Judy McGrath Biography

Chair and Chief Executive Officer of MTV Networks Group

Born in 1953; married Michael Corbett (a systems analyst); children: Anna Maeve. Education: Cedar Crest College, B.A. (English).

Addresses: Office —c/o Viacom, 1515 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.


Had first job in radio; worked at Conde Nast publications as a copy chief for Glamour and senior writer for Mademoiselle ; MTV, copywriter, 1981, then editorial director, creative director and senior vice president, then executive director, 1991-94, president, 1994-2002, and international creative director; executive producer, Joe's Apartment (film), 1996; MTV Networks Music Group, president and international creative director, 2002-03; MTV Networks Group, president, 2003-04, chair and chief executive officer, 2004—.

Member: Board, New York City Ballet; board, Mc-Carton School; board, Rock the Vote; advisory board, LifeBeat.

Awards: Woman of the Year award, Glamour , 2004; Woman of the Year award, Women in Cable … Telecommunications, 2004.


Judy McGrath has put her stamp on MTV since the cable network's founding. After holding a few other jobs in media, she joined the network shortly after it went on the air in 1981. McGrath began as a writer, but moved her way up the executive ranks to become the network's president in 1994. She helped form the network as it evolved, and played a key role in the move from airing music videos to more original programming. Her success with MTV led to her move up to become the head of MTV Networks and other channels for Viacom, MTV's parent company.

Born in 1953, McGrath was raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Her father worked as a social worker. He also had a love of music that he passed on to his daughter. Her mother worked as a teacher who inspired her daughter to persevere. After graduating from high school, McGrath attended Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where she studied English.

After graduating from college with her B.A., McGrath began her professional career in radio. She then moved to the print world. She worked at Conde Nast publications, the parent company of many leading magazines. McGrath was the copy chief of the women's magazine Glamour. She was also a senior writer for the young woman's periodical Mademoiselle. McGrath left Conde Nast because she wanted to write for music magazine Rolling Stone. Instead, McGrath found herself in the music business in an entirely different way.

In 1981, McGrath joined MTV soon after the cable channel hit the airwaves. Her first job at the network was as a copy writer for on-air promotions. She composed the on-air prompts that aired between the music videos which dominated the early programming at the channel. In addition, McGrath had a hand in creating the animated network IDs that aired constantly on MTV.

When McGrath began at MTV, she did not intend to stay for long. She hoped her experience at MTV would lead to that coveted job at Rolling Stone. At the time, she and others were also unsure if MTV would take off or even last very long. Instead, McGrath spent most of the rest of her career at the network, playing a key role in the development of MTV as a brand. One of her early ways of gaining attention for MTV was its on-air contests. She came up with unique contests such as Devo Goes Hawaiian and One Night Stand with Journey.

From the beginning, McGrath and others took a unique point of view about what kind of channel MTV would be, provided it survived. She told Louis Chunovic of Broadcasting … Cable , "We thought of it as a promise, and we very much wanted MTV to be meaningful despite the changing nature of pop music or the personalities who might come and go. It was not going to be static and marry one generation and grow old with it.… Our goal was to be the non-network network."

Within a few years, McGrath was promoted within the network. She first became the editorial director of MTV. She was later promoted to senior vice president and creative director. Early on, she was already pushing the network to change, to continue to be different so that it would hold onto its audience. McGrath tried different shows. Some of these shows were centered around a certain type of music. Other shows were more traditional in format. In 1989, she told Michael Freitag of the New York Times , "MTV will continue to feed off culture and to feed into it. But if I could predict exactly where it's going, I wouldn't be working here anymore; you have to be open-minded and make it up as you go along."

In 1991, McGrath became the network's co-executive director, with Sara Levinson. While Levinson took charge of the business side of the operation, McGrath headed MTV's network operations. She oversaw programming, what music videos would air, production of other on-air segments, promotion, production, and development. McGrath had a big say in what videos aired on the network, making her a very powerful person in the music industry. In 1994, she became president, taking charge of the overall strategic direction and all revenue and spending for MTV.

McGrath remained concerned with maintaining MTV's youth appeal. One area of concern for her was the VJs (video jockeys, or the hosts and hostesses that appeared on the network introducing the videos, interviewing musicians, and serving as the face of the network). In the 1990s, McGrath continued to push broadcasting more shows instead of videos, as well as taking more chances with on-air programming. In 1992, for example, the network became more involved with the presidential election and voting, with the advent of the "Choose or Lose" election coverage.

As the 1990s progressed, McGrath played a primary role in MTV's move further and further away from music videos to a variety of original programs. The network experimented with dance shows like The Grind , a dating show called Singled Out , and animated shows like Beavis and Butt-head. Such shows attracted solid viewership, at least for a time. MTV also took chances on re-running network shows with youth appeal like My So-Called Life.

One of the most popular and enduring original programs McGrath had a hand in putting on MTV was its documentary/reality show called The Real World. McGrath served as the executive at MTV in charge of The Real World for many years. Unlike most of MTV's programming, this show has stayed on the air from the 1990s to the early 2000s. One reason for the show's longevity was its format. Each year the show followed around a different college-aged cast living in a different city, primarily in the United States.

