Turner's Kevin Reilly Wants More Samantha Bee, Less Commercial Time Across the Dial

Kevin Reilly appears on stage during Turner Upfront 2016 show 2-H 2016
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Turner

Kevin Reilly was visibly excited on Sunday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour. His third appearance in front of the group since taking the reins as Turner Entertainment's chief creative officer was actually the first showing since his new plan for flagships TNT and TBS finally started manifesting itself on air.

He had been describing his vision for a "fresh coat of paint" on the two top-five cable nets — and while he admitted that there is a long way to go, he spoke positively about initial ratings, advertiser responses and feedback from the creative community. "It is a full range of the best of the best and up-and-comers," Reilly said of the pitches he's getting. "We're competing with HBO, Netflix and FX. On the comedy front, it's been open-field running ... because I don't think there's anyone else doing what we're doing."

More Full Frontal, TNT's procedural past and the long-term plans for comedy The Detour also came up.

Samantha Bee Is Calling Her Own Shots
When one reporter pointed out that Bee might be "constrained" by her meager 20-plus minutes on air a week, Reilly insisted that the current format of critical favorite Full Frontal is her call. "We try to take our lead from the talent," he said. "She wanted to do a half-hour show once a week, and she's doing that great." But just because that's the format of Full Frontal doesn't mean that's all it can offer. Reilly spoke optimistically about hourlong specials as the presidential election approaches and more "robust" digital-only efforts from Bee and her team to react to news in real-time.

Advertisers Are Buying on Shorter Commercial Breaks — for Now
Moving forward, all original TNT dramas are being sold with shorter commercial breaks. Upfront deals were made against limited commercial interruption, as little as 10 minutes in an hour, for 2017. Reilly wants to duplicate that at TBS, but he insisted that he cannot do it alone. Other networks need to join, or it will just be a fad. "It's been embraced by the advertising community and it's being emulated by some competitors," he said. "I can do both networks, 24 hours a day, but it's not going to change [unless others join] or we're going to have to go back." Speaking of new ways of advertising, Reilly also pointed to one positive example of brand insertion — a Full Frontal tampon ad, sung by Maya Rudolph. "It was an unbelievable success," he said. "It retained almost 100 percent of the audience on air and went viral online."

TNT Will (Sorta) Return to Procedurals
Rizzoli & Isles is about to sign off and Major Crimes might still be around, but TNT has not picked up any of its bread-and-butter crime fare since Reilly boarded the network. That will probably change. "There is still an audience that likes a good closed-ended story," he said, saying he will probably put a non-serial show back on the air in late 2017 or early 2018. "Those shows are a little harder to launch." He also expressed excitement for Niecy Nash pilot Claws and wouldn't rule out blue skies: "I really don't think everything should be dark."

The Detour Moves to New York in Season 2
"The Detour is a metaphor for life," Reilly said of the Jason Jones (who also stars) and Bee creation. "Season two is Nate moving to New York City and trying to restart his family there. We've read the first six scripts. I can't say this enough, but Jason and Sam are fantastic." It also seems that there is room for a lot more of The Detour after the road trip freshman run. "It's going to reset every season with some large premise that then plays out."