No laughing matter for Comedy Central

Company axes 80 staffers

NEW YORK — The ax fell on 80 Comedy Central staffers Tuesday: More than 20% of the network’s workforce of 360 people was pinkslipped as the cabler’s ops are folded into MTV Networks.

A spokesman for Comedy Central declined to give the names of individual executives who received pinkslips but said job categories of the laid-off staffers range from executive VP to file clerk.

These 80 people became dispensable when their jobs were absorbed into what MTV Networks chairman-CEO Tom Freston called (in a companywide memo) the “centralized strategic-services group” for MTV, VH1 and all of their network clones, from MTV2 to VH1 Classic.

Viacom paid an extravagant $1.225 billion for the half of Comedy Central it didn’t already own two months ago.

Comedy Central is now in the same division with MTV and VH1, and these networks tap into a common pool for the functions itemized in Freston’s memo: legal, human resources, research, information systems, creative services, finance, production management, planning and design and network operations teams, plus “a single affiliate-sales-and-marketing group” for all of the networks; MTV cut the 80 staffers from these areas.

Other functions, such as programming and production, were spared because the network will be looking to produce more original programming. Its ratings have stayed relatively flat for the past year and a half, although such new series as the weekly “Chappelle’s Show” and the nightly “Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn” have begun to find an audience.

Larry Divney, president of Comedy Central, was able to spare 11 staffers by helping to find them similar jobs at MTV or VH1, the spokesman said. Freston’s memo also said the company would “ease the transitions” of the dismissed employees through “enhanced severance, outplacement counseling and employee-assistance counseling.”