VH1: John Sykes

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Viacom's VH1 was started as a sort of graduate school for those reared on MTV. But the cable network continues to carve its own niche as a distinct destination.

The network's signature shows-"Behind the Music," gripping documentaries on musicians, and "Pop-Up Videos," where info tidbits about the video flash on screen-have given VH1 content that people go out of their way to watch. It's called "destination programming" in TV parlance.

The two shows, particularly "Behind the Music," have given VH1 a firm place in pop culture. Both were developed under VH1 President John Sykes, 46, who in the mid-1990s led the transformation of the network from a lesser sibling to MTV with a straight video lineup to a hub of original programming. To be sure, MTV still cultivates the 12-24 crowd and VH1 skews older, but VH1 is not simply a metaphorical graduate school.

"It was really 'Behind the Music' and 'Pop-Up Videos' that caught the attention of the culture and sent a message that VH1 had changed," he says. The makeover has propelled VH1 from a distribution of 40 million homes to its current 77 million-plus, placing it among the top rung of cable outlets.

VH1 has expanded its brand. There are now four digital cable channels led by VH1 Classic, books, radio programming and a fledgling feature film department. Mr. Sykes "clearly has been our defining voice in what the brand is today," says Reggie Fils-Amis, VH1 VP-branding.

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