Herzog Eyes Comedy Central Return


In the first major executive fallout stemming from NBC's impending acquisition of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, USA Network president Doug Herzog is headed back to Comedy Central to replace retiring president and CEO Larry Divney.

An announcement is expected as early as next week, said sources close to Universal and Comedy Central.

Comedy executives confirmed Divney's retirement, which is expected to come this summer.

A Comedy Central spokesman, however, would not confirm Herzog's move to the MTV Networks-owned service. A spokesman for Universal Television, which owns USA, would not comment on the matter.

Herzog led Comedy Central from 1995 to 1998 and was responsible for launching such shows as South Park and The Daily Show.

After a brief and tenuous stint at the Fox television network, Herzog joined USA in 2001, where he oversaw the launch of such successful shows as Monk, The Dead Zone and most recently, the critically acclaimed miniseries Traffic.

Herzog's future status at USA was brought into question, however, after NBC last fall decided to purchase Vivendi Universal, whose television holdings also include cable networks Sci Fi Channel and Trio.

NBC, which is expected to finalize its $14 billion deal in April or May, last month named NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker as president of its Entertainment, News and Cable Group. Industry speculation is that once the deal is completed, Zucker would also oversee Vivendi's cable services, including Sci Fi Channel, USA and Trio.

With Herzog out of the mix, one Universal source said it's unlikely his position will be filled.

"Why put another programming executive between Zucker and [USA executive vice president and general manager Michele] Ganeless?" said the executive. "They're trying to save money, so why bring in another high paid middleman?"

NBC executives didn't return phone calls.

Divney, who took over Comedy after Herzog's departure to Fox, has helped launch several popular series to complement South Park, including Reno! 911, Crank Yankers and Chappelle's Show.

Overall, Divney has spent 13 years at the comedy channel during a 20-year cable career that included executive stops at MTV: Music Television, Cable Health Network (now Lifetime Television), Cable News Network and A&E Network.

"Now that I feel the bulk of the integration process is complete and that Comedy Central is in a great place within MTV Networks, I've decided, after great soul-searching, that I'm not going to renew my contract when it's up at the end of this year," Divney said in a prepared statement.

"My time at Comedy Central has been the most fulfilling experience in my entire professional career, but at this point in my life it is my strong desire to spend more time with my wife at the farm and traveling."