With prebranded series "Pan Am" and "Charlie's Angels" in his arsenal, Sony's TV Steve Mosko homes in on content-hungry international buyers.
Sony Pictures TV president Steve Mosko has just returned from New York, where he sold three new dramas -- ABC's Pan Am and Charlie's Angels and CBS' Unforgettable -- for the fall season. But there's no time for champagne as the Baltimore native hunkers down in his Culver City office preparing to pitch those shows along with cable entries The Big C, Justified and Necessary Roughness, among others, to international buyers at the L.A. Screenings, which run through May 28 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. The married father of three, who has held his title since 2000, also oversees fare in other dayparts, including Dr. Oz, Jeopardy! and Days of Our Lives -- along with 132 channel feeds around the world. Mosko, 55, talks with THR about a rebounding market, a post-Oprah daytime and why he's having discussions with Netflix.
If you were writing the conclusive story of upfront week, what would your headline be?
The headline would be that this year a lot of the networks didn't stick to the tried and true. We saw them take some very calculated chances. It doesn't feel like the same old shows going through the system. The other side of that, there's some great prebranded product: Charlie's Angels, Pan Am, The Playboy Club and The X Factor, to name a few.
What was the one topic everyone seemed to be talking about?
Going in, everybody was talking about it being [ABC Entertainment chief] Paul Lee and [NBC Entertainment chairman] Bob Greenblatt's first time. But it became a nonevent because they both did such a great job that it spilled over to the sense of optimism in the business right now. There are some great shows, a strong advertising market and an environment that is much more positive. You go back a couple of years, and it was so bleak -- everybody was complaining that the world was ending and broadcast television was over and blah, blah, blah. It was all B.S. This year, it actually feels like people aren't sniping. Cable isn't sniping at broadcast; it's like everybody realizes now that there's enough to go around.
You operate as an independent studio in an increasingly vertically integrated business. Can you speak to that challenge?
The beauty of being independent is that we are producing for everybody. We're Switzerland. It's why we have shows on every night of the week on the broadcast networks and have eight new shows on cable this summer.
But if I'm a network choosing between your show and an equally strong show from my sister studio, wouldn't I choose the latter?
I don't think people look us in the eye and say it exactly that way, but it would stand to reason that in a tiebreaking situation, that's probably where it falls. It's working right now, but it's not going to get easier.
What role do foreign sales play as you assess the financial viability of a show today?
We do a greenlight for every show we produce domestically. As part of that process, we look at all areas that generate revenue: domestic, syndication, international sales, merchandise. Every show is a business unto itself, and international has become a huge piece of the economics. Our three new dramas have had a huge response from the international community. Fortunately, that marketplace is very strong right now.
What are international buyers looking for as they descend on L.A.?
Having big stars and great production values helps you internationally. So does the network and its track record. In our case, the fact that there is brand recognition will mean they're easier to promote.
What does Oprah's departure mean for the daytime landscape?
Oprah is one of the most iconic shows in the history of television, and those only come along once in a lifetime. There are some great shows in daytime that will fill the gap. We're certainly thrilled with Dr. Oz, which has picked up the majority of those time periods around the country that Oprah is vacating.
Are we likely to see any new stars emerge in daytime?
Going forward, you will hear a lot of names, but between Dr. Phil, Ellen, Judge Judy and Dr. Oz, a lot of those big time slots that lead into news are already locked up for a couple of years. For someone else to come in, it will be really hard.
There's been a lot of attention paid to newsier entries such as Anderson Cooper and Katie Couric. Is there an appetite for news in daytime?
There are a lot of places where people can get hard news throughout the day. People in daytime want to be entertained, and they want takeaways that can help improve their lives. When there's so much access to breaking news and hard news, people want a little bit of escapism when they watch these shows. That's why Oprah did so well over the years: She provided entertaining programming that made people's lives better and made them feel better about themselves. It also speaks to why Dr. Oz, Ellen and Dr. Phil have been successful.
ABC recently said it is canceling All My Children and One Life to Live. As the studio behind the veteran soaps Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless, how viable is the genre going forward?
The big mistake that people make sometimes is that they lump everything into a bucket and say, "OK, these shows aren't working." Look, it is still a great business, but there has been some erosion because there's more competition. We went down this road eight years ago. We sat down with [Days of Our Lives executive producer] Ken Corday and [The Young and the Restless executive producer] Bill Bell and said, "How do we keep these shows on the air for the next generation?" We put a lot of time, effort and energy into re-engineering these shows in a way that they were financially viable with the new economics of network television. We were ahead of the curve.
Netflix: friend or foe?
They're buying programming, so I would put them in the friend category. Like any other platform, as sellers of content, we've got to be the ones who decide whether or not we want to sell to them -- and it's not across the board the same for all of your content. But it's not like people are putting a gun to people's heads and forcing a shift to Netflix.
Netflix is getting into original series with House of Cards. How do you feel about that?
We went through the exact same thing. We were one of the first to get into doing scripted programming for basic cable networks. We did a show called Strong Medicine for Lifetime and then The Shield with FX. When we started, people were saying: "Man, you're crazy getting into that business. You're never going to make any money. International is not going to treat it the same way they treat broadcast dramas." Here we are today, and some of the best programs on TV are sitting on cable. And you look at the kind of actors that are cast; when you have talent like Laura Linney (The Big C), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Glenn Close (Damages), you're able to get top dollar internationally. If Netflix can support original programming, I say great. Competition makes everybody better.
Can we expect to see a Sony original on Netflix in the future?
There's a real chance that will happen. We're having conversations about developing original programming for them; we would certainly like to do that.
Any news you can share about that?
Nothing to share today.
5 THINGS I LEARNED FROM MY PARENTS
- "You don't have to be mean to be tough, and you don't have to yell to be heard."
- "No matter how bad your day is, try to take the time to do something to help someone else."
- "Don't underestimate the value of a handwritten note."
- "You can tell the real character of a person by the way they treat a waiter or waitress."
- "I have four sisters, so my mother always told the men in the family, 'Please put the seat up when you use the bathroom!' "
SONY'S BROADCAST OFFERINGS FOR 2011-12
The Sing-Off (NBC)
The Nick Lachey-hosted competition gets a supersized spot.
The critical-darling comedy starring Joel McHale returns for Season 3.
Shark Tank (ABC)
The entrepreneur competition will be back on Friday nights.
Happy Endings (ABC)
Critical praise earned the Friends-like midseason comedy a plum post-Modern Family slot in the fall.
Pan Am (ABC)
Christina Ricci makes her series-regular debut in the sexy new soap set during the Jet Age.
Charlie's Angels (ABC)
The new Miami-set reboot of the 1970s hit will launch Thursday nights.
The new drama is a Without a Trace reunion for executive producer Ed Redlich and star Poppy Montgomery.
Rules of Engagement (CBS)
The David Spade comedy was bumped to Saturdays for Season 6.
Re-Modeled (The CW)
The female-skewing network will add this new unscripted modeling series in midseason.