Q&A: TV Land president Larry W. Jones

Exec prefers mature audiences over youth demo

 
After years of being known for "Andy Griffith" reruns, TV Land has done something with its Betty White comedy "Hot in Cleveland" that broadcasters have struggled to do: launch a classic sitcom with a live studio audience. It's a coup for the network's longtime president Larry W. Jones, who is focusing on mature audiences rather than chasing the fickle youth demo.

The Hollywood Reporter: How important is Betty White to TV Land?

Larry W. Jones: Betty White has always been important to our network because in the world of classic television, she is a founder. Our relationship goes back many, many years, way beyond this show.

THR: How do you see your network's balance between reality and scripted?

Jones: The one thing we have in our clear focus is our audience. We had spent a lot of time talking to our audience, and when we decided to get into scripted sitcoms about a year and half ago, it was really clear in their minds and our minds that they were looking for the multicamera format they basically grew up with. The ratings and popularity of "Hot in Cleveland" proved the fact that there was something missing in their TV diet. The future for us is about balance, it's about superserving this audience of 40- to 54-year-olds, and that's the core sweet spot. There is nobody out there focusing on that demographic, and we want to do it with light-hearted entertainment. I often say you are never going to come to TV Land to learn anything. You just really want to have a good time, kick back and relax, and whether we do that with scripted or reality, that's what we are going to do it with.

THR: Your marketing for "Cleveland" was less about the network and more about the show. What are you doing to build the TV Land brand?

Jones: "Hot in Cleveland" really moved us ahead in a big way, and because of its popularity, people, they get it now: "Oh, TV Land is doing original programming." I think in an incredibly competitive environment, we are still going to have to figure out ways to get people to the network, and we are still going to have to remind them that the network still provides you great classics and modern classics and is making new (shows). I don't think we have obtained the level where we can back off that.

THR: Betty White, Cloris Leachman ... are you going down the list of multi-Emmy winners and popping them into shows?

Jones: We love Cloris too! Every single person working on "Hot in Cleveland"-- and we've had so many guest stars too -- are people we have stayed in touch with over time for various reasons, because they have had successes on our network, continue to have or we want to have them on our network.

THR: We all know what it's like for female actresses over a certain age trying to find work. Are they undervalued in the marketplace?

Jones:
There are a lot of things in the marketplace that are undervalued, and we are here to change all those things. The talent in front of the camera and behind the camera, the value of the audience from a Madison Avenue perspective, all of those things are undervalued. And we have been the ones, almost all by ourselves, saying if you're in your 40s, it's OK; if you're in your 50s, it's OK. You're valuable and important. It's not just about the actors, it's the audience too.

THR: But Madison Avenue doesn't want to hear that.

Jones:
I think the simple fact is, when you go to the basic numbers of the baby boom generation and how big they are and how important they are -- and how much money they spend and how much they support their kids, or even their parents, being part of that sandwich generation -- it is virtually impossible for Madison Avenue to ignore, and they have embraced it.

THR: Will you have the stomach for new sitcoms if you have the more traditional TV development experience, which is more failure than success?

Jones:
The reality is, we are being very selective and we put all of our muscle, every single one of our efforts, behind a single show. We're not a broadcast network, launching 30 or 40 shows, or one of the bigger cable channels doing 15 or 20 series. Because we are going to have four or five series a year, we really have the ability to put all of our efforts behind key initiatives.

THR:
Where is "Retired at 35," your next scripted sitcom, in the development pipe?

Jones:
We are staffing up right now -- we have closed some deals, but I can't really talk about that. We are going to be back in the studio in September, so we are perfectly on schedule to be on the air first quarter, January of next year.

THR:
Why have the broadcast networks had so much trouble with the multicam sitcom?

Jones: A lot of networks -- cable and broadcast -- are perpetually looking for that new idea that is going to attract a young demographic, someone in their 20s or 30s, at their highest. The younger audiences are fickle. When you get to a certain age, your 40s, 50s, you're saying, "I know what I like, I'm comfortable with my likes and dislikes." And in the traditional sitcom format, it is not a bad thing to be traditional, and we embrace that, and so does our audience. I think there will be success in that for us. A lot of broadcasters have been chasing after a relatively fickle audience with some sort of new, snappy way to attract that younger audience, and they have been ignoring adults.
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