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Comedy Comes Into McGrath's MTVN Grouping

Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks last week said new MTVN Group President Judy McGrath will oversee its newest wholly owned network, Comedy Central.

Comedy president Larry Divney will report to McGrath, who already runs MTV: Music Television, MTV2, VH1 and CMT.

In assigning Comedy to McGrath's stable, MTV Networks chairman and CEO Tom Freston gave both her and fellow executive Herb Scannell the same title, group president.

Scannell continues to oversee Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, TV Land, Noggin and TNN, the network that's soon to be renamed Spike TV.

McGrath had been president of MTV Networks Music Group. Scannell was president of Nickelodeon and TV Land. They report to Freston.

"This was a move that enhances Herb and Judy's titles while putting Comedy Central under Judy — recognizing that Herb has his hands full" with the TNN rebranding effort, Freston said. "Putting it with Judy is a perfect fit."

It's unclear whether MTVN will fold Comedy Central's programming, marketing or affiliate sales operations into the group.

Network sources said they're preparing for some layoffs due to the acquisition, in which Viacom paid AOL Time Warner $1.23 billion for the half of Comedy it didn't already own.

Freston said MTVN would make some decisions regarding Comedy Central in the next three to four weeks. "It's our hope to do the best we can, to be fair at it, to employ as many people as possible and do it quickly," he said.

McGrath said it's too early to determine what if any on-air changes will be made to the 82 million-subscriber channel, but said the channel is in good shape.

The network will benefit from its affiliation with the MTVN stable, she added.

"[The network's] ratings are up, it has a good brand and an audience that identifies with them, they have great talent like Dave Chappelle and Jon Stewart and great shows from Crank Yankers
to South Park," she said. "Now I think they'll be in a creative culture where the bar is pretty high and people have fun and always want to up the ante, which hopefully will work well."

One thing Comedy Central can count on is an increase in original programming, which has helped keep MTV relevant among the its target 18-to-34-year-old viewer.

"The hallmark of the MTV Networks is a creator driven culture, and we like to find new talent and create relationships with producers," McGrath said. "There's so much competition these days that it's tough to just buy a movie package and consider your work done.

"The Comedy Central audience, like the MTV audience, likes you to take chances and freshen things up," she added.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.