Brian Graden, a veteran programming executive at youth culture battle-axe MTV, has thrown in the towel after twelve years. In his goodbye memo to staffers, forwarded to us, Graden mentions an as-yet-unexplored dream: To do musical theater. Adorbs.
Graden, who gave up his MTV Networks Music Group president title on Monday, in steering the network through its intense changeover from a music-based format to a platform for young adult reality programming, has been one of the major faces of the unscripted TV boom. So we have him to curse for Heidi and Spencer, but to thank for True Life. Graden also shepherded the creation of Logo, the country's first LGBT-themed television station, and was instrumental in helping Trey Parker and Matt Stone get South Park off the ground.
Graden and Van Toffler, who's the president of all MTV Networks, co-wrote the departure memo which is cute and full of fun little pop shout-outs, including Britney Spears, Kanye, and the Jonas Brothers.
Subject: Message from Van and Brian
For more than a dozen years now, Brian and I have been each other's work spouses. That's a longer partnership than most unions, so it's only natural that this comes from both of us. Let me now step aside for a moment and let him go first. Brian….
If you look at the shows we have all created together – especially lately – you can feel a tangible fascination with people on the brink of their next great adventure in life. We have called it aspirational
television – capturing people at the moment of transformation into a bold new iteration of themselves. Well, over the last year, I woke up to the fact that I'm a character in my own personal reality show and
this is my time for that next transformation.
Last year, Trey Parker convinced me I could afford to replace my beat up, 20 year old "rental" piano, and helped me pick out an amazing Yamaha Grand. Last Saturday night in Los Angeles, I played 10 original songs on that piano, while a full cast of actor/singers brought Limbo – a musical I'm writing with friends – to life for 100 guests (I have a big living room).
I know you're shocked: a gay man who loves musicals.
Truth is, I'd never written a song in my life until a few years ago, and now, I'm arranging on Logic Pro almost every night when I should be sleeping. The point isn't that I think I'm the next Diane Warren – I'm not. The point is: no matter what any of us have done in life, there's always some new passion waiting to show us how to keep evolving — if we honor that call when we hear it.
I've had a very unusual ride. Though I've been in one place, MTV Networks, for 12 years, I've been afforded a series of sequential chapters, each completely unique — like getting a new "calling" every couple of years. First serving the TRL generation at MTV. Later loving up the 80's at VH1. Working then with CMT and various international channels, and 4 years ago, a personal triumph, launching LOGO. All of which says a lot about the dynamic nature of MTV Networks and Viacom.
For me, it's time to complement my television ambitions with some new passions already in motion - the writing of two books, making music, creating theater, speaking on subjects that matter to me, raising alpacas…okay, perhaps not all calls will be heeded right away. I have no idea if I possess any of these talents, but my friends who know me well know that these new adventures have been tapping my shoulder for a few years.
Television however remains my first love, and I'm already deep in conversations with MTV Networks about shaping a situation that would allow me to still play with you guys in new ways for years to come. At MTV, it's necessary to think like a 19 year old girl every day, which wasn't much of a reach for me (yes, I have a favorite Jonas); in my next chapter however, the dream is to pursue a wider array of ideas that intrigue me, borne more from the heart than a need to serve any particular demographic or brand.
Van says I have a somewhat freakish ability to toggle between business and creative, kinda like Parent Trap – only my Haley Mills are internal, and can run networks. As the portfolio of responsibilities broadened and the businesses got more complex, the creative left side of my brain started to feel like Hilary at the democratic convention — left out.
That said, let me be clear: for 12 years this has been the greatest job in the world, and I've loved every minute of it. The good times through the hard times; from Britney mesmerizing in Catholic school
girl uniform through Britney stupefying in her "Gimme More" performance to Britney yet again dominating the 2008 VMA's. Yes, I measure my career in "Britney's", don't we all?
Seriously, it's been a rush to not know where "job" ends and "Real World" begins. Nowhere else in the programming universe is the unexpected quite as routine as it's been here.
I'll spare you further recounting of years gone by, but let's just say: I have worked at a company brave enough to shut down MTV for 17 hours and run the names of hate crime victims; brave enough to launch an LGBT channel when others said it couldn't be done; even brave enough to cross Kanye West… but then smart enough to make up…fast. I know more brave things are ahead, certainly for the rest of this year, and most definitely beyond.
But I won't spare you this admission: I love all of you. Really, genuinely, you've created the most special culture and brands in the world. Fortunately, I won't even be saying farewell for a while, as Judy and Van have asked me to stay through 2009 and help facilitate a great transition, which I'm happy to do — but we felt it was right to let people know now that this next evolution was beginning to occur. Until then I still get to launch a few more shows, watch a few more VMA's get handed out, witness a millennial brand makeover at MTV, and watch Diva's return on VH1.
When I speak to college kids, they often ask me if I had a detailed career plan – as if that's possible in entertainment – but the truth is: I just get up every day and do things that make me happy. I work with people I love, I trust in my heart as much as my head and everything else follows.
My fondest wish is that you're able to do the same in the years to come.