Dave Sirulnick, one of the chief backers of MTV’s news and documentary efforts over the past three decades, is leaving the network in the wake of cost-cutting efforts by its parent company, Viacom, according to a person familiar with the matter.
As executive vice president of news, documentaries and specials for MTV, Sirulnick may not be as well known as Gideon Yago, Kurt Loder, Tabitha Soren or SuChin Pak — all of whom have hosted news and themed specials on the network over the years — but he was involved in many of the programming efforts that made those on-air personalities important in the lives of MTV’s viewers.
Sirulnick has been an executive producer of MTV’s “Video Music Awards,” and ran signature programs like “Total Request Live” and “Week in Rock.” But he also made MTV a network that figured into the national conversation by linking the causes important to its viewers with politics and the nation’s leaders. President Bill Clinton, President Barack Obama, Senator John McCain, former secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former governor Mike Huckabee and former governor Mitt Romney are among the elected officials who have given interviews to MTV over the years.
Under Sirulnick’s leadership, MTV News produced documentaries on alcohol and drug abuse, hate music, the AIDS epidemic, gun control, and other issues of concern to young people. He supervised and produced live coverage of Woodstock ’94 and ’99; the aftermath of Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994; Snoop Dogg’s murder trial in 1996; and the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1995. He joined MTV as a news producer in 1987 after having done work for CNN.
In more recent years, MTV’s news and documentary department has been home to series like “Catifsh: The TV Show” and “Made,” as well as “True Life,”‘a series Sirulnick created in 1998 to look at lifestyles, interests, issues and concerns of young people. Among the topics the series explored in hourlong specials were drug epidemics surrounding ecstasy, crystal meth, heroin and Oxycontin; gay marriage; adoption; eating disorders; and depression.
Sirulnick is not the only high-profile executive to leave Viacom in recent days. TV Land president Larry Jones is also departing, while veteran programmer Van Toffler opted to leave to form a new content venture. Cuts are expected to affect several Viacom properties. The company also operates Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and BET.
Viacom is in the midst of shedding positions as it merges what were once three operating groups of cable networks into two and also tries to make the company more able to compete in an industry growing more reliant on digital distribution. Speaking to investors Monday, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said he expected the moves to result in $250 million in cost savings and to be completed by the end of March.