Upfront: Turner Increases Reach, Orders More Original Shows

Steve Koonin

As TNT and TBS have helped usher in an era of high-quality original programming on cable, one of the more remarkable accomplishments may be consistency in branding. Broadcasters have cycled through taglines and positioning; the Turner networks have held true to their respective "We Know Drama" and "Very Funny" IDs for years.

Those were developed under Turner Entertainment Networks President Steve Koonin, who sought to give the networks focus: drama for TNT and comedy at TNS. At Turner's upfront event Wednesday, he extolled a brand strength -- and reach -- of both.

The networks are each carried in more than 100 million homes, hitting an estimated 89% of U.S. TV households. Koonin used that figure to advance Turner's repeated argument: Its networks are on par with the ABC and CBS.

Posted on screen behind him was a quote about lines blurring between broadcast and cable from CBS' CEO Les Moonves. "Les is right," Koonin said. "The playing field has leveled."



TNT and TBS have had some bumps with ratings this season. By one measure, they are down in the 18-to-49 demo by 8% and 7%, respectively. Still, the summer is arguably their strongest period.

In fact, success at both nets has made Koonin one of the most powerful people in entertainment. Liberal investment in development has given him the ability to green-light a slew of first-rate comedies and dramas, not to mention late-night shows.

TBS and TNT are increasing original program spending by 26% this year, according to Karen Cassell, a spokeswoman. TBS spent about $447.3 million on all programming last year, including reruns like "Seinfeld," while TNT's costs reached about $879.4 million, per SNL Kagan.

"These are investments," Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, told Bloomberg. "Everything we do is about placing strategic and smart bets in a business that is impossible and improbable to predict success."

Coco is with tbs

One gamble: TBS signed Conan O'Brien for a late-night gig this spring, after his parting with NBC. His show debuts on TBS on Nov. 8. O'Brien opened Thursday's event with a clip poking fun at his downtrodden life after "The Tonight Show." He was overweight and surrounded by pizza and beer bottles.

Then, O'Brien appeared on stage asking: "If anybody in this room can explain what happened four months ago, I'd [love] to hear it."

Nodding to Koonin, he quipped: "When I met Steve Koonin on JDate, we clicked instantly."

Linda Yaccarino, who heads ad sales at Turner as COO, later spoke about opportunities for links between advertisers and programming, including the growing trend of brands syncing with on-air promos. Viewers may think of those more as entertainment than the traditional plugs.

Then came Michael Wright, head of programming at TNT and TBS, who emceed the rollout of high-energy show clips, followed by their stars taking the stage. Notable are original animated comedies at TBS, and TNT moving to four nights of originals this summer.

In June, TBS will debut the animated "Neighbors From Hell," which chronicles a family from hell, and Wright described as "raunchy." TBS is looking to pair it with off-net runs of "Family Guy" on Mondays. Molly Shannon does one of the voiceovers.

Two other animated shows are in development: "Good and Evel," about an honorable man with a nefarious twin brother; and "The Black Family," focusing on an interracial family, the Blacks.

On June 2, a more traditional sitcom, "Are We There Yet?," based on the eponymous film launches. Focusing on a newly married couple and their blended family, one of the stars is former NFL player Terry Crews, who plays a much more upbeat character than the dour father he was on CW's "Everybody Hates Chris." Back-to-back episodes will run in the 9 p.m. hour.

TNT has six dramas in development, including an untitled medical show starring Don Cheadle. And there's "Miss Philly," produced by Jamie Foxx, about the female police chief in Philadelphia.

This summer, TNT expands to four nights of original dramas, including "The Closer" and "Leverage," which moves to Sundays.

The new "Rizzoli & Isles" stars Angie Harmon as a Boston detective at 10 p.m. Mondays. On Tuesdays, "Hawthorne" returns at 9, to be followed by the new "Memphis Beat" crime drama with Jason Lee at 10.

Tennessee native DJ Qualls also stars in another Memphis-based production, following hit film "Hustle & Flow."

Ray Romano-starring "Men of a Certain Age" will return to TNT this fall, while "Southland" will be back early next year.

1 comment about "Upfront: Turner Increases Reach, Orders More Original Shows".
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  1. Christina Ricucci from Millenia 3 Communications, May 20, 2010 at 8:55 a.m.

    Typo in your second paragraph: should say "drama for TNT and comedy at TBS" (not TNS, which is Turner Network Sales, the cable sales arm of Turner).

    Beyond that, kudos to Steve Koonin & a very hard-working team for their vision and for leading the pack in original programming for cable.

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