National Show: Judy McGrath

Apr 10, 2006  •  Post A Comment

At a certain point, the accolades must seem to blur.

After 25 years at MTV, the last two as chairman and CEO, it’s difficult to find an industry accolade Judy McGrath has not received. Power list rankings. Awards. Accumulations of networks-now commanding 124 channels around the world.

In 1981 Ms. McGrath was living in New York, a writer for women’s magazines such as Glamour and Mademoiselle. She aspired to a writing position at Rolling Stone, but took a job as a promotions copywriter at the fledgling MTV network, back when the channel was available in only about 1 million homes.

“Many of my friends at Cond%E9; Nast thought I was making the biggest mistake of my life by going to MTV, so I thought that if so many people objected, I must be doing something right,” Ms. McGrath told TelevisionWeek in 2004.

Along with Glenn Britt, Ms. McGrath will receive a Vanguard Award for Distinguished Leadership, the highest honor awarded by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Her early work at MTV focused on creating promos that set a rebellious tone for the channel, where she helped pioneer the “I Want My MTV” campaign. She was promoted to editorial director, then executive VP and creative director, then to president-a position she held until she succeeded her mentor Tom Freston as chair and CEO in 2004.

Ms. McGrath has said one of her favorite MTV eras was the early 1990s, when she helped launch several pro-social initiatives, such as Choose or Lose and aligning with Rock the Vote. After she became CEO she helped drive the launch of MTV Networks’ gay-themed channel Logo.

When she was promoted, Ms. McGrath said she would make the post her own by focusing on new media elements. “Young adult media extends way off basic cable to online and the Internet, and we’re all focused on how to connect with them smartly,” she said.

She went on to launch what she has called a Marshall Plan for the new media age, making MTV content accessible via multiple platforms and helping pioneer the placement of series on wireless, video-on-demand and portable devices.

After being outbid for MySpace.com by News Corp., MTV Networks parent Viacom snatched up amateur short film Web site iFilm, kids site Neopets and video gamer site GameTrailers.com to mingle with MTV Networks brands.

“While everybody else is figuring out what platforms to use and talking about screens and technology, Judy has focused on the content that can be used on those platforms,” said Cyma Zarghami, president of the MTVN Kids and Family group. “Those platforms will all be successful when the content is excellent, and Judy gets that.”