MTVN Sets Its Executive Roster

Looks like Larry Divney didn’t cotton to life as a farmer. Former Comedy Central president Divney’s return to cable — coming back to MTV Networks as head of ad sales after a brief four-month retirement — was no joke last week, when officials at the programming powerhouse announced his appointment.

Divney will serve as chief operating officer of ad sales for MTVN, taking over some duties formerly handled by Mark Rosenthal, who had been MTVN president but exited the company in July.

Divney, who left Comedy in June to run a farm in upstate New York, was the surprise in a series of otherwise expected promotions unveiled by MTVN chairman and CEO Judy McGrath.

“We’re bringing him back to his-ad sales roots and I am confident that with his expertise we will exceed the phenomenal growth we’ve seen this year,” McGrath said in a statement. “And, aside from the fact that we were really missing him, I think he realized that farming is way overrated.”

McGrath and Divney couldn’t be reached for comment.

Before being named president of Comedy Central, Divney ran the network’s ad sales. At MTVN, Rosenthal’s duties included overseeing ad sales, but he left abruptly this summer when McGrath was promoted to succeed Tom Freston, a job Rosenthal wanted.

Freston was elevated to Viacom Inc. co-president.

Divney also fills the void left when Bob Bakish, MTVN’s former executive vice president and chief operating officer of ad sales, joined Freston in Viacom corporate this summer as executive vice president of operations.

McGrath also named her successor: no surprise there. Van Toffler — formerly president of MTV: Music Television, MTV2 and MTV Films — is now MTV Networks Group president, responsible for MTV, MTV2, VH1, CMT: Country Music Television and Logo, the gay network MTVN is launching next year. Toffler reports to McGrath.

Also, Brian Graden, formerly president of entertainment for MTV and VH1, got new titles and expanded duties. He was named president of Logo and president of entertainment for the MTVN Music Group, which includes MTV, MTV2, VH1 and CMT. Graden will also serve as creative liaison for MTV’s international operations, reporting to Toffler and McGrath.

Toffler and Graden both said their priority is to get Logo successfully off the ground next February.

“The short-term goal is getting Logo launched and distributed, hopefully in 10-plus million homes by the end of 2005,” Toffler said. “That would be a short-term mandate. … Like any channel in launch phase, you want to get the creative right because they’ll be a lot of critical eyes focused on this when it launches.”

He said Logo’s schedule at the start will be about 75% acquisitions and 25% originals. Graden is working on the programming, including developing original shows for the fledgling service.

Logo is starting to make some pilots right now.

“It’s that high-voltage time when you always see ideas you love come to fruition — some great, some needing more work,” Graden said. “That’s just where we are. I’m just now beginning to get a picture of what the original palette might look like. We won’t make decisions on which pilots become shows probably until the top of the year, when I can look at a lot.”

Toffler said part of his job is also convincing advertisers “to embrace this niche audience,” while Graden said he’s been heartened by the response to Logo so far from cable affiliates and Madison Avenue.

Graden’s other projects include reaping all the upside possible for growing CMT and crafting an independent identity for MTV2.

CMT is looking at doing a batch of new original series, and is doing “its first significant wave of pilots,” according to Graden.

CMT had produced long-form original music specials, but now wants to create complementary series that more broadly reflect a country lifestyle, Graden said.

“That platform [CMT] has a lot of upside,” he said. “For all of us, it’s a real complementary sensibility. It’s a chance to exercise a different creative spirit, one that I remember from growing up with too much George Strait.”

Graden, from a tiny Illinois farm town, said, “I swear to God, there was nothing on in our house but country.”

Toffler said another priority is to “secure a space” for MTVN’s brands “in the digital media world, in terms of digital music, wireless handsets and things like that.”

In the new management structure at MTVN, Comedy Central president Doug Herzog reports directly to McGrath. VH1 general manager Christina Norman and CMT general manager Brian Phillips report to Toffler.

Matt Farber, a consultant who did the groundwork for Logo, got the official title of Logo founder and will take a broader consulting role at MTVN, developing additional media options for the gay and lesbian audience.

Finally, Denmark West, formerly of Microsoft Corp., was named executive vice president of strategy and business development.

Last week’s changes didn’t affect Spike TV, under MTVN Group president Herb Scannell. There had been speculation Herzog would be put in charge of Spike TV, the men’s network, because its target demographic is so similar to Comedy Central’s.