Redford, Bochco among talent on tap

Turner Broadcasting’s upfront presentation to advertisers today will be heavy on star power — and symbolism.

Turner’s powerhouse TNT and TBS cablers are so determined to compete in the same arena as the broadcast networks that they’ve boldly skedded their programming presentation in the middle of broadcasters’ marathon week of upfront announcements.

Turner Entertainment prexy Steve Koonin will tubthump TNT’s ambitious plan to field an all-original primetime sked Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays by 2010 during the 90-minute presentation at the Hammerstein Ballroom.

To achieve their lofty goals, Koonin and Michael Wright, senior veep and head of programming for TNT, TBS and TCM, have engineered a high-octane development slate featuring such marquee producers and creatives as Ridley Scott, Steven Bochco, Dean Devlin, Mark Burnett, Robert Redford, Ray Romano and Betty Thomas as well as Greer Shephard and Michael M. Robin, producers of TNT’s top-rated skein “The Closer.” There’ll be additional big names revealed during the upfront, but Turner is keeping a tight lid on that news.

Koonin is convinced that the symbolism of charging into the teeth of the broadcasters’ upfronts will not be lost on media buyers. The message Koonin wants Madison Avenue to take away is that TNT and TBS are closer than most people think to directly challenging the Big Four in primetime for market share in viewers and ad dollars.

“Already what I call the top-tier cable networks beat a number of broadcast networks regularly in time periods covering between 30% and 40% of the primetime schedules,” Koonin told Daily Variety.

Turner’s goal is to raise that percentage in 2010, when TNT plans to schedule nine scripted original primetime series — three each on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Turner is taking on broadcast TV not just in the linear primetime schedule but “in all of the multiplatform areas,” said Koonin. That will allow people to get episodes of new series through video-on-demand, streaming video on the Internet and digital downloads via everything from iTunes to cell phones.

All of these uses of expensive new series, he said, will be explored as a way to offset their high production costs.

The common thread of scripted-series development for Turner, Koonin said, is “personal drama.” He’s wary of trying to emulate HBO or FX with edgy, boundary-pushing shows because they have to play later in primetime, which reduces their flexibility, and they may have trouble harvesting big bucks in the syndication marketplace.

The ancillary-market issue is becoming more important to Koonin because both TBS and TNT plan to produce lots of inhouse shows, giving Turner total control of their distribution on all platforms. Two examples of this ownership are sitcom “The Bill Engvall Show” on TBS and the pilot of Romano’s hourlong TNT drama series “Men of a Certain Age.”

At the same time, TNT’s original programming push is making it a more attractive outlet for the major TV studios to target. Cabler has an ensemble legal drama, “Raising the Bar,” from Steven Bochco and ABC Studios, ready to preem in fall. Also set for debut later this year with a 13-episode order is “Leverage,” a caper-actioner starring Timothy Hutton from Devlin’s Electric Entertainment.

Ramping up the volume of new shows will also permit TNT and TBS to reduce a bit their dependence on rerun programming, particularly high-cost series including “Without a Trace” and “Cold Case” that have proved disappointing in the ratings.

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