Monday night's Comedy Central roast of ousted "Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen was greatly aided by social media such as Twitter and Facebook -- but the use of social media proved to be a double-edged sword, Doug Herzog, president of MTV Networks Entertainment Group, said at TheWrap's media leadership conference, TheGrill, Tuesday.
Herzog noted that the Sheen roast -- which aired on the same night as the premiere of the new, Sheen-less version of "Two and a Half Men" -- drew 6 million total viewers and amassed a 4.5 rating among the coveted adults 18-49 demographic. That made it the network's second-highest-rated broadcast ever.
(Photographs by Jonathan Alcorn)
No doubt those numbers were aided by Comedy Central's Facebook and Twitter campaigns, along with 130,000 tweets about the roast that rang across the Twitterverse on Sunday night. But while praising the effect of social media, Herzog cautioned that its exact impact is difficult to gauge.
"It's hard to figure out what that means," Herzog told the moderator, TheWrap's Brent Lang. "Ratings are a lot more important to us than tweets at the moment."
Herzog was less happy with the Twitter effect during the taping of the roast, as details and jokes began to leak out about the ceremony more than a week before it was scheduled to air.
Herzog said that could lead to a change in the approach that Comedy Central takes to roasts in the future.
"They were tweeting from the press room; it didn't dawn on me till I got there that that would be happening," Herzog recalled. "Maybe it means that, in the future, we might have to close the window between when we tape and when we air, because it does get out there."
Even so, Herzog added, "Buzz is important to us, so buzz is part of the Comedy Central secret sauce, and Twitter is a great instrument for amplifying that."
Herzog further noted that, with the young, male, and tech-friendly audience that Comedy Central is courting, social media is a particularly important element for the cable outlet.
(In the video below, Herzog discusses the use of streaming video as a potential revenue-replacer for the waning DVD market.)
Herzog also addressed the racy content of the Sheen roast and, in general, the balance that Comedy Central strikes between keeping its programming cutting-edge and not stepping over the line. According to Herzog, raunchy laughs aren't necessarily the goal, but if things happen to take a turn in that direction, so be it.
"We're going for funny first, so if shocking comes along with that, that's generally OK," Herzog offered. "Way back 15 years ago with 'South Park' we started to break the barriers with shocking, but funny comes first."
Added Herzog, "I think we do it mostly in a smart way and not in a gratuitous way, and in a funny way ... most of all, I think advertisers understand that as well, and we kind of find our way."
And with the multitude of channels currently available to viewers, Herzog noted, those looking for tamer fare have plenty of options.
Herzog also addressed the need for Comedy Central to develop fresh new talent, pointing to newer series such as "Tosh.0" and "Workaholics" as the new wave for the network.
And for all the talk of the importance of digital media, the executive said, a boots-on-the-ground mentality is still essential for unearthing new talent. Asked where the network looks for the next big thing, Herzog said, "Generally, the comedy clubs ... the comedy clubs by and large are still a tremendous place to find talent," noting that such successful Comedy Central talent as Dave Chappelle, Sarah Silverman and Demetri Martin were all found in the clubs.
Wherever Comedy Central finds its next thing, there's a pretty good chance that it might end up filling the later hours of the network's roster. Herzog said that Comedy Central plans to extend its original programming past the 11 p.m.-midnight "Daily Show" and "Colbert Report" bloc, extending things into the midnight hour. Though, he said, cost is a bigger concern than usual for anything airing at that hour.
"First of all you have to find something a little more affordable because at midnight the audience starts to dwindle," Herzog said. After that, he added, it's a matter of direction.
"Do we do something that is sort of an extension of what we have now, or do we take a left turn?" Herzog pondered. "But it's something that we're working on."