Even for someone who presides over a network populated by neurotic comedians, Doug Herzog seems overanxious.“We always see the edge of the cliff,” MTVN’s Entertainment Group topper says when asked how he views the state of his network. “We’re always looking at things and saying ‘Maybe the ratings have peaked’ or ‘That guy’s contract is up; what are we going to do?’ ” One can only imagine what Herzog would say if the network was doing poorly. As it happens, Comedy Central is coming off the best 12 months in its 16-year history. At a time when the broadcast nets are struggling to find a hit comedy, Comedy Central increased ratings by 6% last year, drawing more average weekly viewers (1.03 million) than MTV or CNN.
It’s rare for a talkshow to launch a successful spinoff; it’s even more rare for that spinoff to hold its own against formidable competition from Leno and Letterman. Comedy Central’s fortunes are so shiny that Viacom is now taking it global, launching networks across Europe. After years of keeping Comedy at home, Viacom has created local versions in Holland, Germany, Italy and Poland in what MTVN international topper Bill Roedy calls a bid to build an “international brand that’s right behind MTV and Nickelodeon.” One of the most popular shows is Germany’s “Para Comedy,” a hidden-camera show featuring disabled people. (And they say Americans have questionable taste.) At home, Herzog is keeping things fresh. Some examples:
- Comedy has signed up a rare live scripted show, “The Sarah Silverman Show.” In a typical push-the-envelope episode, she freaks out over an impending HIV test, then starts a nonprofit movement, mocking do-gooder culture.
- For the first time, the net is airing an off-network show, the NBC laffer “Scrubs.” It also could make a play for a show like “The Office,” according to G.M. Michele Ganeless, in a move that would bring “Daily Show” vet Steve Carell back to where he got his start.
- In a first for any net, CC will transfer a made-for-mobile series to cable when it bows a gussied-up version of “Lil’ Bush” (from “The Simpsons” vet Donick Carey) in primetime in June. (Only time will tell if people want to see a political version of the Lil’ Rascals that was originally created for Amp’d Mobile.)
- CC has begun to put the pieces in place for a film label, a move execs hope would induce new talent to flow toward the net and allow it to better mine its brands in the theatrical market.