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Herzog Keeps Returning to Comedy

2/01/2004 07:00:00 PM Eastern

As NBC fine-tuned plans for its pending acquisition of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, it was looking to keep USA Network President Doug Herzog in the fold. That's not going to happen: He's likely headed back to Comedy Central to become the cable net's president and chief executive.

Among the carrots NBC dangled to get him to stay was an offer to run the company's studio business. But Herzog likes being a network chief. And the NBC-Universal job he really wanted—overseeing the collection of cable nets that would include his USA, along with Sci Fi Channel, Trio and Bravo—wasn't on the table. That position is widely expected to go to Bravo chief and NBC executive Jeff Gaspin.

So now, Herzog is leaving, returning to his roots at MTV Networks.

Current Comedy Central President and CEO Larry Divney, a highly regarded cable-industry vet, plans to retire in the coming months, which would create the opening for Herzog. Comedy revealed Divney's plans last week but said "no successor has been announced." Herzog had the job from 1995 to '98, nurturing South Park
and The Daily Show, while Divney headed ad sales.

Representatives from Universal Television, USA Network and Comedy Central would not comment on Herzog's future. An official announcement is expected some time next week.

Herzog, whose USA contract was almost up, will likely stick around Universal Television Group until early spring to see USA through the merger. It is unclear who might take over at the network. His top deputies, original-programming head Jeff Wachtel and Executive Vice President and General Manager Michele Ganeless, are expected to stick around. Both are said to still be under contract.

After recent fits and starts, USA is in a good position right now. Quirky original series Monk
is on fire, and off-net Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
is providing a nice boost to prime time. USA scored a rare ratings victory in January, pulling in the highest Nielsen marks among ad-supported cable nets: a 2.1 prime time rating and 2.5 million viewers. Originals like miniseries Traffic, which generated critical acclaim but so-so ratings, and original movies like an upcoming Scott Peterson biopic, have people buzzing about the network.

When Herzog was at Comedy Central before, it was co-owned by Viacom and Time Warner. Last year, Viacom bought out Time Warner's half for $1.23 billion and moved the channel under MTV Networks. No problem for Herzog: He spent 11 years at MTV in news and programming, working under MTVN chiefs Tom Freston and Judy McGrath.

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