Hirschorn exits VH1 post, forms Ish


UPDATED 5:53 p.m. PT Jan. 17

Michael Hirschorn is stepping down from his post as executive vp in VH1's programming department to launch his own company, Ish Entertainment, which has inked an exclusive first-look deal with MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo.

Replacing Hirschorn is senior vp Jeff Olde, who has been promoted to executive vp original programming and production. In addition, Ben Zurier has been upped to executive vp program strategy at VH1, VH1 Classic and MHD: Music High-Definition Channel.

Along with the executive shuffle comes the news that VH1 has greenlighted three new series:

-- A reality competition series with Sean "Diddy" Combs that will feature contestants competing to become the hip-hop mogul's assistant. It is set to premiere in the summer.

-- "Celebracadabra," in which seven celebrities vie for the title of "Best Celebrity Magician," attempting to learn and perform professional-caliber magic tricks. Hirschorn is executive producing with Shelly Tatro, Karla Hidalgo and Chris Martin.

-- The previously reported "egotrip's Miss Rap Supreme," a follow-up to "ego trip's The (White) Rapper Show." The eight-episode series premieres in April.

Meanwhile, Hirschorn's company, which he formed with VH1 senior vp celebrity talent development Stella Stolper, is aiming to "marry formats and talent" focusing mostly on unscripted programming. Chris Choun, former vp production management/executive in charge of production at VH1, will be head of production at Ish.

The first-look deal will provide Ish with development funding and overhead, with the goal of developing series across the entire MTV Networks Music and Logo Group. The company already has received a commitment for three series from MTV Networks, but details are being kept under wraps.

Hirschorn spent six years at VH1, overseeing such programming as "I Love the '80s," "Best Week Ever," "Hogan Knows Best" and "Flavor of Love." Stolper has been responsible for bringing to the network such talent as Drew Barrymore and the Wayans brothers.

"Michael deserves all the credit in the world for having an amazing hot streak for so long," said Brian Graden, president of entertainment at the MTVN Music and Logo Group, noting the network's 22 consecutive quarters of growth. "This model allows him to remain in the family but contribute to multiple networks."

Hirschorn said he approached Graden -- for whom Hirschorn gave credit for teaching him the business -- about launching his own company six months ago.

"I thought it would be a great new challenge to see if I could move from being a programming executive to someone who has ownership stake in his own shows," he said. "I also was eager to test myself with other networks and see what I could do across MTV Networks, broadcast networks and other buyers."

Hirschorn said he'll be keeping an office in one of MTV Networks' New York buildings and is in the process of setting up offices in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Graden and VH1 executive vp and GM Tom Calderone gave praise to VH1's entire programming team, noting that primetime ratings have increased by 102% since 2002, when the network expanded its programming focus beyond just music to also include pop culture.

Olde will oversee all current VH1 original programming and development for both the East and West coasts as well as music series development and celebrity talent development. He has shepherded the network's relationship with 51 Minds that has yielded such series as "Rock of Love," "I Love New York" and "Flavor."

Reporting to Olde will be VH1's programming development team, which includes Jim Ackerman, Alex Demyanenko, Jill Holmes, Maggie Malina and Shelly Tatro.

Zurier, who joined VH1 in 2001, oversees programming strategy, manages VH1's VOD offerings and coordinates how content is deployed across VH1 Digital's wireless and nonlinear platforms. He also oversees programming for VH1 Classic and MHD and negotiates program acquisitions for VH1, VH1 Classic and MHD.