Herzog to Return to Comedy Net as CEO

Feb 2, 2004  •  Post A Comment

A funny thing happened to Larry Divney on the way to his retirement as CEO of Comedy Central. He found out he was being replaced by predecessor Doug Herzog, now president of USA Network.
The punch line to the whole affair is that even though everyone knows Mr. Herzog is leaving USA to return to Comedy, neither network plans to say anything formally about it until this week.
Things are complicated at USA, with NBC still in a government review of the acquisition of USA’s parent company, Vivendi-Universal. Staffers are already on edge about upcoming personnel decisions, so the less said about executive positions the better.
Nevertheless, sources said Mr. Herzog wanted the top programming job at NBC Cable, which is expected to include oversight of all NBC Universal’s cable networks. But Jeff Gaspin, president of Bravo and executive VP, alternative series, specials, long-form and program strategy, at NBC, is more likely to get it. That would mean Mr. Herzog would report to Mr. Gaspin, who at one time worked for Mr. Herzog at Viacom.
Mr. Herzog won’t be leaving USA until the NBC acquisition is completed sometime later this year. It was not clear whether Mr. Herzog’s contract allows him to leave during a change in ownership or if NBC is simply letting him go.
Mr. Herzog is expected to run Comedy Central from Los Angeles, unlike Mr. Divney, who was based in New York.
Mr. Divney said he didn’t have a role in choosing his successor. He had told Tom Freston, CEO of MTV Networks, that he planned to retire at the end of 2004. At the National Association of Television Program Executives conference, Mr. Divney got a call from Judy McGrath, president of MTV Group, telling him his replacement had already been found. His reaction: “Great. Early parole.”
“There can only be one person in charge, and even though we probably could have [co-existed through the end of the year] it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I’m sure the next guy-although I’m not supposed to say anything even though it’s all over the place-he’s very familiar with the place, so it will be great.
“MTV has great aspirations for Comedy Central. They intend to take it up to the next level. They didn’t pay $1.2 billion to have a nice [profit and loss] going. They’re looking for another huge brand,” Mr. Divney said.
Mr. Divney, who turns 61 this month, said he’d long planned to retire with his wife to his farm in upstate New York. He said Mr. Freston told him he’d become the first executive to retire from MTV and Comedy Central. “No one retires. They either die or get fired,” Mr. Divney said. “I won’t be watching and worrying. I’ll be watching and laughing.”
Both Comedy Central and USA have been on a roll. Comedy Central last year racked up record revenue and is a must-buy among advertisers looking to reach young viewers. In the past year or two, it has added programs, including “Chappelle’s Show,” “Reno 911” and “Tough Crowd” to its lineup.
From 1995 to 1998 Mr. Herzog helped put Comedy Central on the right track, putting two key shows, “South Park” and “The Daily Show,” on the network.
He left for a brief stint as head of programming at Fox Broadcasting before taking his current post at USA Network. After a slow start under his leadership, USA began to develop successful original programming, headed by “Monk” and “The Dead Zone.” With those shows clicking, plus the acquisition of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, “ USA regained its spot at the top of the prime-time cable ratings.