EXCLUSIVE, Updated with Viacom’s announcement: Viacom is making a change at the top of Comedy Central following months of declining ratings. President Michele Ganeless is stepping down at the end of this month after a 12-year tenure and a 25-year run at the company, to be replaced by top lieutenant Kent Alterman, currently president of original programming. The company announced the executive shakeup after Deadline broke the news.
Ganeless, who recently oversaw the network’s late-night transition post-Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, will remain at the company as a consultant through September. She says that “the time is right to move on and challenge myself in new ways.”
Alterman will be based in Santa Monica, and report to Doug Herzog, president of Viacom Media Networks Music & Entertainment Group. David Bernath will become Comedy Central’s General Manager, reporting to Alterman. Read below the story Herzog and Ganeless’ memos about the change.
Herzog praised Alterman’s “extraordinary talent for uncovering and elevating original comedic voices who bring a distinct point of view to the table. Finding and nurturing great talent is what we do best, and we are doubling down on that approach.”
CEO Philippe Dauman promised analysts last month that revivals at Comedy Central as well as MTV “will be a driver of our advertising revenue recovery as we head into our next fiscal year.”
Herzog already made a top executive change at MTV with the hire of Sean Atkins as president in September. Last week, Atkins brought in longtime Major League Baseball chief marketing officer Jacqueline Parkes as EVP of Marketing and Creative, and Lifetime’s SVP and head of non-scripted Eli Lehrer as EVP overseeing MTV2.
Alterman was head of New York development at Comedy Central from 1996 to 2000, and rejoined in 2010 after stints working with Fox Film Studios and New Line.
He has been on the rise since. Promoted from EVP to President, Content Development & Original Programming in 2013, Alterman, based in Santa Monica and reporting to Ganeless, has overseen the development and day-to-day operations of all original programming on Comedy Central’s linear channel and digital platform. Known for his trademark deadpan quotes in press announcements, Alterman has been involved in the development of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore as well as Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City, Key & Peele, Drunk History, and Not Safe with Nikki Glaser.
In their internal memos, Herzog and Ganeless noted that the news of the changeover was supposed to be unveiled tomorrow, with the announced moved up because of Deadline’s story breaking the news.
Here is Herzog’s email, followed by Ganeless’ farewell to her colleagues.
Hey everyone. I have some news about Michele Ganeless and Comedy Central I had planned to share with you tomorrow. Unfortunately, it leaked to the press this evening. After 25 years as part of this great brand, Michele has decided to step away from her role as President of Comedy Central. During her long and successful tenure the network has grown into a true multiplatform powerhouse. Her strong and strategic leadership have helped build Comedy Central into one of the most admired and culturally relevant brands across the entire media and content spectrum.
To fill her very big shoes, Kent Alterman will be stepping into the role of President of the network, reporting to me. Dave Bernath will become General Manager, reporting to Kent. We are enormously fortunate to have such deep bench strength on our team. And while things will be a bit different, we will enjoy the benefit of real continuity for the brand.
Michele has a long, rich history with Comedy Central. She was here the very day the network launched – when Mystery Science 3000 and Short Attention Span Theater were the mainstays of our schedule. She left and came back two more times – with stints at MTV and USA in between. In her most recent tour of duty, she returned to lead the brand 12 years ago – and has been guiding the way ever since.
Michele has helped propel Comedy Central into the #1 brand in comedy. She presided over a culture that spawned some of the most successful series in cable history including The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Nightly Show, South Park, Tosh.0, Workaholics, Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele and Broad City – to name just a few. We’ve won Emmys, Peabodys and maybe most importantly – the hearts, minds and eyeballs of loyal fans everywhere they can find a screen.
I’m not going to lie, this is a tough moment for me. Michele has been working side by side with me for many, many years. She is a trusted and talented colleague, a valued confidant and advisor and, most importantly, my great friend. I will miss her dearly, as I imagine many of you will, as she moves along to the next chapter in her career. But this is a great time for Comedy Central and I’m confident we won’t miss a beat with Kent and Dave at the helm – and all of you continuing to do the great work you do.
I hope you will all join me in thanking her for everything she has done. She has been Comedy Central’s biggest fan and greatest champion and will always be considered part of our family. Please join me in wishing Michele all the best.
I have some big news to tell you that I had hoped to share with you myself tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, it leaked to the press this evening.
For the better part of two decades, Comedy Central has been my second home and all of you have been more than just my colleagues, you’ve been like family. I have had the tremendous honor of leading this brand for the past 12 years, and to have played a role in its leadership for 17 of the last 20. It has been an absolute privilege to be part of the explosion of this remarkable brand, and to bear witness to and help build the cultural force that is Comedy Central. The deep connection I have to you, to Comedy Central, and to my friend and mentor, Doug, makes the news I share today so difficult. After considerable thought, I have decided that the time is right to move on and challenge myself in new ways.
I am so proud of the team here and my time with all of you. Together, we have built Comedy Central into the premiere destination for comedy across every platform imaginable. We are in the midst of a creative renaissance with the deepest bench of talent in our history – that was in full view at our Upfront in March – and we possess an equally deep bench of seasoned leaders who are ready to step up and take on a bigger role after I depart. You will be hearing more on that from Doug momentarily.
Thank you for your dedication and devotion to Comedy Central. You are the best team in the business and I know you will continue to grow what has been built over the past 25 years. I’ll be around through the end of the month and hope to see as many of you as possible before I leave.