Apple’s big TV push has added another a key player.
Former WGN America president Matt Cherniss has joined the tech giant and will serve as a chief lieutenant to new co-heads of video programming Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg. His role is being described as chief creative/head of U.S. programming as Erlicht and Van Amburg eye a split of duties between domestic and international.
Cherniss has a long relationship with former Sony Pictures Television co-presidents Erlicht and Van Amburg as he was a big buyer of the independent studio’s programming, including critical darling Underground and Outsiders. Both dramas, which were WGN America’s top-rated originals, were canceled as part of the cable network’s decision to exit the high-end scripted originals business. (WGN America, under new owner Sinclair, is now focused on low-cost acquisitions like the recently acquired Bellevue.) Cherniss‘ relationship with Van Amburg and Erlicht dates back to his time as an exec at FX, where he worked on the Sony-produced Rescue Me.
Cherniss, who stepped down from WGN America in June, brings a wealth of experience to Apple. In addition to running a network, he has also overseen a corresponding studio and worked at broadcast (Fox), basic cable (FX) and a film studio (Warner Bros. Pictures). His time at WGN America was largely spent trying to put the former superstation on the map, which required making bigger, straight-to-series bets on shows including Salem and critical favorite Manhattan. During his tenure at WGN America, Cherniss expanded its distribution by nearly 10 million homes.
His name had been in the mix for top jobs at AMC and Hulu as well as Sony Pictures Television following Van Amburg and Erlicht’s departure.
Van Amburg and Erlicht were the first hires at Apple as part of the tech giant’s move into original video. The duo recently started at Apple as co-heads of video programming, reporting to senior vp internet software and services Eddy Cue.
To date, Apple has positioned its original series as part of an effort to turn Apple Music into a cultural destination for music, documentaries and shows. The service, which has 27 million subscribers, remains much smaller than Swedish competitor Spotify with its 50 million paid members.
Hollywood has been breathlessly anticipating Apple’s entree into original programming for years and got a taste of what the company has planned when it released its first original series, Planet of the Apps, on June 6. A spinoff of The Late Late Show With James Corden’s popular Carpool Karaoke also launched this month. (Still to be determined is Apple’s first scripted series, Vital Signs starring Dr. Dre.) But the consensus among the entertainment industry’s creative community has been that Apple wouldn’t become a serious buyer until it had installed a head of programming.
Natalie Jarvey contributed to this report.