family expects him to join the family business, and frankly to be a part of a larger enterprise that he and his family have traditionally been in, which is a form of terrorism that was going on at the time,” Shapiro says. “He escapes that life and strikes out to London to make it on his own and become a rock star, and he does. Meanwhile, he’s being followed by the ghosts of his past, and he’s being pursued by people in London with regards to what’s going on in his family’s past. So you have this weird period mash-up that Craig Pearce has done in the past. Think Shakespeare in Love meets Deadwood meets 8 Mile. Because there’s a rap battle in the middle of it between two rival playwrights doing sonnets.”