In the realm of cosmic signs, the fact that Kent Alterman and Comedy Central share a birthday—appropriately enough, April Fool’s Day—is certainly significant.But a few more planets needed to align in order for Alterman to return to the Viacomowned network after a 10-year absence.
A big one did when Viacom Entertainment Group president Doug Herzog needed to fill a key post vacated by Lauren Corrao and thought of Alterman, who had recently completed his directorial debut with the 2008 film Semi-Pro.
“We were undergoing some changes,” Herzog recalls. “And even though Kent at the time was in the movie business, I thought he might be interested in talking about a return to the TV business. And he was.”
In January 2013, Alterman was promoted to president of content development and original programming, overseeing the entirety of Comedy Central’s output. Just after his promotion, Alterman announced the newly created CC Studios, an in-house production unit dedicated to digital platforms and headed by Allison Kingsley.
“Rather than having digital content be an afterthought to our linear programming… we’re trying to develop in a more holistic way,” Alterman says.
Just compared to the prior year, Comedy Central has boosted its content output by 55%, with new series such as Nathan for You and The Ben Show, both premiering Feb. 28, among them.
Though Alterman’s return to the network seems premeditated, he insists on calling himself “an idiot without a plan.” The Texas native first entered the workforce as a graphic designer for a New York firm that did extensive work with entertainment marketing, a subject to which he was always drawn.
Staying true to his self-described form, Alterman decided to “pull the plug” and move toward the creative realm, even though he lacked a concrete plan. Still, he was convinced his future lay down the arduous path of development, pitches and production. With the help of some friends—and a bit of so-called “scamming”— Alterman began working with Michael Moore on the NBC and BBC2 series TV Nation.
Alterman had teamed with a producing partner and managed to score an interview with Moore, who liked the ideas the team offered.
“My partner ended up taking another job, so I decided to shake the dice and see if I could do it on my own,” Alterman says. “They never really questioned where my partner was or who had done what in our background. And so it was kind of trial by error.”
After spending two years with TV Nation, Alterman pitched a show to Comedy Central; instead of buying the show, however, the network hired him. He spent five years working with the New York development office, during which time he developed and produced sketch comedy shows Strangers With Candy and Upright Citizens Brigade.
Alterman made another career change, albeit a less radical one, when he moved over to feature films as executive VP for New Line Cinema. His first project, as executive producer of the 2003 comedy Elf, introduced him to comedian Will Ferrell, whose sometimes self-deprecating humor mirrors Alterman’s.
The relationship between the two led to the development of Semi-Pro, which follows the 1976 merger of the ABA and the NBA and most importantly, at least to Alterman, the San Antonio Spurs— the onetime ABA club that is Alterman’s hometown team. His passion and feel for the material earned him the opportunity to direct the movie.
Working on both sides, as a content creator and executive, gives Alterman a unique perspective.
“[I]t makes me more effective having been on the other side,” Alterman says. “But I am quick to admit that I might be very mediocre at both.”
Aside from his “mediocrity” at Comedy Central, Alterman carves out time to make use of his photography degree; his primary subjects are his two young children.
“Instead of starting with a blank canvas or page, you are starting with everything,” Alterman says. “And then through the process of reduction and making choices, you [find] what resonates with you.”
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