The on-again, off-again Turner-Kevin Reilly courtship is back on. Soon after Turner Broadcasting toppers broke off negotiations with the former Fox chairman two weeks ago, the two sides restarted conversations. I hear that Turner Broadcasting President David Levy’s string of meetings last week with prospective candidates to succeed Steve Koonin included a sit-down with Reilly. There hasn’t been anyone else to emerge as a serious alternative for the post in the past two weeks, though there had been a few names thrown in the mix, including former NBC chief Jeff Gaspin.
I hear Reilly explored some possibilities in the digital space before rekindling his interest in the Turner double vacancy. The company has not replaced longtime Turner Entertainment Networks President Koonin, who left in April, and TNT and TBS President of Programming Michael Wright, who departed at end of August. I hear Turner Broadcasting had been looking for an executive to essentially handle both jobs (some of Koonan’s responsibilities had been transferred to Levy some time ago.)
I hear the nature of the combined position, which includes development and programming duties, and the reporting structure, with the new person reporting to Levy — the longtime head of Turner Ad Sales and Sports who is valued by the company because he negotiates TNT and TBS’ big sports packages but has no programming experience — have been a sticking point, but the two sides are working on a compromise. According to multiple sources, Reilly and Turner might have a deal in sight, though they were in the same position a couple of weeks ago before talks went south.
Reilly had been identified as a top choice for the Turner job the moment he announced his exit from Fox in May, embarking on months of on-and-off discussions with the Turner leadership.
It is highly unusual for networks of the caliber of TNT and TBS to be without a leader for such a long period. I hear Turner Broadcasting’s EVP and head of business affairs Sandra Dewey has stepped in to run the networks day-to-day, with SVP Scripted Development Brett Weitz, the highest-ranking programming executive at the networks at the moment, weighing in on programming decisions such as pilot pickups.
Making things even more challenging for TNT and TBS are Time Warner’s recently imposed layoffs, which call for Turner Broadcasting to cut 10% of its workforce, eliminating 1,475 jobs. The massive reduction has affected such areas as marketing, PR, research, strategy and other divisions that support the networks’ programming.