Outtakes: MTV’s McGrath

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MTV Networks chairman and CEO Judy McGrath visibly flinches when she’s referred to as the most powerful woman in cable. But that’s who she is, regardless if she likes the label.

McGrath, who now oversees 96 networks in 166 countries, sat down with me and the This Week in Cable camera crew to talk about her first 90 days in her new gig. You can see and hear highlights from that interview on our Web site (www.multichannel.com).

What you’ll read here are the outtakes from the morning we spent in her ultra-funky office.

For starters, online, you won’t see her purple Puma sneakers. The camera crew and I never hit below the belt, if you will. Instead, what you’ll see is a totally focused woman who has a very big job and is very much in the public eye. She also lives life her way. I caught up with her a week after the Women in Cable & Telecommunications gala, where she was the honoree. That bash was held the day after President Bush won re-election. Believe me — I was there — that night was no victory party for programmers.

McGrath and I talked on and off-camera, about the repercussions Bush’s win could have on cable programmers who push the edge, and how Bush, who’s declared he has a mandate, could stifle free speech and creativity.

McGrath’s comments in a nutshell: MTV Networks will continue to serve the underserved. So take a look at the online version of our chat, and watch for a very stark piece of artwork in the background about censorship.

McGrath is proceeding with Logo — the new ad-supported new network being developed for gay and lesbian viewers — which will launch in February. Although gay unions were a big issue in the red states, McGrath remains resolute about launching Logo and its companion subscription service, which will be more risqué.

McGrath — probably the most down to earth executive in cable, without an air of artifice — was candid. I also asked if she was worried about losing her creative edge, now that she’s such a big suit. Her answer was intriguing. She said two of her mentors, Tom Freston, now Viacom’s co-president and co-chief operating officer, and Geraldine Laybourne, now chairman and CEO of Oxygen Media, had given her some sound advice: The same creative juices that make for great content can also be channeled into strategically managing such a far-flung empire.

How well she knows. Right in the middle of preparing for her WICT honor, McGrath was also prepping for her first sweeping MTVN budget presentation to the Viacom board.

McGrath and I also talked about why so many women are fleeing the cable industry. She’s been so busy that she wasn’t even aware that Lifetime Television CEO Carole Black had just resigned. Talk about focus. Catch her take on the subject — it’s a different view.

So don’t forget to log in, listen up, and see for yourself what McGrath, the most powerful woman in cable, has to say about your industry.

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