Comedy To Be Part of MTV Music Group


Opting to distance its two male-targeted entertainment networks from each other, MTV Networks is putting its newly acquired Comedy Central in the hands of Music Group chief Judy McGrath.

McGrath, previously president of MTV Networks Music Group, adds Comedy Central to her portfolio of music networks: MTV, MTV2, VH1 and CMT. Comedy Central President Larry Divney will report to her.

But MTVN remains silent on the question on the mind of each of Comedy Central's 340 employees: Who's getting fired? MTVN executives acknowledge that there will be some cutbacks but say that, even though they've owned 50% of the network for more than a decade, they're still reviewing operations.

In a memo to Comedy Central employees, MTV Networks Chairman Tom Freston said, "I know that this process creates some anxiety and uncertainty, but I want you to know that we want to keep things as intact as possible."

The memo added that, for the remaining workers, "you all prospered in that partnership, creating a funny, well-run and famous channel as well as creating a lot of value for your owners. That is why we were happy to have the chance to buy the other half and why we have no intention of coming in and changing everything."

As for the structure, Freston's other primary option was to put Comedy Central under Herb Scannell, president of Nickelodeon, TV Land and TNN. That would seem a natural fit.

But Freston decided that the comedy network is too similar to Spike, the looming overhaul of TNN. Comedy Central has already succeeded in targeting men, while Spike is looking to make itself into "television for men" in imitation of Lifetime's success as "television for women."

Freston said that, although he thinks Comedy Central is in good shape, he sees reasons for pairing it with the music nets. "There are lots of advantages in programming. They'll have better access to a lot of producers we use."

Both McGrath and Scannell get new titles. Each will be MTV Networks group president and be part of the new MTV Networks Management Committee.

Divney said he'd be happy in either group. "It's going to be great for the network," he said of the takeover by MTV. Referring to coming layoffs, though, he added, "That means I have to go through the pains before the gain."