MTV to Skateboarders: Break a Leg, Live!

On the evening of May 31, 2006, a shaggy-haired teenager in Buffalo, N.Y., peddled his skateboard toward a flight of concrete steps and launched into the air. A few seconds later, Mason Jukes lay at the foot of the stairs, screaming. His fibula and tibia had shattered on the pavement upon landing. Nearby, a second teenager kept a camcorder rolling.

Weeks later, home from the hospital with a titanium rod holding together his reconstructed leg, Mr. Jukes began thinking about what to do with the footage. In the world of skateboarding media, videos of cartilage-crunching wipeouts are always in demand. Eventually, Mr. Jukes sent an e-mail of the clip to the skateboarder magazine Thrasher, hoping that a still shot of his injury might make the “Hall of Meat” page.

The average mangled daredevil of yesterday might have left it at that. But Mr. Jukes also did what thousands of other stitched-up risk-takers have done in recent years. He uploaded the clip onto YouTube.

That’s where a producer at MTV eventually happened upon it.

“They discovered me on YouTube,” Mr. Jukes said. “They were searching for tags like ‘skateboarding’ and ‘leg break’ and they found me.”

On Tuesday, April 10, at 10 p.m., MTV will air the premier of Scarred, a new half-hour series showcasing dramatic crashes, such as Mr. Jukes’ nasty spill, along with interviews of the crashees explaining what went wrong. According to promotional materials, MTV producers culled all of the clips of crashes from various video-sharing sites on the Internet.

While MTV’s parent company Viacom is busy suing Google and YouTube for unfairly capitalizing on its television channels’ material, one of its television channels is simultaneously capitalizing on material from YouTube.

So it goes in the topsy-turvy world of digital media, where Scarred is being promoted as a new breed of show that relies exclusively on user-generated content (U.G.C.). These days, U.G.C. shows are all the rage with television execs looking to the Internet for fresh voices and cheap programming (according to Mr. Jukes, MTV didn’t compensate him for his contribution to Scarred).

Some channels are now going so far as to set up Web sites for the exclusive purpose of feeding content to U.G.C. shows. To wit: VH1 recently debuted a show called Acceptable TV in which viewers submit homemade videos to a Web site, the best of which are eventually broadcast on air alongside the work of Hollywood professionals. And in February, Nickelodeon rolled out a show called Me:TV (“the brand-new destination for everything YOU!”), which broadcasts viewers’ uploaded videos, mash-ups and music.

“We’re looking for the best fake fart in the universe,” Nickelodeon producers recently announced, “so make some noise and send us the videos.”

One can imagine a not-too-distant future in which kids graduate from submitting fake-fart clips for Me:TV to submitting videos of themselves snapping their fib ulas for, say, Me:MTV. But for the time being, Scarred producers insist on finding their footage through Web intermediaries. At the end of each Scarred episode, a message appears stating that “MTV insists that our viewers do not send in any home footage of themselves or others attempting stunts.” In other words: Put it on YouTube first!

It’s just one of many ode-to-Jackass warnings and disclaimers that accompany the show, presumably in an attempt by the producers to stave off future lawsuits from angry parents who might want to characterize, say, their kid’s debilitating snow-tubing accident as a premeditated audition for Scarred.

Brian Graden, the president of entertainment for MTV Networks Music Group, said that over the past couple of years, he and his colleagues have been looking for ways to incorporate user-generated content into television—or at least reproduce its gritty look.

The key, he said, is to recognize that what works online doesn’t always translate perfectly onto television and vice versa.

“The Internet is a good medium for short clips,” he said. “Television is a great medium for narrative storytelling.”

What Mr. Graden likes about Scarred is that it takes something ubiquitous on the Internet—footage of painful-looking accidents—and reconsiders the data in a new way that works for television by uncovering the storylines underneath them.

“With these kinds of videos that you see on the Internet, you see the imagery but you never hear the story behind what happens,” says Mr. Graden.

“There’s no point in Scarred where the clip starts and you watch it through to the end and it stops,” says Mr. Graden. “That experience, while good for one medium, isn’t really sustaining for television. The biggest thing we’ve learned is that no matter what you’re working on with source material, we try to be very much a slave to what would make the experience rewarding in one particular medium, no matter what that is.”

Over the past month or so, a “sneak peek” of the Scarred premiere has been airing repeatedly, often late at night, on MTV and MTV2. In the first episode, viewers are treated to the sight of Mr. Jukes breaking his leg in real time and in slow motion, over and over again (presumably not since Lawrence Taylor snapped Joe Theismann’s leg on Monday Night Football has one bone been shown being broken so many times on the air in one sitting). “I got to the hospital and they gave me morphine,” Mr. Jukes tells the camera. “I remember it just didn’t seem to help at all.”

Elsewhere in the episode, a biker fractures his skull during a face plant. A skateboarder tears his large and small intestine on a handrail. A snowboarder rips his kneecap on a wall. And, in the grand finale, a kid falls off his skateboard and compound-fractures his forearm on a driveway (spoiler alert: He’s wearing a T-shirt at the time).

Overall, despite its billing as a cutting-edge U.G.C. show, Scarred is most reminiscent of a show that first debuted in 1990: namely, America’s Funniest Home Videos. In place of a sanitized Bob Saget, Scarred is hosted by Papa Roach front man Jacoby Shaddix. And instead of clips of pajama-clad toddlers falling on their bums, Scarred gives us tattooed teenagers falling on their faces.

America’s Funniest Home Videos is one of the longest-running shows on television, and MTV is no doubt hoping that Scarred will develop a similarly loyal following among a slightly younger demographic, particularly among thrill-seeking teenagers and garden-variety masochists.

Mr. Jukes, for one, says he plans on watching the future episodes of Scarred—in part to keep up with the friends he’s made by participating in the show.

“There are a couple people who have contacted me on MySpace or YouTube and said that they’re going to be on the show too,” said Mr. Jukes. “I’d like to see the interviews with them.” MTV to Skateboarders: Break a Leg, Live!