In his new role as head of Spike TV, Comedy Central president Doug Herzog is charged with finding shows that provide a signature for the originals-challenged, male-targeted service, he and other network executives said.
Herzog, who’s replacing former president Albie Hecht (who resigned on Jan. 30), will oversee both Spike and Comedy under a newly created division within Viacom Inc.’s MTV Networks. Herzog reports to MTVN group president Herb Scannell with respect to Spike and to MTVN chairman Judy McGrath concerning Comedy.
“Doug was brought in to do Comedy Central and we didn’t anticipate this happening,” Scannell said. “But when it came time for me to think of where I wanted to go with a change, I thought the best candidate was right here in the house.”
Herzog said it was too early to talk about specific projects, but he’ll look at several programming genres, including scripted and reality series and live-event shows to create a clearer image for viewers of what the network is all about.
“I’ve inherited a network in great shape with great momentum, but in the TV business, it’s ultimately about hit shows,” he said.
Spike has yet to find a brand-defining series staple. The Monday late-night combat reality series Ultimate Fighter is having some early success in reaching the young male demo, but the recent slate of reality-based original programming — including the second season of former hit The Joe Schmo Show — failed to drive ratings.
The hyped “Spike@9” weekly block of original programming launched last November with such shows as The Club and Al Sharpton in I Hate My Job. It disappointed, too, falling well below the network’s 1.0 prime time household rating.
Herzog hopes to broaden the male audience while continuing to increase the overall primetime rating rank.
RATINGS WERE UP
While Spike posted double-digit increases in household rating increases in 2004 — on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and World Wrestling Entertainment fare — primetime ratings for 18-to-34 men actually dropped 13% from 2003 to a 0.7, according to Nielsen Media Research figures.
At the same time, there was a 25% primetime ratings gain, to a 0.5 rating, among women 18 to 34 during the same time period.
“Clearly the ratings are there, but we think we can move the needle in terms of original programming, and Doug has clearly had success creating signature shows for different networks in the cable world,” said Scannell, referring to Herzog’s successes developing shows during prior stints at USA Network (Monk) Fox (Malcolm in the Middle) and Comedy Central (South Park).
Katz Television Media Group vice president and director of programming Bill Carroll said Herzog has the experience and the track record to take Spike TV to a level which targets the coveted young male demo but also reaches out to all men.
“Obviously they believe they’ve been successful, but they’re looking to fine-tune,” Carroll said. “Certainly he would be on my short list of people who have the accomplishments in the past, which leads one to believe that the potential is the in the future.”
Herzog will also look to add more sports programming, but Spike won’t get into bidding wars for marquee rights.
Along with sports and entertainment content from the WWE and the Ultimate Fighter series, Spike has also featured replays of pay-per-view boxing matches and has offered fantasy sports-related shows.
On the WWE front, neither Scannell nor Herzog would give a firm commitment to the return of WWE’s Monday-night Raw franchise once a contract with the pro-wrestling outfit expires later this year.
“The WWE has been great in getting Spike going, and the interest [in keeping the series] is there with us,” Scannell said. “Doug has to figure out where things are now and what he wants to take it forward.”
Herzog also wouldn’t rule out offering more titillating programming to attract males.
“Beautiful women are on high on the list of what men like, so it’s hard to ignore. We’ll find a way to deliver that to our audience, but in a way that the viewers, affiliates and advertisers respond positively to.”
Hecht — who had served as the male-targeted network’s first president since the rebranding to Spike TV from The New TNN 17 months ago — resigned Sunday due to “creative differences,” according to network officials.
Hecht oversaw the creation of several Spike TV hits such as The Joe Schmo Show, MXC, Most Extreme Elimination Challenge and The Video Game Awards.