New Turner Entertainment chief content officer Kevin Reilly talked to media buyers this morning about his plans to shake TBS until its teeth rattle, while pushing TNT more gently in a new direction. At his first Turner upfront since exiting Fox, Reilly, president of TBS and TNT, unveiled his plans for revolution at TBS and evolution at TNT, doubling the number of original series at each network within three years. This year, Turner also brought other of its networks to the pitch meeting, including CNN.
In round numbers, here’s how it went:
7 AM PT: Maybe want to rethink that bow tie when you’re pitching media buyers on plans to young up your networks’ audiences. Turner Sports Guys Behind Blue Desk – Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaq – introduce Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, Turner CEO John Martin and Turner Broadcast president David Levy, who all are seated in the audience. Sports Guys spend a minute joking about having their heads up Levy’s ass. Awkward segue to Turner ad sales team, who are now going to pitch buyers on the company’s “quality storytelling.” Turner Broadcasting Ad Sales president Donna Speciale works hard to overcome bow tie and exec-heinie talk, pitching her networks’ next-gen ad capabilities, and reach with millennials.
7:23 AM: “Adult Swim isn’t used to being up this early” that network explains on screen in its first visit to this clambake via a video clip package. “If you’re still on the fence, what are you afraid of? Making money?” the network asks media buyers, in print, on screen. “Don’t worry, the next people won’t make you read,” the network promises. Next up: Kevin Reilly.
7:30 AM: TNT and TBS “aren’t fully developed,” Reilly says. That includes digging deep to find out who are its viewers, because, “I mean why should the NSA have all the fun?” He gives the “doubling the number of original series on TNT and TBS over the next three years” speech, saying he would sharpen the two networks’ points of view. And, he promises, they are going to “change way we market, blurring lines between programming and advertising.” TNT will be “more dual gender” by this time next year.
7:34 AM: Reilly walks through three new drama projects at TNT that all point to where we are headed. Will is about a young Williams Shakespeare in raucous 16th century London. Animal Kingdom is a crime drama in blue-collar surf community. The Alienist is a thriller about the search for a serial killer in late 1890’s New York.
7:37 AM: Reilly promises a “major reposition of the TBS brand.” New TBS will have a “huge slate of originals, awesomely in your face,” and Reilly plans to “age it down and skew slightly male…which takes us into the eye of the storm.” Those young guys are historically tough to reach via TV, Reilly notes, observing, “If you are in that demo you’re probably not listening to this speech any more.”
7:39 AM: Reilly speaks briefly about The Daily Show alums Samantha Bee and Jason Jones joining Turner, Jason to star in The Detour and Sam to develop a late-night talk show of her own. “I am female as f**k” she says in a video clip, in re the boys club that is late-night TV, after refusing all offerings from a selection of sausages on a platter at a gallery opening featuring portraits of the many guys who currently litter the late-night landscape. You had to be there. Reilly does not address hiring Bee to headline a late-night show on a network he says needs to skew more male.
7:40 AM: TBS’s other late-night star, Conan O’Brian comes in for some praise about his remote pieces. “He was so great in Cuba I can’t wait to ship him off to North Korea,” Reilly raves, promising media buyers he will do six road trips in the next year, in addition to the local remotes he cranks out on a regular basis. Conan, whose appearance is a TBS/TNT Upfront Week tradition, does not appear this year.
7:47 AM: Sports Guys Behind Blue Desk are wheeled back out to discuss their favorite “snippet” from the presentation thus far. “Analytics,” they decide – apparently somebody has used that word in their pitch to media buyers – is what happens when “a rich guy with a daughter, and nerd sons-in-law, has to give him a job and put a title on it.” Then they throw to Wolf Blitzer in the audience, who leads into an intro of Sharon Stone, also in the audience. That will never happen again.
8 AM: Billy Eichner, whose Billy On The Street is moved to TruTV, comes out to discuss that. “This feels like a Scientology convention to me,” he says, of the Upfront presentation. “I feel like, any minute now, Kelly Preston is going to come out and sign us up – we’re all going clear as we speak!!” he shrieks as only Billy can. “Played well in the front,” Eichner insists, of his patter, before throwing to a clip video of TruTV’s new slate.
7:52 AM: Triumph The Insult Comic Dog is in the audience: “The Jew behind me had to get out of the shot,” Triumph snarks, in re his alter ego Robert Smigel, who is having trouble hiding behind Wolf Blitzer. “We’ve never done an upfront presentation before,” Triumph apologizes. “By the way, Wolf, I really respect that you kept your porno name after you went legit. There are an incredible lineup of stars all struggling to stay awake,” Triumph says of the presentation. “I love you, Shaq, but Charlie Brown’s teacher is easier to understand than you.”
8:08 AM: CNN brings out Anderson Cooper. CNN, he says, “now is seen by more people than any other news brand in the world” and is “as vital today as when it was born 35 years ago next month.” He calls CNN “the original disruptor” and says the cable news net is clocking its “largest share of cable news audience in seven years.” He throws to a clip video of new CNN original series, including Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, Morgan Spurlock Inside Man, Mike Rowe’s Somebody’s Gotta Do It, The Hunt With John Walsh, and a new series headlined by W. Kamau Bell and called United Shades of America.
Two years ago, Cooper says CNN had no such series on its lineup; this year it has 12 original series and they account for nine of the network’s 10 most watched programs. “Guess who’s got the other one — yeah, it’s me,” he says modestly. These original series have brought in “a whole new audience: younger and more upscale,” and have made the network less dependent on breaking news. “There is a renewed sense of purpose” Cooper says, noting his 15 years there.
8:20 AM: Sports Guys Behind Blue Desk are wheeled out one again, to discuss what they saw at this Upfront presentation. They decide only God is an expert. Shaq declares it a “wonderful night” with “a lot of great shows coming up.” Others at the desk disagree, insisting it’s morning. They discuss sports programming across the various Turner networks and debate the difference between the colors burgundy and plum. There is strong disagreement. They all agree, however, that it’s “been a kick” to be involved with CBS in March Madness coverage. The others rib Barkley about his contract negotiations. Barkley says David Levy showed up at his house with two bottles of wine and two of tequila, said “we want you back” and they polished off the booze and pounded out a deal. “My agent never got involved,” Barkley insists.
8:35 AM: “Sharon Stone, will you marry me?” Shaq asks the actress, when asked to say something to close out the Turner Networks Upfront presentation.