It’s an end of an era at MTV – after what has been years of speculation, Viacom today announced that veteran Judy McGrath is resigning from her position as Chairman and CEO of its MTV Networks. McGrath, who had been at MTV almost from the beginning, starting as a copywriter at the music channel in 1981, and was named Chairman and CEO of MTV Networks in July 2004 by then-Viacom co-president and co-COO (and McGrath mentor) Tom Freston, to whom she reported. But after the abrupt firing of Freston in 2006, there was rampant speculation that she would leave too. She ultimately made peace with the new top management, but rumors about her leaving persisted. Three years ago, she was rumored to run Oprah Winfrey’s OWN, where Freston works as an adviser. And last year, NBCUniversal’s Lauren Zalaznick explored the possibility of taking McGrath’s position before re-upping with the newly merged Comcast-NBC Universal. There will be no replacement for McGrath as Viacom President and CEO Philippe Dauman reportedly wanted to have direct oversight of the company’s cable divisions. Following McGrath’s departure, Doug Herzog, President, MTVN Entertainment Group; Van Toffler, President, MTVN Music & Logo Group; and Cyma Zarghami, President, Nickelodeon & MTVN Kids & Family Group, who used to report to McGrath, will report directly to Dauman. Below are McGrath’s statement and Dauman’s memo on her exit:
Judy McGrath: “The people of MTV Networks have always been singularly important to me. Together we have built world-class brands that connect with fans from kid to adulthood, from SpongeBob to Hot In Cleveland, from Unplugged to The Daily Show. We have attracted and nurtured the best talent in the world, and I know that will always be a hallmark of the company. Creatively, financially, all the brands and businesses are in wonderful shape today. I leave with pride, joy and gratitude for the ride of a lifetime. I especially thank my friends and colleagues on the senior team, who will continue to lead a kick-ass organization. They have my respect and affection, always.”
Memo from Philippe Dauman:
The words creativity, passion and integrity are thrown around a lot in business. But when used to describe our friend and colleague Judy McGrath, these words take on special relevance and meaning. Throughout her career, Judy has embodied the spirit of discovery and reinvention that has defined and fueled a great deal of our creative and business success. Today, in the attached press release, we announced that after three decades of extraordinary accomplishment, Judy has decided to leave MTV Networks and begin a new chapter in her career.
What a remarkable career it has been. After a brief flirtation with the magazine industry, she arrived at MTV moments after its birth in 1981 as a copywriter. Soon, her creative work was helping to define MTV’s maverick attitude and unique audience connection with on-air promos and contests like “Devo Goes Hawaiian” and “One Night Stand with Journey.” From the beginning, she energetically channeled her life-long passion for music into everything she did. Judy thrived and so did MTV. She subsequently moved up the ranks and became Editorial Director, Executive Vice President and Creative Director, and then, President of MTV. Under her direction as President, MTV grew from a cable channel about music into the global brand it is today by constantly reinventing and reflecting the always-changing youth culture.
As Chairman and CEO of MTV Networks, her inclusive leadership helped shape our media networks into the most successful and powerful television brands in the world today. Judy and her team guided the growth of the industry’s largest collection of multiplatform networks, including MTV, MTV2, mtvU, Tr3s, VH1, VH1 Classic, CMT, Logo, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, COMEDY CENTRAL, TV Land and Spike, to name just a few. Through Nickelodeon, she also oversaw the growth and expansion of one of the largest consumer products businesses in the world.
The list of entertaining, culturally significant and generationally relevant programming produced during her tenure is as large and varied as the audiences she continually studied and sought. She was in the room when The Real World was conceived and reality television was born. She led the team that created cultural beacons like the MTV Video Music Awards, Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards, the MTV Movie Awards and Total Request Live. She Punk’d a generation, introduced us to the bleepin’ Osbournes, and took MTV’s largest audience ever on a trip to the Jersey Shore. Under her watch, generations of kids were introduced to Nick’s megahits SpongeBob SquarePants, iCarly and Dora the Explorer, the LGBT (NYSE: BT) audience got their first and only television network in LOGO, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report became important voices in the national dialogue, and we got an unblinking look at teenage pregnancy and motherhood on 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom.
As we all know, Judy’s enthusiasm is infectious and her commitment is boundless. Consistently recognized as an inspiring and creative leader, she has been a model for many young women seeking successful careers in the entertainment industry. She has led the drive for diversity and community service throughout our organization and always maintained a passionate commitment to developing pro-social initiatives that raise the consciousness of viewers and empower audience involvement. “Darfur is Dying,” the Peabody Award-winning “Choose or Lose” campaign, the Emmy award-winning “Fight For Your Rights” series, Nick’s “Let’s Just Play,” and the “Hope For Haiti” telethon are only a few of the many dozens of important pro-social campaigns she has championed across the entire portfolio of MTVN brands.
While doing all this, she also made time to personally give back, serving on the Board of Governors of the American Red Cross, the Board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, and the Advisory Board of the United Nation Foundation’s Girl Up campaign. Most important, she built a great life with her husband Mike and daughter Anna.
Perhaps her most enduring legacy is the talented team she assembled up and down the ranks of MTV Networks. With Judy’s departure, we have the opportunity to tap into and elevate an extraordinary group of experienced executives.
Effective immediately, Doug Herzog, President, MTVN Entertainment Group; Van Toffler, President, MTVN Music & Logo Group; and Cyma Zarghami, President, Nickelodeon & MTVN Kids & Family Group – each of whom have successfully led their teams for many years and all of whom have moved their organizations forward creatively and operationally – will report directly to me.
I am very pleased to be able to recognize the efforts of these outstanding executives who have all been instrumental in achieving new levels of success for many of our most prominent media properties. I am looking forward to working more closely with them and with their talented teams.
Additionally, we are more closely aligning important staff functions. Rich Eigendorff, COO of MTVN, who has also been with the Viacom family for more than 25 years and contributed enormously to our success, will now report to Viacom’s COO, Tom Dooley. Rich will continue to oversee MTVN’s ad sales efforts as well as the content, distribution and marketing operations. Also reporting to Rich will be Carole Robinson, who will continue in her current responsibilities. MTVN’s CFO, Jacques Tortoroli, will now report to Viacom’s CFO, Jimmy Barge; MTVN Co-General Counsel, Andra Shapiro and George Cheeks, will report to Viacom’s General Counsel, Mike Fricklas; and Catherine Houser, EVP, MTVN Human Resources, will report directly to Viacom’s EVP of Human Resources, Denise White – giving us the opportunity to bring greater coordination to these important functions. Marva Smalls will continue to report to Cyma as EVP, Public Affairs and Chief of Staff, Nickelodeon & MTVN Kids and Family Group. In her broader duties as EVP of Global Inclusion, which will be expanded to include the entire company, Marva will advise me and report to Denise White as part of our Viacom-wide diversity initiatives.
I know you join me in a heartfelt farewell to Judy, an admired and valued colleague whose accomplishments at MTV Networks and in our industry will never be diminished or forgotten. There is no doubt that filling Judy’s Chuck Taylors will be a big task, but I am confident that working together with the talented team she leaves behind, we will get it done – with a lot of hard work and enthusiasm and a generous measure of grace and style. Just the way Judy always did it.