September 12, 2022 | JIM SERPICO

In the latest podcast episode of Bread For the People, I sit down with Doug Herzog, formerly President of Viacom’s Music and Entertainment Group. He’s currently the co-host of the BASIC! Podcast.

You had a long successful career. Was it luck or hard work?

I mean, for me, I absolutely got lucky. To meet these comedians who were on MTV, including and especially Denis Leary. Obviously, MTV played a big part in the launch of Denis. 

I think I still have a copy of a letter from Ted Demme to you. I kept the letter where he pitches the idea in about three to four sentences. 

Well, that’s how it went in those days. You know, if you had a great idea, there weren’t a lot of layers. You had direct access to the senior executives, who were not much older than anybody else, and we were always flying by the seat of our pants, just looking for the next great idea and willing to try it. And that was great. We didn’t call MTV a startup, but it had a kind of a startup vibe. I mean, it was a bunch of lunatics running the asylum. We just had a great opportunity to follow our instincts and passion and try things and fail. And often get lucky, as you said. Look, I would say to you, Jim, you’re looking at and listening to one of the luckiest guys you’ll ever meet. I think I’ve got some skills, some charms, and some attributes, but I also know I was in the right place at the right time and was lucky to run into some of these people with whom I ended up doing some great business. 

Yeah, but you had what it took. You lasted a very long time in this business, like one hundred years in entertainment years.

But it’s come to this, Jim. It’s come to you and me sitting in closets talking to each other.

Exactly. Boy, the mighty have fallen. You are the co-host and co-creator of the podcast BASIC! About Basic Cable. And the reason you’re the perfect guy for it is you were at the forefront of basic cable. I mean, there aren’t many people that know more about the process of basic cable, the programming of basic cable, and what it took to get there. You are the guy!

Well, I certainly was. I was there for sure. I only did not work in cable for like two and a half years. I spent a minute at the Fox Network, where I think I set the land speed record for broadcast network presidents. And then, just before joining MTV, I actually did a year at Entertainment Tonight, a syndicated show before. But yeah, I had a front-row seat. 

And as I look around the landscape now, I see radio is still here, incredibly enough, mostly because of podcasts. I think, to a certain degree, satellite movies are still here. Network TV is still here. Cable, I think it’s going to go away. I think that the traditional version of cable, in the way it was delivered, it’s certainly diminishing, and it’s certainly going in the wrong direction. I think at some point, it might go away and that would be a shame. And I decided somebody had to recite the history. I think cable will go away. 

But we’re talking about two different things? Like when we talk about radio, we’re talking about content provided over the airwaves. History always repeats itself, right, and what we’re talking about is delivery methods. So the delivery method of cable television is what’s going to disappear, right? Because we’ve got these widgets on smart TVs that are essentially just another distribution system, the same way podcasting is to radio. 

Yeah, I fear, though, just the way streaming is going to date, they feel like the networks. Now they feel almost like big box retailers. Like they’re Amazon, Walmart, and Kmart, they have everything you want in one place. It’s hard to find. And what I think is missing is what basic cable was to the networks. I knew where to find comedy on cable; I knew where to find sports on cable. I knew where to find news on cable. I knew where to find women’s programming on cable. So, where is that in streaming? With all due respect to the folks at Paramount and Viacom, like Comedy Central, they don’t seem to be doing anything over there. They’ve got the Daily Show, and South Park still going, but very little original programming. 

David Zaslav of Discovery, I think, is going to come in and try and come at it in a different way. He’s a real cable guy, so we’ll see. Maybe he’s gonna take that last ride for these cable brands. 

What we’re talking about is niche programming. I feel like if you start with Netflix, the biggest one of them all, I’ve always had a problem with the business model of just taking other people’s money, as much as you possibly can, and buying up talent without proving how investors will get their money back. 

Right. It just doesn’t make sense. So they’re chasing their tail right now and were forced almost to have no identity because all they did was buy stars. But to that end, they’re in a good spot. You know, they’re still the folks to beat in streaming. 

Doug Herzog was formerly the President of Viacom’s Music and Entertainment Group where he oversaw Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, Spike, TVLand, and Logo. I worked with Doug many times over the years. In this episode, we discuss the state of Cable Television, the origins of South Park, and the early years of MTV. Doug is currently co-hosting the BASIC! Podcast. Each week Basic! takes you behind the scenes of that glorious time in pop culture when MTV’s ‘The Real World,’ ESPN’s ‘SportsCenter’ and AMC’s ‘Breaking Bad’ made cable TV a must-have for every American home.

Follow Jim Serpico on Facebook @bread4thepeoplepod and Instagram at @jimserpico


powered by Sounder

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *