UPDATED: Former Fox Broadcasting Co. and FX executive Matt Cherniss is returning to the TV business and reuniting with his former boss Peter Liguori. Cherniss is joining Tribune Co. as President/General Manager of WGN America and the newly formed Tribune Studios. At superstation WGN, Cherniss replaces Julio Marenghi, who has been named President of Broadcast Media Sales.
Tribune Studios marks Tribune’s official re-entry in the TV production business. The company was a leading producer and distributor of first-run syndication programming in the 1980s and ’90s through its division Tribune Entertainment until it was shut down in 2007. In the past couple of years, Tribune had signaled its interest in re-entering the space. It produces and distributes daytime syndicated program The Bill Cunningham Show and has interest in CBS’ Arsenio Hall late-night talk show and The Test, which will launch on Tribune’s 23 local TV stations in the fall. With Tribune Studios, the company plans to build on and expand what it is doing on Arsenio Hall and The Test by producing and co-producing programming that targets the needs of its stations and the superstation, Tribune CEO Liguori said, noting that “No longer can a media company look at their stations and network as a vehicle to deliver ratings and ad revenue, it’s a much bigger play.” The studio will focus on three areas, Liguori said: “Daytime, where we have 23 local stations reaching 80% of the country to monetize and market, Access, and of course Primetime on WGN America,” adding that the goal is to put on “fresh original programming from quality producers” for Tribune’s cable affiliates, advertisers and the audience. For that, Liguori said he has brought in Cherniss, “known within the creative community for his incredible eye for high-quality, commercial programming, as well as his integrity as a partner and a programmer.” Cherniss will report to Liguori, for whom he previously worked at Fox and FX, and will be based in Los Angeles, expanding Tribune’s West Coast presence.
Cherniss spent the past two years on the feature side, working as SVP Production for Warner Bros, where he oversaw the development and production of such movies as 300: Rise Of An Empire and the upcoming comedy Mail Order Groom, starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey, set to begin shooting this summer. He said he enjoyed the feature development process and was not contemplating a move until he started talking to Liguori and “seeing an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.” Cherniss’ background is in scripted programming, and he plans to get into the arena in a big way. He will be looking for a scripted series that would define WGN the way The Shield did for FX and Mad Men did for AMC. “Through WGN America and Tribune Studios we will be looking to attract the most innovative and imaginative creators in the business, as we make a commitment to unique and distinctive programming,” he said.
Before joining Warner Bros, Cherniss was EVP Programming and the No. 2 programming executive for Fox Broadcasting Co, where he shepherded the development of such series as Glee, Raising Hope, and Bob’s Burgers. As SVP Original Programming at FX, Cherniss played an integral role in the development of Damage, Nip/Tuck, as well as Rescue Me and Sons Of Anarchy.
In his new role, Marenghi, who has headed WGN America since 2009, will oversee ad sales for the Tribune local TV stations and WGN Radio in Chicago, reporting to Larry Wert, President/Broadcast Media. “Julio has done a great job growing advertising share and revenue at WGN America, where sales reached all-time highs,” said Liguori. “He’ll bring the same talent, passion and commitment to our local broadcast stations, and work closely with our sales teams to ensure that we continue delivering outstanding results for our clients.”