Comedy joins music at MTV

Co. to amp laffer net's original programming slate

MTV Networks has slipped Comedy Central into Judy McGrath’s music-group portfolio, where it will join MTV, VH1, Country Music TV and MTV2.

Configuration has led to the new title of president of the MTV Networks Group, which two execs will share: McGrath and Herb Scannell. McGrath’s former title was president of the MTV Networks Music Group, Scannell’s president of Nickelodeon, TV Land and TNN (soon to become Spike).

Both McGrath and Scannell will continue to report to Tom Freston, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks, who said that he’s also creating the MTV Networks Management Committee, made up of Freston, McGrath, Scannell, Mark Rosenthal and Bill Roedy. Rosenthal is president and chief operating officer of MTV Networks and Roedy is prexy of MTV Networks Intl.

Opening wallet

Freston said he plans to pour money into Comedy Central to develop original programming with the goal of ending the network’s dependence on off-net series like “Saturday Night Live” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”

Freston assigned Comedy Central to McGrath’s division, not Scannell’s, because “Herb is in the process of creating a whole new network in Spike,” Freston said. Spike takes over from TNN officially on June 26 with the slogan “First Network for Men.” Larry Divney, president of Comedy Central, will report to McGrath.

MTV Networks’ parent company Viacom, already half owner of Comedy Central, bought the other half from AOL Time Warner earlier this year for the strapping price of $1.2 billion.

To the Comedy Central executives who are worried about whether they’ll get pinkslips in their mailboxes, Freston said he’ll announce most of the decisions about staffing within the next three or four weeks. Industry scuttlebutt says the divisions most in jeopardy at Comedy Central are affiliate sales, public relations, finance, ad sales and various back-office functions that MTV Networks will be able to absorb.

‘Edgy, irreverent’ taste

Larry Gerbrandt, chief content officer of Kagan World Media, said he’s not surprised that McGrath got Comedy Central because “MTV is looking more and more like a reality-TV version of Comedy Central. Both networks seek to reach viewers who love edgy, irreverent programming.”

Freston created the five-member Networks Management Committee, said cable-programming consultant Lynne Burning, “because there are so many networks for the company to deal with. The committee became required to figure out who’s on first and what’s on second.”

The management committee could also be a vehicle by which to absorb more cable networks that Viacom may purchase in the near future, from Rainbow’s AMC and WE: Women’s Entertainment to Vivendi’s USA Network and Sci Fi Channel.

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