As expected, talk of breaking through the TV clutter dominated the first stretch of the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour, which runs through Aug. 11. The biannual junket opened July 27, kicking off a series of presentations from Netflix, HBO, PBS, and others, each pushing a broad offering of scripted and unscripted programming. Here are some of the takeaways.
PBS loses the way to ‘Sesame Street’
CEO Paula Kerger took the stage just as news spread that three longtime “Sesame Street” cast members had been let go. The move — and the timing — underscored the complicated nature of the public broadcaster’s relationship with “Sesame” producers since HBO took over as the show’s primary broadcast partner in January. (Reruns continue to air on PBS.)
“As you know, ‘Sesame Street’ is produced by Sesame Workshop, an independent production company,” Kerger said when asked about the firings. “The casting decision was made by them. We did not know about it beforehand.” Kerger said she had in fact learned of the exodus only that morning, reading about it in the news.
HBO programming chief Casey Bloys claimed the next day that his network had no hand in the moves.
HBO takes heat for violence vs. women
Bloys faced questions about violence against women in the network’s series, including “Game of Thrones,” “The Night Of,” and the upcoming sci-fi epic “Westworld,” which has an implied rape in the first episode. “I can tell you, violence — it’s not just specific to women. It’s indiscriminate,” Bloys said. “Plenty of men are killed
“Westworld” executive producer Lisa Joy, appearing later with the show’s cast, said violence is an unfortunate byproduct of the show’s larger theme. “‘Westworld’ is a consideration of human nature,” she said, “the best parts of human nature … and the basest parts of human nature. That includes violence and sexual violence.”
Netflix makes it rain
Ted Sarandos, chief content officer, signaled that the streaming service would not slow its big-spending ways any time soon. “If you’re keeping the shows great and people are loving them, why make less?” he said. Sarandos declined to announce a renewal for buzzy Netflix series “Stranger Things,” however. Though he offered no estimate of how much Netflix will spend on programming in 2017, he did say the figure will top the $6 billion spent for 2016.
“It seems like a real arbitrary thing that there should only be X number of shows on TV,” Sarandos said. “When people talk about Peak TV, they talk about it in an old-media lens, [where] there’s three hours of primetime, there’s four broadcast networks, there’s X number of cable channels. That’s not true anymore.”
Turner, Nat Geo cut ads, declare victory
Cable’s newest magic bullet in the fight against encroaching competition is decreased ad load. National Geographic chief Courteney Monroe touted her channel’s commitment to reducing commercial time by 50%. TruTV’s Chris Linn bragged that his Turner-owned network was the first to reduce ad times.
Turner Entertainment chief creative officer Kevin Reilly claimed that a recent 50% reduction in ad loads for TNT original dramas had not only yielded “good results” but had established the network as an industry trendsetter. “It’s being emulated by some other competitors on a one-off basis,” he said. “If we get the results that we’re beginning to see, we’ll look at doing it on TBS.” Reilly added that Turner has “really taken the lead position on television with limited commercial interruption.” He also claimed that Turner will share data about its ad-reduction experiment with competitors in the hope that they follow suit. “We’re not going to be able to go at it alone,” he said.