Turner's Kevin Reilly Promises Big, Bold and Edgy Makeovers at TNT, TBS

"When we talk next year, the evolution of TNT and the revolution at TBS will be real," he told advertisers.
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Kevin Reilly

Kevin Reilly has a new stage — and a new mission.

At his first upfront presentation as president of both TNT and TBS, the former Fox Broadcasting chairman greeted ad buyers packed into Madison Square Garden with a wait-and-see message. Reilly is only six months into the new gig, after all, and has been more focused on making over his networks than he has been on readying a packed slate of new projects.

"When we talk next year, the evolution of TNT and the revolution at TBS will be real," he said from stage Wednesday, highlighting his plan not only to add more originals but also to sharpen both networks' respective points of view. He added that he and his team have plans to “change the way [they] market," too, effectively "blurring lines between programming and advertising."

At TBS, a top-rated network that currently boasts an enviable median age of 42, he is planning a fuller scale rebrand. Among his goals: to skew younger with a focus on more originals (a necessity given how few broadcast comedies are available to buy off-net) and edgier, more "in-your-face" alternatives to the mainstream entries that previously lined the network's schedule. Down the line, Reilly, who recognizes he'll need to court his target audience as much on-air as online and on mobile, is hopeful that the network can sit in closer proximity to younger-skewing sister net Adult Swim. That transition, he acknowledged during a post-presentation lunch with the press, will take time and likely will come with an unavoidable (but hopefully temporary) dip in the ratings.

Over at TNT, the highly regarded exec known for his higher brow if narrower taste is pushing for bolder and edgier, which explains his delight in being able to announce a cadre of higher-profile projects, including limited series The Alienist, from True Detective's Cary Fukunaga earlier in the day. Simply put, he'd like to turn TNT into a more female-friendly version of FX, which he ran before moving over to broadcast. What is less clear is whether his boss' boss, Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes, has the stomach for a transition that will move the network away from broadly popular if considerably less edgy dramas like Rizzoli & Isles in favor of grittier, more heavily serialized and likely lower-rated Emmy bait. Of course, it's not clear that Reilly (or Bewkes) has much choice but to rethink the network's strategy.

During his pitch to Madison Avenue, Reilly unveiled a few clips for both nets, including teasers for the Steve Carell-produced Angie Tribeca and Jason Jones starrer Wrecked. (For the first time, TNT and TBS shared the upfront stage with corporate siblings CNN, Tru and Cartoon Network.) But it was one for Samantha Bee's forthcoming late night show that drew the nets' biggest laughs. In the pre-taped bit for a show that's still in the ideas phase, Bee was standing before a wall of framed shots of her fellow late night hosts — a boys club that includes Seth Meyers, James Corden, the Jimmys — as a vendor came up beside her selling sausages. "You know, I think I'm done with sausages," she joked, adding to big laughs at MSG: "I'm female as f—."

Following the presentation, Reilly was joined by his roster of talent — Bee, Jones, Conan O'Brien, Last Ship's Eric Dane and Angie Tribeca's Rashida Jones, among them — along with his bosses David Levy and John Martin and a sense of relief that he wasn't peddling a broadcast slate this year. When one reporter asked the visibly reenergized exec, whose distaste for the broadcast model is well known, if he kicks himself that Empire -- a juggernaut he developed while still at Fox -- hadn't hit a year earlier, he laughed. "Nah," he said, "because if it had, I would probably still be there."