Reilly, the former head of programming for Fox and NBC, will have oversight of all operations for TNT and TBS, reporting to Turner Broadcasting prexy David Levy. He will be based in Los Angeles.
In his chief creative officer role, Reilly will chair the newly formed Turner Entertainment Programming Council, an effort to better strategize and develop cross-platform programming acquisitions and opportunities among TNT, TBS, Adult Swim and Tru TV.
“Kevin is one of the most respected, innovative and influential executives in the television industry, and he’s joining Turner Broadcasting at the ideal time for him and for the networks,” Levy said. “Kevin brings a tremendous track record of success not only in terms of programming hits but also in the new media arena, where he was among the first broadcast network executives to push for meaningful investment in digital and social media. He has never shied away from taking bold programming risks and being a true champion of quality television.”
Reilly comes into the Turner fold as Time Warner presses for a refurbishing of both channels. Reilly was recruited because of his track record in developing distinctive shows running the gamut of NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” and “30 Rock” to FX’s “The Shield” and Fox’s “The Following.”
TNT and TBS have historically been programmed as broad-appeal networks, the cable equivalent of a broadcast net. But there’s a feeling within Time Warner that TNT in particular has mostly missed out on the boom in high-end, critically praised drama programming, the kind of shows that are commanding big dollars from SVOD players. In a sign of the times, cablers are prizing shows that deliver big bumps in L3 and L7 ratings, an indication that they have a longer shelf life.
Reilly left Fox in June after two rocky seasons in which the network stumbled as its tentpole “American Idol” franchise took an inevitable dive. Reilly championed quirkier fare such as comedies “The Mindy Project” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” that are critical faves but couldn’t fill the sizable ratings gap.
Reilly was known to have pursued a range of options for his next move, including independently financed production ventures and, of course, digital media opportunities. In the end, he opted to return to the cable biz, an arena he knows from his 2000-2003 tenure as head of programming for FX.
“There’s so much theoretical blabber these days about the potential of emergent content and platforms that you can drown in it,” said Reilly. “My six-month journey through the robust but chaotic media marketplace led me to re-confirm a less novel idea: the best place to create, distribute and consume premium television content today is cable TV. Through this process, I connected with kindred spirits in David Levy and the whole Turner organization, who understand both the real value of what we deliver today and how we need to push forward to stay positioned for tomorrow. We are going to use the considerable resources at Turner to entice top talent, create world-class content and meet and engage consumers in a contemporary fashion. I can’t wait.”
Reilly emerged as Turner’s top choice as he was preparing his exit from Fox after the network delivered an underwhelming upfront presentation last spring. It’s widely believed that one of the hurdles to Reilly signing on involved him reporting to Levy rather than directly to Turner chairman-CEO John Martin.
The discussions between Reilly and Turner appeared to have ended for good a little more than two weeks ago. It’s likely that Turner sweetened the offer by giving Reilly broader responsibility beyond programming for TNT and TBS, as well as the Turner Entertainment content-focused post.
Reilly’s new post fills most of the void left by the departure of longtime Turner Entertainment Networks chief Steve Koonin in April and the exit of TNT, TBS and TCM prexy Michael Wright in August. The departure of both execs was a clear signal that Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes was pressing for major changes. Martin, former CFO of Time Warner who is close to Bewkes, took the helm of Turner in January from another 10-year veteran, Phil Kent.
Levy said the decision to establish a role of chief creative officer was to help Turner nets get more proactive and creative in development and program acquisitions.
“The creation of a chief creative officer role is central to my model for more aggressively engaging in the war for content,” Levy said. “Kevin will lead this newly formed council in identifying and securing the best programming available in the marketplace for the full range of consumer platforms to further advantage the Turner entertainment brands.”
Reilly takes the reins of TNT and TBS at a time when both channels have a fair amount of new shows in the pipeline for next year, particularly TNT. TNT had a solid showing over the summer with the launch of frosh military thriller “The Last Ship.”
Among the new TNT series waiting for 2015 air dates are “Proof,” starring Jennifer Beals as a surgeon investigating incidents of reincarnation; “Public Morals,” a period police drama starring Ed Burns; and “Agent X,” a covert operations actioner led by Sharon Stone.