When MTV chairman and CEO Judy McGrath steps down, it'll be the end of a three-decade era

When Viacom announced on May 5 that Judy McGrath was stepping down as MTV Networks chairman and CEO, it marked the end of a three-decade era — and of one of television’s most impressive rides. The 58-year-old McGrath helped transform MTV from a music-video channel into a global arbiter of youth culture, and she later oversaw the company’s portfolio of networks, which includes MTV2, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, TV Land, and Spike. ”We will all miss Judy enormously, but we respect her decision and understand her desire to leave at the very top of the game with a legacy of success,” said Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman in a statement. (So far there’s no word on her next move.) McGrath joined MTV in 1981 as a copywriter and moved up the ranks while developing a reputation as an exec who valued creativity and risk. Under her watch, the network unleashed hits like The Real World, Beavis and Butt-head, and The Osbournes. She also used programming like Choose or Lose to encourage engagement with politics and social issues. ”She is a very accomplished businessperson, but she was adored by talent — she could talk their language,” says former MTV Networks CEO Tom Freston, McGrath’s mentor and boss, who worked with her for 25 years. ”She was slightly subversive and very simpatico with the content at MTV. She helped create a $30 billion asset and make it a creative hothouse where everybody wanted to work.”