WarnerMedia is joining TV business’ transition from linear broadcasting to digital streaming with its upcoming subscription service headed by Kevin Reilly, who also oversees TBS and TNT. Reilly laid out the plans for the new platform at TCA today. When asked about the future prospects of the linear Turner networks TNT and TBS, he stressed that, while the company is evolving”, with “things syphoning through different platforms”, “we believe that when everything settles, we have a linear unit that is powerful and profitable”. “It has reached maturity” but, even with the contraction in the space, “it will be one of the last men standing.”
TNT and TBS command some of the highest ad rates in basic cable, and are still a lucrative business proposition in the shrinking ad-supported cable universe amid cord-cutting. The two brands’ programming is now being overseen by former EVP Original Programming Brett Weitz, who was recently named General Manager for TNT and TBS as TNT EVP Original Programming Sarah Aubrey became Head of Original Content for WarnerMedia’s digital platform.
In an interview with Deadline, Weitz shares his vision for TNT and TBS, which involves the networks’ series getting a second window on the WarnerMedia streaming platform, lighter dramas and more unscripted programming on TNT in the face of diminishing returns from off-network dramas. He also talks about TNT projects migrating to the direct-to-consumer platform and addresses the future of TBS comedies Angie Tribeca, Wrecked and The Guest Book, which are up for renewal.
DEADLINE: Will TNT and TBS remain an important part of WarnerMedia? Are you getting enough resources to keep the volume of original programming?
WEITZ: Absolutely. The companies maintain both directives, which is make great comedies and make great dramas, and unscripted and scripted. That’s never going to change. I think where WarnerMedia OTT direct-to-consumer makes it great for us is it gives us another access point for the consumer and ultimately our creators. For so many years we have made great shows and sold them to these SVOD partners and see them reap the rewards of our hard work and marketing. Now we get to own the entire experience.
I think what probably happens is, we still will be making a ton of comedies and a ton of dramas. We are going to make shows for the linear networks, and they will have some window on the direct-to-consumer offering as well. I don’t know how fast that’s going to work but we are going to have a much more of a cohesive relationship than we do with any other platform that exists in keeping all within the Warner Media family.
DEADLINE: Will you develop shows for the OTT platform through Studio T?
WEITZ: We will develop our shows ultimately for the linear networks. If we all come to a realization that it makes more sense — given where our pipeline is — to air on the direct to consumer first and then come to the linear, that would be an in-progress decision that we are going to make. But it is not going to be, as a development team, that we set out to go and make stuff for direct-to-consumer specifically. Ultimately these are $6 billion dollar businesses that do very well for us. There are maybe 2% of originals but that’s 100% of perception, and that’s how ad sales sell those networks, they are brand defiers, so we have to keep those going.
DEADLINE: I hear there are TNT projects in development that are going to the OTT platform. Will there be migration of shows from the linear networks to the digital platform?
WEITZ: You will see some TNT projects that Sarah has been working on specifically that are hers. Sarah is a brilliant executive, she and I have very different taste. So the fun part of my job is I get to decide what my tastes are for dramas and develop them. Some of that will move to direct-to-consumer, some will go away naturally, in development attrition. My leadership in the next couple of weeks are going to start buying dramas that make sense for TNT.
DEADLINE: What kind of dramas is that?
WEITZ: Still being figured out. My biggest mandate has always been, look at how our world exists right now. I don’t want to do really dark depressing dramas. I think there is a lot of people who do that and do it well. There is a need for, I wouldn’t say levity, but I want to do things that give people a little bit of respite from their day-to-day, that doesn’t require them to do homework, that doesn’t require them to take a valium when they are finished watching it. I want people to enjoy our programming and enjoy the experience watching it.
DEADLINE: So you are returning to the old TNT, before it switched to darker dramas?
DEADLINE: No procedurals?
WEITZ: There could be procedurals. I wouldn’t call it return to the old; I would say in the same way Killing Eve is a procedural. What we did back then was great for the consumer that existed then. That consumer has evolved, how people watch TV.
DEADLINE: There are several TBS series which are awaiting word on renewal. Have you made decisions on Angie Tribeca, Wrecked and The Guest Room?
WEITZ: Not yet. All these shows are still on the slate, still being decided. Pre-upfront, I will figure out what that looks like.
DEADLINE:Drop the Mic just moved from TBS to TNT. Will you do more unscripted programming on TNT?
WEITZ: I think it is going to be a big part of our slate. As these acquired shows start to wear thin and get long in the tooth, you have to create some originals that do some of the heavy lifting. There is no better price point than unscripted series that do well, that help carry that burden, so I think ultimately we will be building our slate across both networks.
DEADLINE: TNT’s unscripted brand was mostly true crime previously. Will you do more of that?
WEITZ: It’s going to be adjusted a little bit, but I’m not ready to discuss it right now.
DEADLINE: Have your programming budgets changed?
WEITZ: They are the same year over year.
DEADLINE: Do you expect that they will remain the same in the coming years?
WEITZ: I expect to but that’s also above my pay grade. We will see how WarnerMedia allocates its budgets.
DEADLINE: In the new new streaming world and in the WarnerMedia ecosystem that includes a big push in direct-to-consumer, what is your pitch to creators why they should bring their shows to TNT and TBS?
WEITZ: Netflix has a one-pipe business: features, television, all this stuff is consumed and pushed away. We have access now in the new WarnerMedia to Turner, HBO, direct-to-consumer, DirecTV Now business, AT&T brick-and-mortar stores. We have this sophisticated pipe system that gives us a lot of entries, a lot of access points for the consumer and a lot of opportunities for the creator. If you don’t watch it here, you have 7 other places to watch it. At Netflix, if you don’t watch it there you ain’t seeing it. I think that’s a tougher way of doing business.