Even as a young boy Doug Herzog knew wanted to be in the television business. “I watched so much TV growing up, my parents actually worried about me,” Herzog said when he was inducted into Broadcasting & Cable’s Hall of Fame in 2014. “It turns out I was just studying.”
Herzog, who was named president of Viacom’s Music & Entertainment Group last year, is credited with launching some of TV’s most creative, innovative and popular shows, including USA Network’s Monk, Fox’s Malcolm in the Middle and Comedy Central’s South Park, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. The National Association of Television Program Executives is honoring Herzog’s decades-long career with its Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award on Jan. 20.
“My first job was working with a bunch of young TV geeks during the early days of CNN,” Herzog says. “We booked Brandon as a guest just so we could meet him. He could not have been nicer or more engaging, answering all of our questions before he left. In that job at CNN I got to meet and interview a lot of important industry executives. Very few were as gracious as Brandon was that night. He made a lasting impression. It’s an honor to receive this NATPE award with Brandon’s name on it.”
Herzog’s knack for entertaining television audiences started during his early days at MTV in 1984 when he was creating news inserts for the network, which was predominantly programmed with short-form music videos. MTV may have broken the mold in what was popular on the small screen but the network needed more than that to be successful on Madison Avenue.
In an interview with The New York Times in 1998, Herzog recalled Robert Pittman, MTV’s president at the time, wanting to expand the network’s slate of programming. He told Herzog he had six weeks to make that happen.
Herzog came up with the game show, Remote Control, which became a breakthrough series for MTV. Other hits followed, including The MTV Video Music Awards, The MTV Movie Awards, The Real World and MTV Unplugged. Herzog’s efforts paid off handsomely for MTV. The network finally had regularly scheduled shows that generated audiences, which translated into higher ratings and more advertising dollars. It also paid off for Herzog, who was eventually named president of MTV Productions.
In 1995, Herzog became president of Comedy Central and was responsible for the launch of South Park and a slew of other shows that turned into hits. The satirical cartoon from Trey Parker and Matt Stone was a runaway success and soon became a fixture in the pop-culture firmament. Now in its 19th season, South Park remains one of Comedy Central’s highest rated shows. Other knockout series soon followed and Herzog’s fingerprints were all over them. For instance, Herzog signed Jon Stewart to helm the sleepy fake news series The Daily Show, but he wasn’t around to see how that panned out.
Herzog was lured from cable and into the broadcast arena in 1998, joining Fox Broadcasting as president of entertainment. Ironically, Herzog started at Fox the same day Jon Stewart took over the anchor desk at The Daily Show. The Fox gig didn’t last long, but Herzog was in high demand. Soon he was sitting in the corner office at USA Network, where he served as president from 2001 to 2004.
It was a great time to be a creative programmer in cable. Original shows were gaining steam and ratings, and Herzoghad a golden touch when it came to finding the right mix to attract viewers.
Herzog returned to Viacom in 2004, in time to watch The Daily Show With Jon Stewart ascend to the peak of popularity. At the time, it was one year into its 10- year streak of consecutive Emmy wins for best variety series.
When Stewart left the show last summer, Herzog once again needed to find a new anchor for The Daily Show. Herzog and his team picked South African comic Trevor Noah for the post.
Like his predecessor, Stewart, Noah is finding his voice. Though the ratings have dipped, Herzog is optimistic about the show’s future and Noah’s place at the helm.
But Viacom has faced other, larger challenges, including ever-increasing competition for eyeballs, slipping ratings, new technologies and the exit of long-time executives such as MTV MediaNetworks Music & Logo Group chief Van Toffler and TV Land president Larry Jones. After a review of the company’s org chart, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman led a restructuring, tapping Herzog to head the newly formed Viacom Music & Entertainment Group. He now oversees Comedy Central, MTV, MTV 2, VH1, Spike, Logo and related digital networks.
In a memo to employees announcing the restructuring, Dauman praised Herzog as leader who “has a proven ability to move seamlessly between the business and creative worlds. He understands what it takes to stay relevant and on the leading edge of popular culture, and under his leadership, Comedy Central, Spike and TV Land have established distinctive programming voices in the entertainment landscape.”