Following the official appointment of former Fox Chairman Kevin Reilly as President of TNT and TBS and Chief Creative Officer of Turner Entertainment, Reilly and his new boss, Turner Broadcasting President David Levy addressed the future of the two networks and the winding path the negotiations between the two took during the past six months.
Reilly’s role as President of TNT and TBS combines the responsibilities of former Turner Entertainment Networks President Steve Koonin and TNT and TBS Programming President Michael Wright. But Reilly’s new post “is bigger than Steve and Michael’s jobs,” Levy said. “Yes, it’s melding those two jobs together, but it’s also heading the creative council, which is extremely important. I also believe there will be a melding into the business side where Steve and Michael did not go to in terms of what we are going to do with the programming concepts that we are developing, whether it would be international, SVOD purposes, stacking rights, etc.”
But Reilly won’t be doing a two-man job by himself and, despite admitting to have already received four pitches today since his appointment announcement, he won’t be taking those meetings in the future, something that he also stepped back from in his final months at Fox. “I’m going to put a key executive in a key programming job — we’ll call it a No. 2 of sorts — who will be doing the day-to-day buying and running programming.” It is yet to be determined whether that would be one executive for both TNT and TBS or two separate ones and whether the hiring will be from inside or outside the company, but Levy pledged full support for Reilly, who will be assisted with an executive staff he needs. The highest ranking development executive at the two networks at the moment is Brett Weitz, SVP, Scripted Development for TNT and TBS.
Assessing at the future of TNT and TBS, the company is “starting from a position of strength, but we are obviously looking for Kevin’s leadership direction and thoughts with programming,” Levy said.
While Fox, the network Reilly left, is in dire need of a ratings turnaround, he is joining TNT and TBS as they are on an upswing. TBS is the No. 1 cable network in adults 18-49 on the strength of The Big Bang Theory reruns, while TNT is coming off one of its stronger summer ratings performance ever.
There had been talk that the Time Warner leadership has been pushing for TNT to go into a darker, edgier territory occupied by such networks as FX — which Reilly led as it established itself with such shows as The Shield and Rescue Me — and HBO. Levy agreed that that is the general direction, but the network will not be making a sharp turn.
“We are going to get edgier, we are going to get louder, and we are going to get more dual (male-female), but we also have an existing audience, we have an existing fan base with a lot of our very popular shows,” he said. “It’s an evolution, a bridge-type process that will take place as opposed to a turnaround. You are going to see shows like Legends and Public Morals that are going to bring us on a path to a more edgier type of shows; this is a path we are taking.”
As for the six-month on-again off-again talks between Levy and Reilly, Reilly said he “knew it was a great job from the get-go” but “needed to clear my head and then wanted to go out in the broader marketplace — really for educational purposes more than anything, not for a job. I wanted to meet with a lot of people, kick the tires.”
The pivotal point in the courtship was when Reilly went to New York to meet with Levy not long ago. “I asked him point blank: ‘Is this where you want to work? Is this the job you want?’ And the answer was yes,” Levy said. Things started moving fast after that, and a deal was made.
Both Levy and Reilly insisted that the negotiations never hit a snag despite multiple sources confirming that the two sides briefly walked away in mid-October. Levy also said that, while he considered a number of candidates for the job, Reilly was the only one who received a formal offer.
After more than 20 years in the TV executive ranks with no break, including back-to-back-to-back stints running FX, NBC and Fox, Reilly admitted he considered leaving the business over the past six months but cited a favorite line from the 1970 movie Patton: “It’s war, goddammit. God help me, but I love it.”
“I do love the television business, I always wanted to be in it, and I’m lucky to be to be part of it,” he said. “It’s what is in my blood. There was no way I would’ve let this opportunity get away.”