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Former MTV Exec Doug Herzog’s Podcast Bares Secrets of Basic Cable

Doug Herzog
Doug Herzog, podcast star

Did you know that Ben Stiller auditioned to be an MTV VJ? Or that Cindy Crawford worked for free during the first season of House of Style?

These are some of the stories shared by former cable TV executive Doug Herzog in his new podcast Basic, which makes its debut this week. It is about basic cable (not HBO), a medium whose history Herzog was intimately involved in.

Unlike HBO, few people talk or write about basic cable, which Herzog, a member of the Broadcasting+Cable Hall of Fame, called frustrating.

“Basic cable is so important for so many reasons,” Herzog told B+C. “Without basic cable, there'd be no 24-hour news, no reality television, and there'd be no Shark Week. Where would we be as a culture?”

Herzog started his career at CNN. He joined Viacom as executive VP of original production and programming for MTV and became president of Comedy Central. He spent a year slumming as president of the Fox Broadcast Network before returning to cable as president of USA Network. He came back to Viacom, overseeing its music and entertainment networks. He departed in 2016, when cost-cutting became more important than culture at Viacom, now part of Paramount Global.

Shows launched at Viacom under Herzog include The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, South Park, The Real World, Key & Peele, Inside Amy Schumer, Tosh. 0 and Younger.

His experience puts him in a unique position to tell the basic-cable story. “I think there’s a great arc to it. There’s a beginning, there’s a middle and I think there’s about to be an end,” he said.

More recently, Herzog has been consulting with companies including the notoriously short-lived streaming service Quibi and Pantheon Podcasts, which convinced him to get in front of a microphone.

Herzog teamed up with Jen Chaney, a critic with Vulture, and sold the project to Sirius XM, which is distributing the show to major platforms and airing it on Sirius’s Volume channel and the Sirius app.

Herzog and Chaney are planning to record 48 episodes and are done with about half of them.

He’s been leaning on some people he knows and “making some new friends”  to get guests for Basic.

Guest appearing on the pod include Cindy Crawford, Bryan Cranston, Samantha Bee, Ben Stiller, Denis Leary, Neal Brennan, Tom Lennon, Kerri Kenney and Mike Judge.

Herzog has found while he remembers largely unknown facts like offering Jimmy Kimmel The Daily Show before Jon Stewart, other events are hazy or just plain mis-remembered.

“I always told a story that we shot a pilot for The Real World, and for some reason I was convinced we actually shot it on a home movie camera,” Herzog said. When Tracy Grandstaff, an MTV and Comedy Central staffer who was in the pilot and later become the voice of Daria, appeared on the podcast, she told Herzog, that no, it was actually shot with real cameras.

“I’ve learned to ask the question and lean back without throwing in my recollection so I can see whether I have it right or not,” Herzog said. ■

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.