Sabbatical of Sorts Serves Comedy Chief

After 10-year, Will Ferrell-filled break, Alterman back atop Viacom network

Why This Matters

Kent Alterman


President, content development and original programming, Comedy Central


B.A., photography, U. of Oregon, 1981

Employment Highlights:

Producer, TV Nation, 1994-96

Senior VP, development, Comedy Central, 1996-2000

Executive VP, New Line Cinema, 2001-06

Director and EP, Semi-Pro, 2007 Head of original programming and development, Comedy Central, 2010-12

Current title since January 2013


Born April 1, 1957; married to Michele Brennan; daughter Evelyn, 6; son Zeke, 3

In the realm of cosmic signs, the fact that Kent Alterman
and Comedy Central share a birthday—appropriately
enough, April Fool’s Day—is certainly significant. But a few more planets needed to align in
order for Alterman to return to the Viacomowned
network after a 10-year absence.

A big one did when Viacom Entertainment
Group president Doug Herzog
needed to fill a key post vacated by
Lauren Corrao and
thought of Alterman,
who had recently
completed his directorial
debut with the
2008 film Semi-Pro.

“We were undergoing
some changes,”
Herzog recalls. “And
even though Kent at the
time was in the movie
business, I thought he
might be interested in
talking about a return
to the TV business.
And he was.”

In January 2013,
Alterman was promoted
to president of content development
and original programming, overseeing
the entirety of Comedy Central’s output.
Just after his promotion, Alterman
announced the newly created CC Studios,
an in-house production unit dedicated
to digital platforms and headed by
Allison Kingsley.

“Rather than having digital content be
an afterthought to our linear programming…
we’re trying to develop in a more
holistic way,” Alterman says.

Just compared to the prior year, Comedy
Central has boosted its content output
by 55%, with new series such as
Nathan for You and The Ben Show, both
premiering Feb. 28, among them.

Though Alterman’s return to the
network seems premeditated, he insists
on calling himself “an idiot
without a plan.” The Texas native first entered
the workforce as a graphic designer
for a New York firm that did extensive
work with entertainment
marketing, a
subject to which he
was always drawn.

Staying true to his
self-described form,
Alterman decided to
“pull the plug” and
move toward the
creative realm, even
though he lacked a
concrete plan. Still,
he was convinced
his future lay down
the arduous path of
development, pitches
and production.
With the help of some
friends—and a bit of so-called “scamming”—
Alterman began working with
Michael Moore on the NBC and BBC2
series TV Nation.

Alterman had teamed with a producing
partner and managed to score an interview
with Moore, who liked the ideas
the team offered.

“My partner ended up taking another
job, so I decided to shake the dice and
see if I could do it on my own,” Alterman
says. “They never really questioned where
my partner was or who had done what in
our background. And so it was kind of
trial by error.”

After spending two years with TV Nation,
Alterman pitched a show to Comedy
Central; instead of buying the show,
however, the network hired him. He
spent five years working with the New
York development office, during which
time he developed and produced sketch
comedy shows Strangers With Candy and
Upright Citizens Brigade.

Alterman made another career change,
albeit a less radical one, when he moved
over to feature films as executive VP for
New Line Cinema. His first project, as
executive producer of the 2003 comedy
Elf, introduced him to comedian Will
Ferrell, whose sometimes self-deprecating
humor mirrors Alterman’s.

The relationship between the two led
to the development of Semi-Pro, which
follows the 1976 merger of the ABA and
the NBA and most importantly, at least
to Alterman, the San Antonio Spurs—
the onetime ABA club that is Alterman’s
hometown team. His passion and feel for
the material earned him the opportunity
to direct the movie.

Working on both sides, as a content
creator and executive, gives Alterman a
unique perspective.

“[I]t makes me more effective having
been on the other side,” Alterman says.
“But I am quick to admit that I might be
very mediocre at both.”

Aside from his “mediocrity” at Comedy
Central, Alterman carves out time to make
use of his photography degree; his primary
subjects are his two young children.

“Instead of starting with a blank canvas
or page, you are starting with everything,”
Alterman says. “And then through the
process of reduction and making choices,
you [find] what resonates with you.”

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