The upcoming personnel departures at Turner Broadcasting will include at least one very prominent one: I have learned that Michael Wright, President and Head of Programming for TNT, TBS and Turner Classic Movies, is exiting the company after a 12-year tenure. Wright’s future at Turner had been in limbo following the April departure of Turner Entertainment Networks President Steve Koonin. Wright had been the internal contender to replace him, but the Turner leadership also opted to meet with outside candidates, and have been doing so for the past four months. In early July, two months into the executive search, and following a solid upfront presentation and start of the summer season — as well as some soul-searching — Wright, I hear, approached his bosses to take himself out of consideration for the Koonin job and ask to be released from his contract at the end of the summer. With Turner’s blessing, he quietly put his name out for potential job opportunities, and I hear he is considering several options. In light of Wright’s departure and two vacancies at the top of Turner Entertainment Networks, it is unclear whether Koonin’s job will be left as is or reconfigured. I hear higher-ups still are meeting with candidates, and an early contender, former Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly, appears back in the mix in a significant way.
Wright’s departure comes after a great summer for TNT, which logged its strongest performance in half a decade, ranking as the No. 1 basic cable network in primetime. Its ratings success was fueled by launching a breakout hit in The Last Ship and solid deliveries by TNT’s returning series. The network had the Top 3 series of the summer with Rizzoli & Isles, Major Crimes and The Last Ship. During his 12 years at Turner, Wright has overseen the development of these as well as other hit TNT series including The Closer, Falling Skies and Cold Justice, TBS’ King of the Nerds and the network’s off-network acquisition of The Big Bang Theory. He was also part of the team that recruited Conan O’Brien for a late-night show on TBS.
Wright joined TNT in 2002 and named SVP Original Programming for the network in 2004. His duties expanded to include TBS in 2005 and TCM in 2007. Prior to joining Turner, Wright served as VP Movies and Miniseries for CBS Prods and CBS Entertainment and actually started at TNT in the same capacity. At MIPCOM last year, Wright told Ben Silverman, who interviewed him, how he got his first series job: “When we first started doing this, I remember it was 2003, and TNT to that point had done about five TV movies a year, and it was decided, by people who decide these things, that we should get into series television. First thing they did was look all around town for a series executive, and nobody wanted the job. They looked at me and said, ‘Well, we guess you’ll do.” It was a marvelous, ringing endorsement. I think what they said was: ‘We’re going to give you this job. Try not to screw it up.’”
Wright’s exit comes amidst a massive headcount reduction at Turner Broadcasting, which involves a buyout package for just under 600 of Turner’s approximately 9,000 U.S. employees who are at least 55 years old with 10 or more years of service as of the end of 2014, excluding on-air talent and those under contract. The buyout package includes CNN, TNT, TBS, and truTV. Time Warner has been under the gun since earlier this summer, when the media company rejected a takeover bid by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox TV.