Herzog: "I Was the Sarah Palin of Broadcast"

MTV Networks exec Doug Herzog talks with B&C about Comedy Central's "Olympic year," when South Park crosses the line...and his brief tenure at Fox.
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The 2008 election has been good for Doug Herzog. As president of MTV Networks Entertainment Group, Herzog oversees a programming stable that includes cable networks Spike and TV Land. But in this long, strange election year, it's Comedy Central—where Herzog served two stints as president—that has shined brightest, with The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report drawing record audiences and a resurgent South Park back in the fray. B&C's Marisa Guthrie spoke with Herzog about what happens after the election, when South Park crosses the line, and his brief tenure at Fox.

This political season has really energized The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

The incredible focus on this election and this campaign—and the historical significance of what has already transpired and what might ultimately transpire when Election Day is done—has completely fueled what is arguably the greatest daily comedic format for news. It's like an Olympic year for us.

Do you think there's more editorializing in this election season than before?

Well, of course. When you're dealing with guys like Colbert and Stewart, it's very much point-of-view comedy. I think their shows, and in Colbert's case his character, have a particular point of view. But their personal points of view and the way they look at things is going to come through. That's where I think the best comedy comes from.

What happens after the election, when the circus leaves town?

Elections provide a very unique platform for what Jon and Stephen do. We get a bump historically during the election season, and then we hold on to a certain percentage of [viewers] going forward. Each election year bumps us up a little bit going into next year.

How is David Alan Grier's new sketch comedy show, Chocolate News, doing?

We think we've got a really solid show, something in a point of view and a voice that's not really out there right now, which I always think is a big advantage. It feels like the right time. We've received some very nice reviews. The shows we've seen look great. We've got a major marketing campaign. And we're keeping our fingers crossed.

D.L. Hughley, a Comedy Central alum, is doing a late-night comedy show for CNN. What do you think?

We're fans of D.L.'s here. He was playing on this team for a little while. He's an enormously talented guy. He's great at the topical humor. We wish him the best.

South Park had its best fall launch since 1999. What do you attribute that to?

That's all about [co-creators] Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker], and the fact that they are still very much engaged in the show week after week. Their fingerprints are all over it, and at the end of the day it's their creative genius. I think technology has helped them, as well. They're able to produce the shows basically on a weekly basis. So they often end up being somewhat topical, which I think adds a great deal of urgency to what they're doing.

Obviously the show aims to be controversial. Does it ever go over the line?

Well, I think that show goes over the line pretty much on a weekly basis.

How about the premiere, in which Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, uh, violate Indiana Jones?

Really? Was that in an episode? I must have missed that one. I was busy last Wednesday night.

Is that a dodge?

That's as good a one as you're going to get.

You were entertainment president at Fox in the late '90s. How are the broadcast networks faring this fall?

Well, let's remember I was in broadcast for about a minute and a half. If I was a baseball player, they would call it a cup of coffee.

How short was it?

Fourteen months.

Almost as long as Sarah Palin's been governor of Alaska.

I was probably as qualified as she is. I was the Sarah Palin of broadcast.

The 2008 election has been good for Doug Herzog. As president of MTV Networks Entertainment Group, Herzog oversees a programming stable that includes cable networks Spike and TV Land. But in this long, strange election year, it's Comedy Central—where Herzog served two stints as president—that has shined brightest, with The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report drawing record audiences and a resurgent South Park back in the fray. B&C's Marisa Guthrie spoke with Herzog about what happens after the election, when South Park crosses the line, and his brief tenure at Fox.

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