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"We need to get busy creating some content worthy of
the equity of the
[VH1] brand."

THE LIFE OF BRIAN

MTV/VH1 President of Entertainment
Brian Graden Lets Us Tug at His Sleeve
He came, we saw, he conquered.

Newly anointed VH1 President of Entertainment Brian Graden, who is also continuing his role as President of Entertainment for MTV (see story), has a lot to think about, and that’s okay with him. After coming to MTV in 1997 following his success as Executive Producer of South Park, he now has another runaway hit on his hands with The Osbournes, just as he’s taking on the major task of re-imagining VH1’s lineup.

With so much on his plate, it’s not surprising that he barely noticed when HITS’ own decorative parsley sprig, Marc Pollack, pestered him for a few hefty forkfuls of programming insight.

Has this appointment made a hard job even harder? Do you find yourself now having to split your thoughts between what you’re going to do here, what you’re going to do over there?
I think that’s a very fair question, it definitely is. One thing I would say is I was really blessed to have a very solid and consistent team at MTV. I worked with the same eight or 10 people for the last 5 years. And so, our success was really a group thing. I’m blessed to receive a lot of credit for it publicly, but it really was a group thing. So any one of those people can and have stepped up to sort of do marginal things that perhaps I didn’t need to do any more. So I think we’re going to be okay, but the #1 reason is the depth of management at MTV.

Personally, where do you find the time to program two networks?
I was thinking about this today. Because I work at MTV where everything is frenetic and nothing really lasts more than 30 seconds and we deal in three minute music videos, I’ve gotten used to being the ultimate schizophrenic multitasker. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. At home, my partner would say it’s very bad because I can’t focus on anything for more than two minutes before I get incredibly bored and move on. But I think, oddly enough, it’s prepared me well for this particular moment. 

What does the future hold for VH1? Do you think it has already peaked?
You know, I don’t. We do a lot of research here, whatever you make of that, and one of the things that has come up over and over is that the affinity for the VH1 brand is immense and there’s a lot of depth to it. And even as the content became less compelling, the number of people who cycled through and actually checked out to see if there was something on VH1 remained very high. So the sort of level of interest in the general brand notion is extremely high, and I think we just ran out of really great content. And I think that sometimes in television, you have to sort of take on the brand and completely redefine it, which is very often the case. In this case, I think it’s a different challenge. We need to get busy creating some content worthy of the equity of the brand.

How do you do that?
Well, that’s the one thing I have been okay at over the years. I don’t know what the key is, but one of the things I find is being very, wildly open to the sort of notion that anything could cut through. Because anybody that thinks they know much of anything in television is full of shit. When I look back on my short-enough career, I don’t think anybody imagined that  South Park was going to be that big of hit. And I can certainly can tell you with The Osbournes, if you would have looked at that on paper, and said follow Ozzy Osbourne around a year ago before he was the darling of the media, I don’t think anybody would have bought that idea either. And I think the lesson over and over is just you have to be very open and very aggressive and never think you know too much.

Can the success of The Osbournes, or that type of show, translate to VH1? Is it a phenomenon or a new paradigm in programming?
There’s no doubt that it’s a phenomenon. Every time I turn on any television, any channel, I see The Osbournes. I was driving home yesterday and I was listening to NPR and I was thinking, okay, an escape from my job and they did a seven-minute segment on The Osbournes and I about fell over. So it’s definitely a phenomenon. But as far as a paradigm changing, it’s funny: I always see people making that claim, but I think that’s probably for others to decide with like five years retrospect as to whether it was or not. I think The Real World, in retrospect, was paradigm shifting, but it wasn’t really apparent until like 8 or 10 years later.

What’s your relationship like with Christina Norman and what’s it going to be like working so closely together?
For years, I guess back in 1997/1998, Van Toffler and I had a very similar relationship, when he was General Manager of the channel, and that worked quite well. And then, Christina and I have worked together for five years, and our success has been mutually intertwined, because she ran marketing and if I made shows and she didn’t market them, we would have failed. And if she didn’t have any content to market we would have failed. Part of the reason I was willing to take this job and am very excited about it is that she’s there. Ostensibly, content is my thing, but at MTV we have benefited for years from a group thing. So she’s going to be very much a part of every decision.

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