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Viacom CEO Takes on Direct Oversight of MTV, Comedy Central, Spike TV

Variety logo Variety 12/21/2016 Cynthia Littleton
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Viacom president-CEO Bob Bakish is taking on direct oversight of the cable channels in its music and entertainment group following the departure next month of longtime Viacom exec Doug Herzog.

Bakish confirmed in a memo Wednesday that Chris McCarthy — who oversees MTV, VH1 and Logo — will report directly to him, along with Comedy Central chief Kent Alterman and Spike TV head Kevin Kay. Herzog confirmed earlier Wednesday that he will exit as president of the music and entertainment group next month, after 25 years with the company.

Bakish’s move is the latest shakeup of the status quo at Viacom, the conglom that has faced management and corporate governance turmoil for the past year. Bakish was named permanent CEO last week. He declined to comment Wednesday on Herzog’s departure beyond his memo.

Sources said Bakish decided it made sense for the channels to report directly him at a time when the company is looking to reinvigorate its cable business and respond to the rapid changes in viewing habits that are putting pressure on all major cable programming groups. Bakish is looking to give McCarthy, Alterman and Kay more authority to execute their respective visions for the channels.

When Bakish was named Viacom’s acting CEO in October, he immediately restructured the management of the cable operations, dividing the channels among Herzog, Nickelodeon Group chief Cyma Zarghami and BET chairman Debra Lee. In the weeks since, Bakish is said to have become impressed with the three leaders who had been working under Herzog.

Bakish’s move to eliminate the Herzog management layer is in keeping with the decisive leadership style that convinced the Viacom board to grant him the permanent CEO job. Bakish has been with Viacom since 1997 and spent the past decade heading its successful international channels group. In addition to serving as Viacom CEO he is also CEO of its Global Entertainment Group encompassing the music and entertainment group channels along with TV Land and CMT.

Herzog is a well-loved exec among the Viacom rank and file, having grown up at MTV and having led Comedy Central to new heights in the 1990s. At the same time, Viacom’s cable group has seen its ratings and affiliate revenue decline amid the broader industry challenges, which has added to the sense of urgency around bold restructuring moves.

The Herzog shuffle comes barely a week after Bakish secured the permanent CEO gig and after Viacom and CBS called off the merger discussions that had been initiated by National Amusements, the holding company that controls both congloms. National Amusements president Shari Redstone and the rest of the Viacom board of directors were convinced that Bakish had the right combination of industry savvy and institutional knowledge to lead Viacom to better days.

Here is Bakish’s complete memo on Herzog’s exit:

Team,

I wanted to share the news that Doug Herzog, President of the Music and Entertainment Group, is leaving Viacom next month. Below is the note that he sent out today to his teams in the Music and Entertainment Group. The brands in that Group will report directly to me moving forward.

In all the time I’ve known Doug, he’s never been an easy act to follow. South Park. The Daily Show. The Video Music Awards and MTV News. Chappelle’s Show and The Colbert Report. Name some of the most indelible hits in our history, and they’ve probably got Doug’s name in the credits and his creative fingerprints all over them. In his initial tenure at MTV, he came over from CNN as a fledging producer and rose to become the President of MTV Productions, and an architect of the brand’s leap from music videos to original programming. He oversaw the launch of “The Real World” and “Road Rules,” as well as the VMAs, “Movie Awards” and “Unplugged.”

That run alone would’ve put Doug in the Hall of Fame, but he followed it up by taking the job as President of Comedy Central in 1995, building that brand from a cult phenomenon to its current iteration as a multiplatform powerhouse, beginning with “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and continuing through to today with hits like “Broad City” and “Inside Amy Schumer.” Following stints at USA and Fox, we lured him back into the fold in 2004 to head up the Entertainment Group and, under his leadership, Comedy Central, Spike and TV Land all have enjoyed creative renaissances, from “Lip Sync Battle” to “Hot in Cleveland” to “Bar Rescue” and “Key & Peele.”

Doug gives a lot of credit below to luck, but let’s be honest – no one is that lucky. Doug made his own luck by being extremely good. He’s got sharp creative insight, a great eye for talent, and he inspires loyalty and adoration in his people. He’s also the funniest guy in pretty much any room and, above all, he’s an incredible human being.

I know this doesn’t need to be said, but I hope you’ll join me in thanking Doug for all of his incredible contributions to our company.

Best,

Bob

More to come

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