TNT/TBS Chief Michael Wright to Exit
A search for a new programming president is under way
After weeks of speculation, TNT, TBS and TCM programming president Michael Wright is expected to exit the Turner entertainment group he's been a part of for a decade, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.
The news comes amid major changes at the company, which included layoffs earlier this week. Turner chief John Martin has repeatedly expressed his desire to revamp and streamline the media conglomerate, which means revolutionizing its Turner Broadcasting unit. Wright, who has been with Turner since 2002 and has served as president and head of programming at the trio of nets since May 2012, will remain at the company while the search continues.
Wright had his hat in the ring the larger Turner gig once that has been left open since Steve Koonin departed in April. According to multiple sources, top Turner execs have spent much of the summer vetting candidates, including seasoned TV execs from one-time Fox chief Gail Berman to former NBC Universal Television Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin to recently departed Fox Broadcasting chief Kevin Reilly.
Wright spoke candidly about the need for swift and sizable changes at his flagship TNT during Turner's May upfront presentation to ad buyers. Expressing disappointment that the cable network had begun to skew too old and too broad — a point Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes had made on an analyst call weeks earlier — Wright introduced a new tagline, "Boom," and a desire for "edgier," "noisier" and more "dual" fare.
Perhaps ironically, the news of the creator-friendly exec's exit comes as TNT has had a particularly strong summer, debuting Michael Bay's post-apocalyptic drama The Last Ship ranking as the No. 1 scripted series among total viewers, adults 25-54 and the strong returns of staples Rizzoli & Isles and Major Crimes as well as a decent debut for Howard Gordon's Sean Bean starrer Legends.
During his run, Wright championed little-seen but critically beloved series including Southland and Men of a Certain Age. He created a brand predicated on big, commercial fare that includes series from The Last Ship to veterans Falling Skies and The Closer spinoff Major Crimes. His attempt for more serialized fare with Frank Darabont's Mob City didn't fare as well, though in a July interview with THR, he noted he'd do it all over again.
When asked about the biggest misconception of his network, he said: "That we don’t take chances. It’s not true. Mob City was a chance. It didn’t draw the audience, but I’d do it again tomorrow."
For TBS, meanwhile, Wright brought two broadcast shows to the network when he revived Cougar Town after its cancellation at ABC and animated entry American Dad from Fox.
Wright, who got his start as an actor, served as vp movies and miniseries for CBS before joining Turner. The latter stint included supervision on some of the network’s highest-rated and most acclaimed movies, including Sharing the Secret, The Long Way Home and the live production of On Golden Pond with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummmer. Before that, he was a packaging agent at CAA.