Steve Mosko on His Sony Pictures TV Exit: "It's Been Brewing for a While"

The outgoing chairman of Sony Pictures Television opened up about his decision to exit the independent studio during a Paley Center panel Thursday.
Imeh Akpanudosen for Paley Center

Two days after abruptly exiting Sony Pictures Television, now-former chairman Steve Mosko held court Thursday at a Paley Center event that industry observers, quite frankly, were surprised still took place.

The executive — whose strained relationship with Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton was partially to blame for his departure after 24 years with the independent studio — was candid about his tenure at the studio as well as a number of trends across the industry during his time on stage.

"It's been brewing for a while," Mosko said of his departure. "I just turned 60. … It was a really good time to take a step back and decide what to do for the next five to 10 years. … I'm proud of the work we've done and we've built a great team and it is time to do something different."

He continued, "Over the last 24 hours, there have been other opportunities that have popped up. I'm extraordinarily proud of the work that's been done there … but it was time. In life, if you're not 100 percent in on something, you need to take a deep breath and figure it out. You're always going through times where you're in a process of something and you look at it and say, 'You know what, it's time to do something different.'"

Following news of his departure, SPT announced Thursday morning that Mosko will transition to a consulting role with the studio. As part of a structural realignment of the television unit, SPT leadership will be shared among co-presidents of U.S. programming and production Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht; Andy Kaplan, president of worldwide networks; Keith Le Goy, president of distribution; and Amy Carney, president of advertiser sales and research. Each will now report directly to Lynton. 

Mosko, whose contract was set to expire in November, had been in the midst of conversations about his future with the independent studio, producer of such hits as NBC's The Blacklist, AMC's Better Call Saul, Starz's Outlander and syndication stalwarts Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. The departure announcement caught many of those who do business with him off-guard. 

While a Sony spokesperson said Mosko's exit had "nothing to do with personality differences" with Lynton, multiple sources tell THR that the duo's already frosty relationship was made worse via the revelation of private emails and documents in the 2014 Sony hack. Also a key factor was Lynton's admiration for and the restlessness of Van Amburg and Erlicht, whose contracts were set to expire in 2017. Sources say the duo have been more heavily involved in the creative aspects of Sony shows in recent years, and have been courted by other outlets. Van Amburg, in particular, was eyed for the top programming job at Turner that eventually went to Kevin Reilly when Lynton wouldn't let him out of his contract.

Mosko downplayed any reports of friction with Lynton on Thursday night.

"I worked with Michael for 13 years. I've never worked for anybody for 13 years. He came to the company when I was already there. We've had a pretty good run together. He gave me complete autonomy, which you don't find very often," he said, recalling an early meeting with Lynton on Breaking Bad when nobody thought the show would work."People are going to believe what they're going to believe, but we built an amazing organization during our 13-year [run together]."

Mosko also addressed an email made public following the Sony hack in which he complained about the television division's treatment at the studio. As Sony's television business grew to account for more than half its profits in recent years, Mosko often felt the division was not given its due within the company, especially compared to the film group (even though Lynton publicly declared Sony would focus on television and elevated Mosko to a chairman role a year ago). In a February 2014 email to then film chief Amy Pascal complaining about his treatment, Mosko wrote, “I’ve always delivered for you guys … and getting thrown under the bus and treated like the help … it’s f—ed up."

"I got along great with Amy and Tom Rothman … over the normal course of things, it's not a Sony issue, it's a this town issue where television tends to be the stepchild of the industry," Mosko added Thursday. "It is what it is. The Hollywood machine is built around big movies; TV is the blue-collar worker of the entertainment world. … I think the interesting piece at [Sony] is it's at a place where television was almost irrelevant for a while. It was almost the kick to the corner part of the studio."

As for what's next, Mosko was mum on just how long he'd remain at SPT and reiterated that he has no immediate plans to leave the television industry he grew up loving.

"Let me be clear about this, I'm not going away. I'm not going to become a director!" he said, taking a shot at Anne Sweeney, who exited Disney to focus on directing. "I am keeping my mind wide open to a lot of different opportunities. … What makes it exciting now is there's so many ways to produce content, to get to the consumer. There's a lot of things happening. I'll take a quick step back and see what's out there. … You know when it's time to move along and there's a team in place [at SPT] — and these are guys who came up with me — and they're excellent and they'll do a great job."  

Over the course of the conversation, Mosko not only touted Sony's TV successes (including Seinfeld and Community) but also addressed the health of the syndication market — noting daytime hits are harder to produce at a higher cost given the current landscape — and broadcast networks' increased desire to vertically integrate with their sibling studios.

"This year we're producing a lot more stuff," he said, noting the studio landed three of the best time slots on TV, including NBC's post-The Voice slot on Mondays for Timeless. "The way you're able to do that is to hire the best creative content producers. What drives all this is if you have great shows. Our pitch is: If you come to our studio, you have the ability to sell to anybody — broadcast, cable and we're the largest supplier to OTT platforms. You get them in the tent, they start producing network shows and hopefully you have some hits."

As for what happened with Yahoo's now-failed attempt to enter the original scripted landscape by reviving Community after NBC's cancellation, Mosko reiterated that the scripted original landscape is a tough spot to crack. "It's tricky how you develop brand, create awareness and bring an audience in," he said. "You can't just throw stuff up … and expect people to show up. We took the money, what were were going to do?! We love that show and we were willing to do anything to give it a chance to find an audience. We thought it was a good match with Yahoo. It was a good effort."

Mosko wrapped the night with kind words for the team taking over his responsibilities. "They will do just fine," he said. "They're all great people. You want to leave a place in a place where it's going to continue to be successful."