A precursor to the reality shows which became popular staples on other networks in the early 2000s, The Real World surprised McGrath with its longevity. McGrath told Lynda Richardson of the New York Times , "I didn't think The Real World would last as long as it has but it seems kind of evergreen. Usually you think when the world gets onto something, we have to get off."

There were other types of programming on MTV that had a long shelf life as well. McGrath led MTV to branch out into its own awards ceremonies, beginning with the MTV Video Music Awards. This annual awards show honors the best music videos of the year. An afternoon video count down show, Total Request Live or TRL , airs live from New York City most week days. Some of the shows that McGrath put on the air were flops. A program featuring sock puppets, Sifl and Olly , as well as The Jon Stewart Show were both short lived.

Later in the 1990s, McGrath moved MTV into the feature film business. She served as executive producer of 1996's Joe's Apartment. MTV later branded other films such as Save the Last Dance and Election.

During her tenure running MTV, the network had high ratings. However, ratings fell in 1997 and McGrath adjusted. By this time, she sensed that MTV had emphasized original programming too much to the detriment of the music and music videos which had been so important to the network. She re-focused on the music, sparking an increase in the ratings. McGrath was known for having a sense of what the audience wanted. She told Lawrie Mifflin of the New York Times , "In our business, there's nothing worse than missing a moment."

By the early 2000s, McGrath continued to have a hand in the programming of MTV. Original programming continued to be important. She helped develop new hit shows like The Osbournes , a reality show featuring heavy metal star Ozzy Osbourne and his family, and Punk'd , a prank show created by actor Ashton Kutcher. McGrath also took on new responsibilities, adding international creative director to her titles. She was put in charge of MTV's international networks.

In 2002, McGrath was given a promotion. She was named president of the MTV Networks Music Group. This meant that she was in charge of the whole MTV family of networks, which included MTV, MTV2, VH1, and CMT (Country Music Television). In addition, she was in charge of music-related Internet businesses, digital music brands, and all other ancillary businesses. McGrath also became the International Creative Director for VH1 and CMT as these brands also aired around the world in different forms.

After a company reorganization in 2003, McGrath became the MTV Networks Group president. In this capacity, she was in charge of MTV, MTV2, VH1, CMT, and Comedy Central, a comedy cable network. In whatever position she held, McGrath was lauded for her creativity and success. From 2002 to 2004, she took a particular interest in the programming of VH1, another music video network, which had viewership problems for many years. The programming choices she made, including the addition of much more original programming and fewer videos, led to a significant increase in viewership for VH1.

In 2004, McGrath was promoted again. She was named the chair and chief executive officer of MTV Networks. She was put in charge a number of networks owned by Viacom, including LOGO, Comedy Central, TV Land, Nickelodeon, Noggin, The N, all the MTV Networks, MTV Networks Digital Suite, MTV International Networks, Nick at Night, and Spike TV. She was charged with helping these channels to continue to evolve and grow. This position was quite powerful. As a CNN correspondent wrote, "Known for her originality and creativity, she influences programming that reaches 400 million viewers of more than 100 channels broadcast in 164 countries and 18 languages."

McGrath wanted to bring her own touch to her role, though she knew she was facing new challenges. She was still very concerned with MTV, and wanted to continue to expand the MTV brand in particular. In 2004, she announced the launch of the African-based MTV Base, the 100th channel launched by MTV around the world. McGrath also had to deal with controversy. MTV produced the Super Bowl halftime show featuring singer Janet Jackson. During her performance with Justin Timberlake, Jackson experienced what was later termed a "wardrobe malfunction, " where one of her breasts was exposed. This incident led to a lot of criticism in the media and crackdowns by the Federal Communications Commission. In February of 2005, Viacom launched LOGO, the first gay and lesbian-targeted network. This move was also expected to attract criticism. McGrath continued to be innovative and take advantage of her networks' success. In 2004, for example, she considered expanding the Comedy Central name to international channels the company already owned.

In 2004, McGrath's success was honored when she was named one of Glamour 's women of the year. She was strong in her job and close to the culture and people to which her networks had to appeal. Capitol Records president Andrew Slater told Bill Carter of the New York Times that McGrath "never comes off as a person from the cold and mathematical side of the business. She understand the culture and music and fashion and style and how they blend together, and that's reflected in the channel she runs."



Celebrity Biographies , Baseline II, 2005.


Adweek , November 15, 2004.

Billboard , November 6, 1993, p. 16.

Broadcasting … Cable , November 17, 1997, p. 70; June 21, 2004, p. 2.

Entertainment Weekly , October 22, 2004, pp. 46-48.

Financial Times (London, England), December 7, 2004, p. 12.

Multichannel News , July 18, 1994, p. 2; November 1, 2004, p. 4A; December 13, 2004, p. 4.

New York Times , April 9, 1989, sec. 1, pt. 2, p. 38; August 31, 1998, p. D5; June 11, 2003, p. B3; July 26, 2004, p. E1.

PR Newswire, March 15, 2002; May 29, 2003; July 20, 2004.

Realscreen , November 1, 2004, p. 35.


"McGrath transforms television, " CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2004/global. influentials/stories/mcgrath.profile/ (August 8, 2005).

"Senior Management, " Viacom, http://www. viacom.com/management.jhtml (August 8, 2005).

A. Petruso

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