Grant Gish hasn't even started yet as head of adult animation for ViacomCBS' Entertainment and Youth Group, and he's already got a task: Build out the "South Park" franchise with Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
ViacomCBS named Gish its new senior vice president of adult animation on Wednesday. Gish has been vice president of comedy and animation at Disney's Marvel Studios and doesn't actually start at ViacomCBS until Aug. 31. Although he hasn't yet met Stone or Parker, his bosses want him to work with the show's creators to make new "South Park" movies and specials pegged to special events to build on a new strategy for the company — turning in-house intellectual property into new hits.
"As long as you're doing something new, and that could be anything from a new style to a new tone to a new voice coming from a specific writer, I think it can work," Gish said in an exclusive interview with CNBC. "An animation audience is looking for something unique. That's what 'The Simpsons' and 'South Park' have famously done. So I want to try a little bit of everything, even though a lot of it will be targeted to the tried and true with brands people know."
ViacomCBS has held talks with Stone and Parker on a number of movie and special ideas and hopes to finalize plans in the next year, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions are private. While Stone and Parker continue to create more episodes of "South Park" for Comedy Central, WarnerMedia's HBO Max paid about $500 million to Viacom to license back episodes for the next several years. That deal was struck before Viacom and CBS merged and decided to build out CBS All Access to a much larger streaming service. When the "South Park" licensing deal expires, ViacomCBS could house the series and any new movies and specials made in the coming years on its own streaming service.
Gish will be handed a small set of former hit shows that are being dusted off for a new audience. The company already has agreed to make "Jodie," a spinoff of the 1990s MTV cult classic "Daria," along with a revived "Beavis and Butt-Head" made by original creator Mike Judge. Comedy Central also announced a "reimagination" of "The Ren & Stimpy Show" on Wednesday, moving the series from its Nickelodeon roots in the 1990s to the adult comedy network.
The strategy fits with ViacomCBS' "house of brands" streaming strategy, which will highlight Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV and BET within its existing CBS All Access subscription service. ViacomCBS plans to rebrand the service before officially relaunching it in early 2021. The company already announced a new "SpongeBob SquarePants" movie will debut with the service's launch, continuing the theme of building out existing franchises.
ViacomCBS hired Gish after seeing his work at Marvel and Fox, where he helped develop "Bob's Burgers" and oversaw "American Dad." Marvel has built movies and TV shows on old characters, such as Black Panther, to create popular tent-pole franchises. ViacomCBS hopes Gish can do the same thing with its own intellectual property, which dominated pop culture in the 1990s and early 2000s but has fallen off in popularity in the last 15 to 20 years.
"The point of what we're doing is unlocking the value of those shows today and reimagining them for a whole new generation," said Chris McCarthy, president of ViacomCBS' Entertainment & Youth Brands. "'Beavis and Butthead' has a 93% brand awareness. In this super crowded landscape, having IP that people feel passionate about brings that audience in."
Gish's challenge will be making sure "Beavis and Butthead" and "Jodie" speak to younger audiences the same way they connected with Generation X'ers.
"These were shows I grew up on," said Gish. "Taking these brands and making something new for 2021, 2022, or finding and making something new for Comedy Central, Nickelodeon — again, networks I grew up on — it's just a great opportunity."
ViacomCBS reports its quarterly earnings on Thursday.