Turner Upfront: TNT Execs Stress New 'Edgier' Strategy, Need for 'Change'
Programming honcho Michael Wright used his upfront platform to lay out his plan for bolder, younger-skewing series.
Turner execs are eager to make some noise.
At least that's what their flagship network's new tagline -- "TNT Drama. Boom" -- suggests, as the network looks to infuse an edge into a slate that's skewed too old and too broad of late. "Sometimes change is good; sometimes change is necessary," programming chief Michael Wright told an audience of media buyers gathered at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday morning. He added of his strategy to reverse the aging trend: "We want to get a little younger, more dual and noisier."
The upfront presentation came just weeks after Wright's ultimate boss, Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes, told investors that the cable network had lost some of that advertiser-beloved younger audience, with rivals FX and AMC better able to lure the all-important demo with edgier fare.
Although Wright spoke immediately of "changes" when he took the stage -- referencing a new venue, new faces and, in his case, a new tie -- he did not mention recently departed chief Steve Koonin (or since-gone ad chief Greg D'Alba and animation head Stuart Snyder) by name. Instead, he used his MSG platform to push his new strategy -- network execs "don't have souls, but we do have strategies," he said to big laughs -- and newly unveiled brand refresh focused on higher-octane, younger-skewing series. "It's about the thrill of the chase," he said of the storylines he's seeking out as he continues to ramp up his original output. (Sibling network TBS, which relies on Big Bang Theory repeats as a launch-pad for its slate of comedies, will keep its course.)
In addition to previously announced newcomers The Last Ship (from Michael Bay) and Murder in the First (Steven Bochco), TNT has greenlighted Public Morals (a gritty police drama written by and starring Ed Burns) and Jennifer Beals' Proof (about a skeptical surgeon challenged by a billionaire to prove the existence of the afterlife) for 2015. In a rare moment of candor during a network executive upfront speech, Wright acknowledged that he's kept up at night by his desire -- need, even -- to deliver a new hit. Going forward, he stressed, TNT will add only one new series per quarter, which will allow the network marketing department to remain focused and appropriately aggressive.
In that brand refresh process, TNT will look to shift from being a 25-54 network to being an 18-49 one. To illustrate his dedication to evolving the brand and finding that next breakout, Wright joked that he's been so busy he's been ignoring his 6-year-old son. An image of his son weeping appeared on the big screen, with Wright adding to laughs that therapy was in his future.
The "boom" tagline is expected to roll out later this month, on air and off. The goal, Wright reiterated later in the hour-plus presentation, is for viewers of TNT to tune into the lineup and feel as though they're seated in a movie theater watching "a great action-adventure movie."
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