Turner exec instrumental in ratings growth for cablers

Michael Wright, the network architect behind TNT’s top-rated series “The Closer” and “Rizzoli and Isles,” as well as the driving force behind TBS’ acquisition of “The Big Bang Theory,” has been promoted to president.

As prexy and head of programming for those two cablers, as well as Turner Classic Movies, Wright continue to oversee the lineup and scheduling for the Turner nets, as well as their digital extensions.

Los Angeles-based Wright, whose current deal was set to expire at the end of the year, was also instrumental in bringing “Falling Skies” to TNT. The Steven Spielberg exec produced sci-fi drama was the No. 1 new cable series in 2011.

Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, told Variety: “Michael has great relationships with talent. They value his notes and we always hear that they want to work with us. … It gives me a secure feeling that with Michael here, our business is in great hands. It’s very gratifying and rewarding to recognize what Michael has done.”

Reruns of “The Big Bang Theory” have been instrumental in TBS’ turnaround. The net rose 33% in the 18-49 demo in the first quarter this year and is up 32% in total viewers. “The Big Bang Theory” ratings been strong, and the sitcom has helped increase awareness and brought up the numbers for latenight lead-out talkshow “Conan.”

Wright joined TNT in 2002 and was senior VP of original programming two years later. He took charge of TBS in 2005 and TCM in 2007.

On the premiere front, TNT has several shows ready to bow: “Dallas,” the modern-day reboot of the classic CBS series, will debut June 13, and “The Closer” spinoff “Major Crimes” will launch Aug. 13.

Moving into reality, June 17 marks the start of “The Great Escape,” from “The Amazing Race” exec producer Bertram van Munster. Hosted by NFL Network personality Rich Eisen, “The Great Escape” drops contestants into locales such as a maximum-security prison or deserted island.

TBS is also ramping up its original programming and is set to debut sitcoms “Men at Work,” “Sullivan and Son” and “Wedding Band” by the end of the year.

TNT has several pilots in the pipeline that are awaiting news on possible series orders. There is positive buzz on David E. Kelley’s “Chelsea General,” and production is set to begin May 9 on Frank Darabont’s “L.A. Noir.” Also gestating at the cabler is Carol Mendelsohn’s canine-centric “Scent of the Missing” and Western “Tin Star.”

Expected soon is the renewal of John Wells’ LAPD drama “Southland.” The only hold-up for the Warner Bros. series is determining the number of episodes to order.

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