New York -- Comedy Central has gained a general manager,
but it lost its chief of programming in the process.
Last week, the network appointed Bill Hilary, a veteran of
the British Broadcasting Corp., to the newly created position of general manager and
executive vice president, to oversee all programming and marketing functions.
But last Tuesday, when Comedy executive vice president of
programming Eileen Katz was informed that Hilary has gotten the GM slot, she quit on the
spot. Katz, who brought the mega-hit South Park to Comedy, had been a contender for
Under the new structure that will be in place when Hilary
comes on board Jan. 17, Katz would have reported to him. She had previously reported
directly to president and CEO Larry Divney.
"When she was informed that she would report to
[Hilary], she then opted to leave," Divney said. Katz couldn't be reached for
Divney, an ad-sales veteran who succeeded Doug Herzog last
year as Comedy's president, said he needs a No. 2 in command so he can focus on expanding
the network's business into new arenas. For example, Comedy is considering launching a
digital network, Divney added.
"We're just looking at the possibility of doing a
digital network," he said. "We don't have a format at this time."
Katz, who joined Comedy in 1995, really found, successfully
pursued and shepherded the hit show that put the network on the map, South Park,as well as its most recent success, The Man Show. Under her tenure, Comedy also
significantly expanded its slate of original series.
"She really took the network to national
prominence," said Ray Solley, an agent at William Morris Agency who represents a
number of clients who do shows for Comedy, including the creators of South Park,Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
He noted that a number of cable networks were interested in
South Park, but Katz "was one of the first to jump on it," and Parker and
Stone felt most comfortable with her and Comedy.
Divney, while thanking Katz for her contributions to
Comedy's success, said, "We have a pretty deep bench on the programming side. That's
not to say she won't be missed."
Some of the talent Katz recruited paid homage to her at a
previously scheduled network party here last Thursday to celebrate The Daily Show with
Jon Stewart's upcoming special, The Greatest Millennium Ever.
Stewart, during some brief standup remarks, thanked Divney
and pointedly thanked Katz, whom he noted was not at the party and no longer at the
network but deserved special mention. On a "personal note," he added that Katz
gave him his first job in television. Several Comedy performers, including Ben Stein of Win
Ben Stein's Money, applauded loudly.
Divney said it would be up to Hilary to hire Katz's
On Madison Avenue, Divney's old stomping ground, at least
one media buyer downplayed the significance of Katz's departure.
"Comedy Central is a solid organization," said
Steve Grubbs, director of national TV buying for BBDO Worldwide. "Larry Divney has
been in this business for a long time. Obviously, he felt he needed to make the changes.
And there is no one person responsible for South Park.Do you want to see
turnover? No. But he knows what he's doing."
Others pointed out that while Comedy's ratings are still
solid, and series such as The Man Show are performing well, the network hasn't
enjoyed a huge breakout hit since South Park.
In October in primetime, Comedy earned a 0.7 Nielsen Media
Research rating, down 13 percent from0.8 a year ago.
Hilary is currently head of the BBC's Independent
Commissioning Group, overseeing all original programming, marketing and business decisions
in that division. Divney said he needed a senior manager to create "a unified
creative voice," an integrated single vision for Comedy's programming and marketing
News that Divney was looking for a GM -- a No. 2 position
at the network -- first broke in August. Back then, there was speculation that Katz wold
leave if Divney brought in an executive above her.
Sources close to the network said Katz's contract gave her
the option of voluntarily leaving, with a payout, if she were required to report to
someone other than the CEO.
Hilary, who reports directly to Divney, will be relocating
here from London.
Divney has shown a penchant for hiring from outside of the
network, bringing in new blood for key positions, as he has done with Hilary and the GM
post. For example, this past spring, Divney recruited Hank Close, a veteran of Fox
Broadcasting Co., as Comedy's senior vice president of ad sales, rather than promoting his
own in-house ad-sales executive, David Kohl.
Comedy, now in 62 million homes, is a joint venture of Time
Warner Inc. and Viacom Inc.