Kevin Kay Out; Kent Alterman to Take Over Paramount Network in Viacom Restructuring

Kay, who had been with Viacom for more than two decades, was hand-picked to oversee the rebranded Spike TV for Bob Bakish. Comedy Central president Alterman will now take on oversight of Paramount Network and TV Land, with MTV, VH1 and Logo president Chris McCarthy adding CMT.
Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter; Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Comedy Central
Kevin Kay (left), Kent Alterman

There's another major reshuffling of the cable decks at Viacom.

Kevin Kay, who was hand-picked to oversee Paramount Network during its rebranding as a general entertainment destination from Spike, is out after more than two decades with the media conglomerate. Kay had oversight of Paramount Network and added niche networks TV Land and CMT in February 2017 as part of Viacom CEO Bob Bakish's larger restructuring. In a memo to staff Thursday, Bakish said the company is restructuring its Viacom Media Networks, consolidating the brand groups from five to four: Comedy Central, Paramount Network and TV Land in one; MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo in the second; BET Networks as the third; and Nickelodeon as the fourth.

Kent Alterman will oversee Paramount Network, Bellator and TV Land alongside Comedy Central. MTV, VH1 and Logo president Chris McCarthy will add oversight of CMT. BET and Nickelodeon will remain as is. Bakish noted Thursday in his memo (see below) that a "number of senior level colleagues will be leaving," including Kay, who will remain on to help ensure a smooth transition to Alterman.

Alterman, who replaced Michele Ganeless at the top of Comedy Central in May 2016, will add oversight of Paramount Network and TV Land, taking over those duties that were held by Kay. Like Kay did, Alterman will report directly to Bakish. 

The executive change comes less than a year after Spike was rebranded as Paramount Network as part of Bakish's larger plan to reinvigorate Viacom's cable brands. Paramount Network has struggled in its first year. The channel launched in January with TV Land imports American Woman and Nobodies, both of which were canceled after their first cycle on Paramount Network. Yellowstone, the Kevin Costner-starrer that was the first scripted original developed specifically for Paramount Network, has been renewed. TV Land favorite Younger will move over to Paramount Network, where it will join fellow Darren Star entry Emily in Paris and a reboot of First Wives Club. Paramount Network has also twice delayed its buzzy take on Heathers, scrapping the series before ultimately plotting a Halloween binge after executives were unable to find the controversial series a new home.

"These changes mark the next step in the ongoing evolution of our company as we continue to ensure we’re making the most of our great assets and resources, and operating as nimbly and efficiently as we can,” Bakish said in a release. “Comedy Central, Paramount Network and TV Land share an original content strategy anchored in scripted programming, and CMT — with its deep roots in music and unscripted programming —is a natural partner for MTV and VH1. Kent and Chris have been driving forces behind Viacom’s flagship strategy, re-energizing and growing two of our most iconic brands, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.”

Bakish's larger plan for Viacom was to focus on six key brands — Paramount Network, Comedy Central, BET, Nickelodeon, MTV and Nick Jr. — in his quest to rejuvenate the company. In a March interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kay said he'd like to have six scripted originals airing in Paramount Network's first year. The network fast-tracked TV Land's passed-over pilot First Wives Club and picked it up to series after redeveloping it with a new writer. Kay's plan was to grow that to eight during the next couple of years. For 2019, that goal is no longer feasible with only Younger, Emily in Paris and Yellowstone on the schedule.

Alterman, meanwhile, has been a longtime Comedy Central exec who has risen from heading its New York development team (1996-2000) before exiting for a run at Fox Film Studios and New Line. He returned to the company in 2010 and rose from executive vp to president of original programming. Alterman had been reporting to Ganeless as he oversaw the creation of all original programming. His credits include The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, Drunk History and Broad City (which will end in January) as well as the since-canceled Key & Peele and The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore and Inside Amy Schumer, with the future of the latter remaining in limbo.

