STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
MTV is all about youth and pop culture, which is why it is especially notable that as the channel starts a documentary division, it has hired 80-year-old Sheila Nevins to run it. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: As president of HBO Documentary Films, Sheila Nevins executive produced "When The Levees Broke," which won three Emmys...
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE")
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: My grandmother said, you know, I think this is going to be a pretty strong storm.
BLAIR: ..."Citizenfour," which won an Oscar and two Emmys...
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "CITIZENFOUR")
EDWARD SNOWDEN: My name is Edward Snowden. I go by Ed.
BLAIR: ...And "Six By Sondheim," which won a Peabody.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SIX BY SONDHEIM")
STEPHEN SONDHEIM: Once I get a scene, I sometimes will put the scene on the easel of the piano.
BLAIR: MTV is best known for shows like "Jersey Shore"...
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JERSEY SHORE")
VINNY GUADAGNINO: Yo, yo, yo.
MIKE SORRENTINO: What up, homeboy?
GUADAGNINO: What up?
BLAIR: ...And the documentary series "16 And Pregnant."
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "16 AND PREGNANT")
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Telling my mom I was pregnant was pretty scary.
BLAIR: Up until about a year ago, MTV was in a ratings slump. The Viacom unit's president, Chris McCarthy, has been turning it around. And starting a new documentary division is part of the plan. He says he's admired Sheila Nevins since he was a kid.
CHRIS MCCARTHY: We want to tell real-life stories. And Sheila's the legend that created the category.
BLAIR: Nevins says she was moved by something McCarthy told her in their first meeting.
SHEILA NEVINS: He said, you helped me be gay. My mother never knew anybody who was gay. And I watched HBO and I felt, you know - I don't know if he used this word, but I'm using it for him - I felt included and normal and possible.
BLAIR: Nevins thought, maybe they want me. But as an 80-year-old woman, she also knew she'd be judged.
NEVINS: Most people would think that I would be out to pasture or that I would be gardening or that I would be taking pictures of my grandchildren, of which I had none. But I'm really not. I'm engaged in making a difference and will be until I lose it.
BLAIR: She'd like to see MTV's new doc division cover addiction, white supremacy and climate change. And she feels a sense of urgency.
NEVINS: I think you have to bring home to this audience certain very specific things that they can act on and help change.
BLAIR: When asked for more details about the scope of the projects she might spearhead at MTV, Nevins joked, depends on how much money they give me. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.