VH1 taps content king

Graver to architect long-term strategy for brand

This article was corrected on May 8, 2001.

NEW YORK — VH1 has replaced Jeff Gaspin as its head of programming with a surprise choice: Fred Graver, who moves up to the job from senior VP of VH1.com and its sister Web site, Sonicnet.com.

“One of my jobs will be to work on long-term strategy for the VH1 brand,” said Graver, whose background includes writing stints with “Late Night With David Letterman,” where he shared in three Emmy Awards, and “In Living Color.” Both shows, he said, scored points for their ahead-of-the-curve TV content.

The VH1 post became vacant when Gaspin resigned as exec VP of programming and production 10 weeks ago to take a programming executive’s job at NBC.

VH1 prexy John Sykes hired Graver two years ago to get the network more active on the Web. Graver launched VH1.com in November 1999.

One part of Graver’s agenda will be to promote more linkages between VH1 and its Web sites. “Our recent surveys show that many VH1 subscribers have high-speed connections on their home PCs and are downloading a fair amount of music,” he noted.

Graver expects VH1 will experiment a lot more with record companies to allow VH1 subscribers to buy music over VH1.com. He cited the recent offer of Stevie Nicks’ new album to VH1 subscribers, who could download it for a fee two weeks before it became available in record stores.

As executive producer of “My VH1 Music Awards,” Graver created the first completely interactive music-award program. The special harvested 15.2 million viewers, 6 million of whom cast votes on VH1.com.

While the Web sites have enormous promise, Graver will initially spend a lot of time getting a handle on the massive slate of original dramas, animated comedies, documentaries and made-for-cable movies — all music-based — that VH1 has committed to producing in what amounts to the most aggressive firstrun lineup in the network’s 16-year history.

Graver started his career as a writer for National Lampoon magazine. He went on to write for the Letterman show from 1984-90. He worked as a writer for “In Living Color” and “Cheers” from the early-to-mid ’90s. In 1985, he became an executive producer for Disney/ABC Cable, working on the convergence of TV and the Internet.

Sources said Jason Hirschhorn, VP and general manager of Sonicnet.com, will succeed Graver as senior VP of VH1.com and Sonicnet.com.