Kay becomes the latest long-tenured senior executive to be shown the door at Viacom. In June, Nickelodeon Group president Cyma Zarghami was pushed out after a 30-year-plus tenure with the company after seeing her role significantly reduced and folded into Kay's Global Entertainment Group following Bakish's arrival. In the year-plus since Bakish took over Viacom, he has made changes at all of its cable networks. Most recently, Debra Lee — who had been with BET for 32 years — stepped down. Scott M. Mills took over as president, with Viacom opting to not replace the executive as CEO and chairman of the African-American-focused cabler. Before that, McCarthy took over MTV, VH1 and Logo; Alterman replaced Ganeless as president of Comedy Central; Kay replaced Sharon Levy at Spike, which was rebranded to become Viacom's general entertainment hub Paramount Network; and Brian Philips was pushed out after a 16-year run as CMT president, with Frank Tanki absorbing his role on top of his duties at TV Land. (Meanwhile, TV Land topper Keith Cox took on a larger role as head of development for the niche cabler as well as Paramount Network as TV Land is no longer buying scripted originals.) 

McCarthy, meanwhile, has been a rising star at Viacom and adds CMT to his oversight after starting his Viacom role in 2016 as president of Logo and VH1. He has helped grow MTV and VH1 to three straight years of ratings growth. Together, they have 19 of the top 25 unscripted series on cable. 

Here is Bakish's memo to staff:

Team,

Over the past two years, we have made a lot of progress in our efforts to become a stronger, more agile organization. We’ve continued to work to break down silos and more strategically use our resources, to make the most of the great assets we have, and to help fund our future. 

Today we are taking the next step forward in our evolution, with a new, simplified structure for Viacom Media Networks. Effective immediately, we will further consolidate our brand groups to four from five:

  • Comedy Central, Paramount Network and TV Land
  • MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo
  • BET Networks
  • Nickelodeon

As a result, Paramount Network, Bellator and TV Land will operate alongside Comedy Central under Kent Alterman, president, and Chris McCarthy will oversee MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo.  There are no changes to BET and Nickelodeon.

As we’ve done a lot of work to clarify our brands’ filters and positioning, a few things have become clear. Paramount Network and TV Land share with Comedy Central a robust slate of scripted programming — with TV Land and Comedy Central, in particular, focused on comedy. By working as a team, all three networks can make the most out of their complementary expertise and resources.  Similarly, CMT — with its deep roots in music and unscripted programming — is a natural partner for MTV and VH1. 

Kent and Chris have been driving forces behind Viacom’s flagship strategy, re-energizing and growing two of our most iconic brands. I think they’re perfectly positioned to help Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT start their next chapters.

Unfortunately, however, this new structure does mean some hard changes. A number of senior-level colleagues will be leaving, including Kevin Kay, who is stepping down as president, Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT. I am so grateful that Kevin has generously agreed to stay on for a period to help ensure a smooth transition.

Kevin is a passionate storyteller whose legacy at Viacom spans more than two decades and seven networks, and I’m thankful to him and his team for their many contributions. At Nickelodeon, Kevin left his mark by overseeing a string of hits that included 
All That, Kenan & Kel and The Adventures of Pete & Pete — as well as developing and greenlighting SpongeBob SquarePants. And during his tenure at Spike, he oversaw the launch of fan-favorites like The Ultimate Fighter, Lip Sync Battle, Bar Rescue and Ink Master, as well as the expansion of Bellator.

Most recently, he and his team undertook the huge task of launching Paramount Network. Thanks to their hard work, Paramount Network quickly established itself as a home for premium content, achieving early critical and ratings success with the high-quality, cinematic original series 
Waco and Yellowstone — the latter of which is now the second-most-watched cable series of 2018. All of this while also ensuring that TV Land and CMT continue to be dominant forces in the very important audiences they reach. 

We know there is a lot of change, but we continue to make important progress with each step we take.  Thank you, as always, for your continued support as we transform this company for the future. 

Best,
Bob