Turner Sees Cable Nets As 'Video Destinations,' Continues 'Cougar'

Steve-Koonin-ADon’t think of TBS and TNT as TV networks -- think of them as “video destinations.” And for the first time, those destinations will provide original programming all year round, Turner Entertainment executives disclosed at the company’s 2012-13 upfront presentation in New York Wednesday.

In the digital world, Turner executives stressed, content is the key driver -- as the company illustrated with a just-inked strategic partnership, announced at the upfront, which gives Turner a minority ownership stake in the 5-year-old digital comedy platform "Funny Or Die" (FOD).

As part of the agreement, Turner Digital will serve as the exclusive ad sales representative for the platform, which was launched by actor Will Ferrell, writer/director Adam McKay and writer Chris Henchy in 2007. On the content side, the deal calls for collaboration between FOD and Turner’s TBS and Adult Swim.



Commenting on the deal, Dick Glover, president and CEO of FOD, said it would open up new opportunities “to brands and advertisers to create far-reaching cross-platform content and messaging.”

Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, said the agreement would enable the new partners to “give people a laugh anywhere, anytime and on any device,” including TVs, computers, phones and tablets.

As for TBS and TNT, Koonin and other executives talked about a renewed focus on satisfying the programming wants of certain audience segments that drive viewing at the networks, such as so-called “armchair detectives” that are engaged by shows like “The Closer” on TNT or “comedy rebels” who find “Family Guy” on TBS amusing.

In terms of scheduling, Turner executives said they would use popular off-network shows like “Family Guy” and “Big Bang Theory” on TBS and “The Mentalist” and “Bones” on TNT to drive audiences to an increasing load of original comedies, dramas and reality series on the networks. For example, two new sitcoms -- the workplace comedy “Men at Work” and the “Cheers”-like comedy “Sullivan & Son” -- will both have “Big Bang Theory” as a lead-in. “Men at Work” premieres May 24 and “Sullivan” bows July 19.

Turner also confirmed striking a deal to continue original production on “Cougar Town," the Courtney Cox vehicle that has been airing on ABC. The show makes its TBS debut in early 2013. Coming up next month is the two-hour premiere of the new version of the prime-time soap opera “Dallas," a megahit for CBS in the Eighties.

In July, as “The Closer” begins its final (and shortened 6-episode) season, the crime drama “Perception” debuts (July 9). It stars Eric McCormack as an oddball neuroscientist who helps the FBI solve cases. In August, “Closer” spinoff “Major Crimes,” starring Mary McDonnell, premieres (Aug. 13).  A new medical drama, “Monday Mornings,” will debut on TNT early next year.

On the reality front, an “Amazing Race”-type series called “The Great Escape” premieres June 24. Teams of contestants are locked up in jails or other secure locations, and have to break out and make their way to a certain location before the other competitors. A reality show about Boston police, “Boston Blue,” will debut in early 2013. A “Survivor”-like show, “72 Hours,” is also being readied for a 2013 debut.

Returning TNT dramas include “Rizzoli & Isles,” “Franklin & Bash,” “Falling Skies,” “Leverage” and “Southland.”

TNT shows in development include a mystery from Stephen Bochco, “Tom Clancy’s Homeland Security,” and a whodunit based on two private-eye characters created by crime novelist David Baldacci.

On TBS, a new sitcom “Wedding Band,” about a band that plays at weddings, will bow in December. A new clip series, "Deon Cole’s Black Box," is set for early 2013. Cole, who made an appearance at the upfront presentation, described the program as “a clip series with a unique perspective -- the black perspective.” A hidden-camera comedy series, “Who Gets the Last Laugh,” is also slated for 2013.   

Shows in the TBS development hopper include the comedy “Most Likely” from Conan O’Brien about a man labeled most likely to succeed in high school who returns to his hometown after being fired from his job. O’Brien is executive producer of another comedy in development, about an “evil but very hip alien,” called “Zone Lord.”

O’Brien, the TBS late-night star, also attended the upfront. His suggestion for next year’s presentation: "Can't we do it on Skype?" Comparing the Turner upfront venue to others, he noted that CBS was “stuck in Carnegie Hall,” while Turner got the Hammerstein Ballroom, located “on an off-ramp to the Lincoln Tunnel.”

As for his own show, O’Brien joked that it has 5.5 million followers on Twitter, 8.7 million likes on Facebook and “one pedophile on MySpace.”  

Donna Speciale -- who joined Turner as president of ad sales for TNT, TBS, TruTV and Cartoon Network in January after years on the media buying side -- wrapped the presentation by noting that despite all the change in media in recent years, there’s more to come. Her company’s goal, she told attending advertisers, is to “put our audience relationships to work for you.” 

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