Comedy Central's New Top Marketer Is No Joke
It quickly becomes clear that Walter Levitt is just too nice to be a New Yorker. More so, way too nice to be working in television.
Of course, that's not surprising when you consider his home: a place where health care is more affordable than a Molson and the most dangerous weapon is a snow shovel.
He's Canadian, eh.
"We do tend to be nice people," Levitt said. "That doesn't mean we don't have a sense of humor, we don't have an edge and don't like to push boundaries."
Those Maple Leaf notions should serve him well as he moves from Toronto to the Big Apple and becomes the top marketer at Comedy Central. Maybe appropriate: he ushered in the tagline "Television Without Borders" at one Canadian network.
Comedy Central is hardly a turnaround job for the affable Levitt, who at just 43 is a marketing veteran up and down Canadian TV. His role as executive vice president is more about adding grease to a well-oiled machine.
Ratings are up. The network can fuel the zeitgeist. And major marketing initiatives are in place: a new logo and plans for the 15th anniversary of "South Park."
Yet next year, Levitt will oversee marketing for "Indecision 2012." Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" is sure to create a frisson with its "coverage" of the Presidential campaign, especially with the prospect of a controversial Republican nominee.
But how does a Canadian know about Washington infighting? Has to be from CNN, right?
"Like so many Americans, I know my U.S. politics because of the ‘Daily Show's' perspective," Levitt said.
The Voice of America really has changed since the Cold War.
Actually as CMO of Canwest Broadcasting, Levitt's duties have included promoting a slew of news programming. And of course living in the 51st state, Canadians do tend to be well-versed in what's happening south of the border.
During his seven years at Canwest, Levitt has led brand strategy to advertising to publicity for broadcaster Global Television and 19 cable networks. The sprawling role has required a certain nimbleness with such a wide array of programming, which includes versions of HGTV and the History channel to the homegrown Showcase network, which Levitt described as "somewhere between FX and HBO."
One of the Showcase shows, "Trailer Park Boys," might fit within the Comedy Central schedule. The mockumentary follows three guys in a trailer park who want to get rich, smoke weed and stay out of jail. (It has run on BBC America and DirectTV in the U.S. and Comedy Central channels internationally.)
Also as Canwest CMO, Levitt's role has included the promotion for shows imported from the U.S. And with several stunts, he's shown a flair for the innovative and comedic.
For "Glee," Levitt's team took over a radio station for the 24 hours leading up to the second-season premiere. Toronto's "Glee FM" had its own jingle, played songs from the show and carried interviews with the cast.
To pump the eighth-season of "24," Levitt & Co. found "eight insane people" to sit in the center of a Toronto shopping mall and watch the first seven seasons nonstop. The 24/7 viewing, as it were, led to a Guinness World Record.
The Comedy Central job will be more limited than his current role with the focus on a single channel, but has the potential to reach more people. The number of Canadian TV households is about 90% less than in the U.S.
Levitt will bring some new perspectives, but he said a large part of his role will be continuing to exploit the Comedy Central brand on multiple platforms. In TV, there's an adage that if a concept can't be defined in two sentences, it's too confusing.
Two words should work then. Try these: Comedy Central.
Besides critical digital initiatives, the network has a record label and touring business. "It really has extended itself into so many different areas and as a marketer to have the chance to connect all those dots is really exciting," Levitt said.
One of those extensions is in film, where a "South Park" film famously had the crude song "Blame Canada." And in 2003, it came to mind as Americans rushed to prematurely blame Canadians for the massive Northeast blackout.
"We're an easy target," Levitt said.
Partly because they're likely to just laugh along with the jabbing.