Last night Doug Herzog, president of MTV Networks Entertainment Group, spoke to a packed room of young talent agency and network TV professionals as part of the inaugural event for JHRTS’ New York chapter. In addition to sharing stories of his career path, Herzog also talked about what’s going on at his networks now, including one sleepy channel that’s experiencing a bit of a renaissance - TV Land.
Herzog said that in an era of DVRs, the viability of a channel dedicated to reruns that relied on channel surfing was not looking too good. It was a risky move, he admits - foisting new programming onto an audience that doesn’t want to see it. But when the network premiered its first original scripted series, Hot in Cleveland, on June 16, 2010, it became the highest-rated telecast in the network’s history. “We got incredibly lucky,” Herzog said of the success of Cleveland. While he said there was already buzz around the show when it signed established sitcom stars Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick, they had no idea their secret weapon would be a certain 88-year-old actress. When TV Land first signed Betty White to star in the show, Herzog said they thought it “cute.” They never anticipated her resurgence into the spotlight thanks to a Snickers Super Bowl ad and the Facebook campaign that eventually landed her a gig hosting Saturday Night Live.
Of the unlikelihood of TV Land becoming a breeding ground for original comedies, Herzog said, “You can’t, until you can,” comparing it to AMC’s rebranding from a channel that only showed old films to the home of Emmy-winning dramas like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. And he plans to bring more original programming to TV Land like Cleveland. “I want to be what USA Network is to one-hour dramas for half-hour comedies.” And Herzog actually knows a thing or two about the network he aspires to emulate — he spent three years as president of USA Network, from 2001-2004, where he put shows like Monk and The 4400 on the air.