Three months into the job, Kevin Reilly, president of TBS and TNT and chief creative officer of Turner Entertainment, has set his senior managing team. As expected, he is splitting the awkwardly merged TNT/TBS original programming team into two separate units, which will be run by producer Sarah Aubrey (TNT) and Turner’s Brett Weitz (TBS). The comedy-centered TBS will be getting a brand makeover with a focus on “bold sensibility and a network that’s more digital and more socially driven.” Meanwhile, drama-oriented TNT will “sharpen the brand with a distinct slate of new programming aimed at a younger, more dual-gendered audience.”
Reilly is planning to double TNT and TBS’ original programming output over the next three years. There also will be stronger emphasis on both networks owning a larger portion of their content, increasing the importance of the company’s in-house production arm. Respected Turner business affairs executive Sandra Dewey, credited with running the day-to-day operations at TNT and TBS when the networks were left without leaders in the wake of the departures of Steve Koonin and Michael Wright, has been elevated to president, TNT and TBS Productions and business affairs. She will run Turner’s expanded in-house production unit while also continuing to oversee business affairs for several networks across the Turner portfolio, including TNT, TBS, Cartoon Network, truTV and Turner Classic Movies, as well as for new media and advertiser-sponsored initiatives.
With the promotions for Dewey and another well-liked TNT/TBS executive, Weitz, Reilly is keeping the two top Turner Broadcasting executives from the previous regime (Dewey was EVP and head of business affairs, Weitz was the senior programming executive, SVP of development for TNT and TBS), while also bringing in Aubrey, who had been partnered with Peter Berg in Film 44 for the past decade. Reilly previously worked with her when developing and launching Film 44 drama Friday Night Lights at NBC. All three will be based in Los Angeles and report directly to Reilly who also is in LA.
Also staying are several other Turner broadcasting executives. Lillah McCarthy and Sam Linsky will now focus on TNT originals, reporting to Aubrey, while Thom Hinkle will remain at TBS, reporting to Weitz. David Eilenberg will continue to supervise unscripted programming, late night and specials for both networks, though Reilly noted that there will be an assessment of the company’s unscripted strategy. Lisa Freiberger will continue to oversee casting. (Reilly’s internal memo is below the story.)
“Over the next couple of years, we will continue to sharpen and evolve our brands by doubling down on original programming and being tenacious about our networks’ value proposition,” said Reilly. “These leadership appointments are the important first step in that direction. With Sandra overseeing business affairs and our growing slate of in-house productions, Sarah joining us to make TNT originals even more distinct and valuable and Brett focusing on both growing and further defining TBS originals, we have a great team of stewards to shepherd this transformation.”
Dewey has worked in a legal capacity with Turner Broadcasting and Warner Bros. for nearly 20 years. She served as chief negotiator on the deal to bring Conan O’Brien to TBS. She also led the business deals behind TNT’s slate of original series, including The Closer, Rizzoli & Isles, Falling Skies, The Last Ship, and The Librarians. She also supervised the deals for TBS’ Cougar Town; truTV’s Impractical Jokers and The Carbonaro Effect; and Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. In 2011, Dewey spearheaded the business model for TNT’s first global series, Falling Skies.
Together with Berg, Aubrey produced series Friday Night Lights and Leftovers, movies Lone Survivor, The Kingdom and Battleship, as well as sports documentary series On Freddie Roach and State of Play.
Weitz originally joined Turner Broadcasting in 2009 to work on original series development for TNT. He has developed such series as Rizzoli & Isles, Falling Skies, Dallas, Perception and Franklin & Bash. In addition, Weitz spearheaded the creation of the TNT’s diversity program for series staffing. Before coming to TNT, Weitz served as VP of creative affairs for the Fox21 division of 20th Century Fox Television. In its first three years of operation, fox21 developed such series as TNT’s Saved, the reality hit Beauty And The Geek and the comedy FreeRide.
A note from Kevin Reilly
As you heard David Levy and I both say in the town hall a few weeks ago, increasing our original productions and further sharpening the point of view of the TNT and TBS brands will be key to positioning us for continued success going forward. We have committed to more than doubling our slate of original programming over the next three years or so. To prepare us for this, I have some terrific news to share today that’s going to take the first step toward making this transformation a reality.
First up, Sandra Dewey is being elevated to president of TNT and TBS Productions and business affairs. The delivery of content must follow evolving consumer behaviors and platforms. This requires us to have more control over our original programming and monetize it in various ways. Therefore, we are going to be producing a lot more of our own content, and Sandra’s experience and leadership on both the studio and business affairs side is going to be more vital than ever. I can’t imagine a leadership team without Sandra, and I’m very thankful to have her guiding our expanding studio operations going forward.
Second, I’ve decided to split the TBS and TNT original programming teams into two separate units in order to handle our ramp-up of new shows at each of the networks and to allow for more brand-focused development. With that in mind, I’m very excited to announce that I’ve recruited Sarah Aubrey to serve as executive vice president of TNT original programming. Sarah is a friend and colleague I have worked with before, going back to our collaboration on Friday Night Lights at NBC. She comes to us after heading up Film 44, the production company she started with actor-director-producer Peter Berg. In addition to Friday Night Lights, her producing credits include HBO’s acclaimed drama The Leftovers and the hit movie Lone Survivor. I am very confident Sarah is going to bring a fresh new perspective to TNT, and I can’t wait for her to start!
On the TBS side, we’re planning an aggressive transformation of the network with a focus on making the new TBS more of a destination for bold original programs and a network that is more digital and socially driven. To lead the network’s expanded slate, I’m happy to announce that Brett Weitz has been promoted to executive vice president of TBS original programming. I have garnered a lot of respect and comfort with Brett in a short amount of time. Since joining the company in 2009, Brett has proven himself to be a terrific programming executive, with a string of hits that includes Rizzoli & Isles and Falling Skies, among many others. In his new role, I know Brett is going to push the TBS slate in exciting new directions.
Sandra, Sarah and Brett will all report to me under this new structure. To support them in their roles, valued veterans Lillah McCarthy and Sam Linsky will now focus their duties specifically on TNT originals, reporting to Sarah, while Thom Hinkle will remain at TBS, reporting to Brett. David Eilenberg will continue to supervise unscripted programming, late night and specials in support of both networks as we assess our unscripted strategy in relation to our new brand positions. And Lisa Freiberger will continue to handle our casting needs for both networks’ expanding lineup.
Even though I think it’s important that we have two separate teams handling original programming for the networks, I plan to maintain the current structure of marketing, on-air, scheduling and acquisitions working across both TBS and TNT. It’s the best way to be efficient with our resources, share assets between the two networks and encourage collaboration.
Please join me in welcoming Sarah to the Turner family and congratulating Brett and Sandra on their well-deserved promotions!
I hope you’re as excited as I am about the future we’re embarking on for these two great networks.