Following one of the lengthiest executive courtships, former Fox Chairman Kevin Reilly has closed a deal to join Turner Broadcasting as President of TNT and TBS and Chief Creative Officer for Turner Entertainment. Starting this fall and based in Los Angeles, Reilly will report to David Levy, President of Turner Broadcasting.
As President of TNT and TBS, Reilly will combine the responsibilities at the two networks of longtime Turner Entertainment Networks President Steve Koonin, who left in April, and TNT and TBS President of Programming Michael Wright, who departed at end of August, overseeing content development, business affairs and production, marketing, digital and scheduling. The position of chief creative officer for Turner Entertainment is new and likely helped sway Reilly to come aboard. He will chair a newly formed Turner Entertainment Programming Council, featuring the senior programming executives of TNT, TBS, Adult Swim and truTV, to explore cross-platform opportunities, expand the content pipeline and leverage content acquisition for all networks.
“The creation of a chief creative officer role is central to my model for more aggressively engaging in the war for content,” Levy said. “Kevin will lead this newly formed council in identifying and securing the best programming available in the marketplace for the full range of consumer platforms to further advantage the Turner entertainment brands.”
Reilly was identified as a top choice for the job the moment he announced his exit from Fox in May, embarking on months of on-and-off discussions with the Turner leadership. Negotiations picked up momentum in early October before breaking off. They were restarted a week later when Reilly met with Levy.
I hear Reilly explored some possibilities in the digital space before rekindling his interest in the Turner double vacancy left by Koonin and Wright’s departures. “There’s so much theoretical blabber these days about the potential of emergent content and platforms that you can drown in it,” Reilly said. “My six-month journey through the robust but chaotic media marketplace led me to re-confirm a less novel idea: The best place to create, distribute and consume premium television content today is cable TV. Through this process, I connected with kindred spirits in David Levy and the whole Turner organization, who understand both the real value of what we deliver today and how we need to push forward to stay positioned for tomorrow.”
From the get-go, the Turner higher-ups made it clear they were looking for an executive with a digital mind-set who can lead TNT and TBS into the multiplatform future. Reilly had been one of the early adopters of the new distribution paradigm. Under him, Fox last fall was the first broadcast network to denounce Live+Same Day ratings as irrelevant, lobbying for the adoption of a 30-day multiplatform ratings system that he argued provides a better picture of the amount of viewing a show is accumulating over its life span.
After talks between Reilly and Turner dragged on for months, some speculated that after back-to-back top programming posts at FX, NBC and Fox, Reilly might be a little reluctant to go back in the trenches of development. He certainly expressed great enthusiasm for the new job, ending his quote about taking the gig with, “I can’t wait.”
Also a sticking point for a number of candidates for the Turner job had been the reporting structure, with the new person reporting to Levy — the longtime head of Turner Ad Sales and Sports who has no programming experience but is valued by the company because he negotiates TNT and TBS’ big sports packages. However, insiders have stressed that Levy’s management style empowers his direct reports, and he has not been micromanaging TNT and TBS since taking over the networks.
In addition to Reilly, there was one other leading candidate for the job: Zack Van Amburg, President of U.S. Programming and Production at Sony Pictures TV. Turner pursued the Sony executive earlier this fall, but he had just reupped his contract at the studio, which proved an insurmountable obstacle.
While Fox, the network he left, is in need of a ratings turnaround, Reilly is joining TNT and TBS at a time of ratings strength. 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 its stronger summer performance in years.
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 stepped in to run the networks day-to-day during the executive search.
Also pretty unusual had been TNT and TBS’ pickup activity in the weeks without a programming chief. Since Wright left, there have been one series and four pilot pickups at TNT and two pilot pickups at TBS. This is a slate that Reilly will inherit.
Presenting an additional challenge for him are Time Warner’s ongoing layoffs, which call for Turner Broadcasting to cut 10% of its workforce, eliminating 1,475 jobs.
Here is Levi’s memo announcing Reilly’s appointment:
It is my pleasure to announce that Kevin Reilly is the new president of TBS and TNT and chief creative officer for Turner Entertainment. In this dual role, Kevin will be responsible for overseeing and leading the TNT and TBS networks and brands, including all content development; business affairs and production; marketing, brand and creative services; digital platforms; and program scheduling, planning and content-monetization strategies.
As chief creative officer, Kevin will chair the newly formed Turner Entertainment Programming Council, a coordinated effort engaging the senior programming executives of TNT, TBS, Adult Swim and truTV to explore and develop cross-platform opportunities; expand the division’s pipeline of leading content; and position and advantage Turner as the premier partner for creative providers of every genre. This council will be about influence, creative collaboration, maximizing relationships in the creative community and increasing our strength and leveraging power in the war for content.
Kevin is one of the most respected, innovative and influential executives in the television industry. He most recently served as entertainment chairman for FOX after holding similar positions at NBC and FX. With credits like Glee, 30 Rock and The Shield, it’s obvious that Kevin doesn’t shy away from taking bold programming risks and championing quality television. He was also among the first broadcast network executives to push for meaningful investment in digital and social media. See the attached press release for a more complete look at Kevin’s extraordinary accomplishments.
Kevin joins us at a time when TBS, TNT and Adult Swim are enjoying ratings success, and truTV is in the midst of an extensive brand and programming refresh. But this is also a time when our networks are facing significant challenges, especially in growing our reach among young adults. I’m confident that Kevin has the energy, creativity, personality and leadership style to bring a fresh programming eye to the networks and position them for sustained growth in today’s changing environment.
Kevin is set to join the company this fall. He’ll spend his first few weeks acquainting himself with the network teams and getting up to speed. This fall, we’ll set up a full staff meeting to give all of you the chance to hear directly from Kevin and see for yourself what a great addition he is to our company.