Michele Ganeless will depart her role as president of Comedy Central, the network announced Monday. Kent Alterman, currently the network’s programming chief, will take over as network president, effective immediately. Alterman will report directly to Doug Herzog, president, Viacom Media Networks music and entertainment group.
Ganeless will step down at the end of the month and transition into an advisory role for the network beginning in September.
“It has been a tremendous honor to lead the staggeringly talented team here for the past 12 years, and an absolute privilege to help build the cultural force that is Comedy Central today. The deep connection I have to it and to so many of my colleagues, especially my dear friend and mentor Doug, made this decision incredibly difficult. But after considerable thought, I have decided that the time is right to move on and challenge myself in new ways,” Ganeless said. “I am so proud of my time here and what I have been able to accomplish with this team. They are an incredible group of seasoned leaders, led by Kent and Dave, and are ready to step up and lead Comedy Central through its transition into a true multiplatform brand.”
As part of the shakeup, David Bernath, executive vice president of programming and multiplatform strategy at the network, has been promoted to general manager of Comedy Central, reporting to Alterman.
Part of the executive team that launched Comedy Central in 1991, Ganeless rejoined the network as general manager in 2004 following a stint at cable channel USA, and was promoted to president in 2007. Most recently she oversaw the network during the transition of its longtime late-night block from hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to successors Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore. That transition has seen sharp ratings declines for the network in the 11 p.m. hour during an election year, when it would be primed to maximize interest in its politically themed late-night shows. Wilmore received overwhelmingly negative reviews last month for his turn hosting the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
The network has also suffered ratings declines across the board, and, in addition to Stewart and Colbert, has watched top talent such as John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele depart the network recently.
As Comedy Central’s programming chief, Alterman has played a key role in the network’s dealings with talent, including Noah, whose version of “The Daily Show” has failed to capture viewers or popular attention in the same way that Stewart’s did. Alterman rejoined the network as head of original programming and production in 2010, having previously worked there from 1996 to 2000 as head of East Coast development. From 2001 to 2006 he served as executive vice president of New Line. He also produced and directed the New Line feature film “Semi-Pro.”
“During Michele’s long and successful tenure, Comedy Central has grown into a cultural and multiplatform powerhouse,” said Herzog. “Her strong and strategic leadership have helped make this brand one of the most admired across media. She is a trusted and talented colleague, a valued confidant and, most importantly, my great friend. I will miss her dearly as she moves along to the next chapter in her career.”
He added, “Kent has an extraordinary talent for uncovering and elevating original comedic voices who bring a distinct point of view to the table. Finding and nurturing great talent is what we do best, and we are doubling down on that approach. When you combine that with Dave’s strong leadership and his ability to make comedy resonate on every platform, you get a team that will be super-focused on delivering the best comedic content to our fans wherever they are.”
Viacom has struggled recently with ratings declines across most of its cable channels, including MTV. That network underwent its own executive reorganization last year when president Stephen Friedman was replaced as president by former Discovery Communications digital executive Sean Atkins. The shakeup followed the departure earlier in the year of Friedman’s former boss, longtime Viacom executive Van Toffler, and the shifting of MTV to Herzog’s purview.
Deadline first reported news of Ganeless’ departure.
Read Herzog and Ganeless’ memos to staff below. From Herzog:
Hey everyone. I have some news about Michele Ganeless and Comedy Central I had planned to share with you tomorrow. Unfortunately, it leaked to the press this evening. After 25 years as part of this great brand, Michele has decided to step away from her role as President of Comedy Central. During her long and successful tenure the network has grown into a true multiplatform powerhouse. Her strong and strategic leadership have helped build Comedy Central into one of the most admired and culturally relevant brands across the entire media and content spectrum.
To fill her very big shoes, Kent Alterman will be stepping into the role of President of the network, reporting to me. Dave Bernath will become General Manager, reporting to Kent. We are enormously fortunate to have such deep bench strength on our team. And while things will be a bit different, we will enjoy the benefit of real continuity for the brand.
Michele has a long, rich history with Comedy Central. She was here the very day the network launched – when Mystery Science 3000 and Short Attention Span Theater were the mainstays of our schedule. She left and came back two more times – with stints at MTV and USA in between. In her most recent tour of duty, she returned to lead the brand 12 years ago – and has been guiding the way ever since.
Michele has helped propel Comedy Central into the #1 brand in comedy. She presided over a culture that spawned some of the most successful series in cable history including The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Nightly Show, South Park, Tosh.0, Workaholics, Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele and Broad City – to name just a few. We’ve won Emmys, Peabodys and maybe most importantly – the hearts, minds and eyeballs of loyal fans everywhere they can find a screen.
I’m not going to lie, this is a tough moment for me. Michele has been working side by side with me for many, many years. She is a trusted and talented colleague, a valued confidant and advisor and, most importantly, my great friend. I will miss her dearly, as I imagine many of you will, as she moves along to the next chapter in her career. But this is a great time for Comedy Central and I’m confident we won’t miss a beat with Kent and Dave at the helm – and all of you continuing to do the great work you do.
I hope you will all join me in thanking her for everything she has done. She has been Comedy Central’s biggest fan and greatest champion and will always be considered part of our family. Please join me in wishing Michele all the best.
I have some big news to tell you that I had hoped to share with you myself tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, it leaked to the press this evening.
For the better part of two decades, Comedy Central has been my second home and all of you have been more than just my colleagues, you’ve been like family. I have had the tremendous honor of leading this brand for the past 12 years, and to have played a role in its leadership for 17 of the last 20. It has been an absolute privilege to be part of the explosion of this remarkable brand, and to bear witness to and help build the cultural force that is Comedy Central. The deep connection I have to you, to Comedy Central, and to my friend and mentor, Doug, makes the news I share today so difficult. After considerable thought, I have decided that the time is right to move on and challenge myself in new ways.
I am so proud of the team here and my time with all of you. Together, we have built Comedy Central into the premiere destination for comedy across every platform imaginable. We are in the midst of a creative renaissance with the deepest bench of talent in our history – that was in full view at our Upfront in March – and we possess an equally deep bench of seasoned leaders who are ready to step up and take on a bigger role after I depart. You will be hearing more on that from Doug momentarily.
Thank you for your dedication and devotion to Comedy Central. You are the best team in the business and I know you will continue to grow what has been built over the past 25 years. I’ll be around through the end of the month and hope to see as many of you as possible before I leave.