The two basic cable networks, under Kevin Reilly, moved away from procedural fare like fan-favorite Rizzoli & Isles and multicamera comedies like Bill Lawrence’s Ground Floor toward niche fare like Search Party and premium dramas like Snowpiercer.
Reilly spent years building up a comedy roster of ratings underperformers/critical darlings including The Detour and People of Earth. What remains, however, is a fraction of the scripted inventory the executive carefully curated.
While Reilly continues to oversee TNT, TBS and TruTV, his central focus is now on WarnerMedia’s recently launched HBO Max as major conglomerates like Disney and Comcast have also shifted their priorities to streaming. After a string of cancellations (farewell, Angie Tribeca, Detour, People of Earth, The Last Ship) and moves of Search Party and TNT drama Raised by Wolves to HBO Max, rumors have swirled about what would become of the two basic cable networks.
Now, following rumors that TNT and TBS would both exit the scripted space and become homes for unscripted (The Misery Index), syndicated fare (Friends, Big Bang Theory) and sports (the NBA, NCAA, MLB), GM Brett Weitz is setting the record straight about the fate of both networks. In short, both networks will remain in the scripted space, though at a reduced volume of originals, and using series like the forthcoming Nasim Pedrad comedy Chad and second season of Snowpiercer as tentpoles.
Weitz additionally is revealing the next wave of scripted series in development at both networks. For comedy-leaning TBS, he’s developing a sequel to 1985 sci-fi feature D.A.R.Y.L., starring Veep grad Tony Hale; and Space, a relationship comedy from Hilary Winston (Community). For TNT, the drama-focused cabler is prepping The Fall, from director Philip Noyce (The Bone Collector) and Liar’s Club, a drama from exec producer Paul Giamatti described as Marvelous Mrs. Maisel meets Breaking Bad. (More details about all four projects are below.)
“Scripted originals are always going to be the destination play, the asset that brings consumers through the door — and you hope they stay,” Weitz tells The Hollywood Reporter. “As you slice the pie, you begin to look at what’s the full offering here? Look at the top shows are on basic cable — The Real Housewives, Dr. Pimple Popper — and you realize it would be great to have those assets to fill out your portfolio.”
Weitz — Reilly’s lone remaining lieutenant at the cable networks following the departure of head of scripted originals Thom Hinkle — said he met with top WarnerMedia brass after taking over TNT, TBS and TruTV to focus on areas where the three networks weren’t and needed to be. From that, came an increased focus on unscripted originals.
“It becomes a real estate issue,” he says. “When you think of primetime, we have [eventually] sports and originals and we’re just changing the pace of scripted.”
TNT and TBS are not alone in the reduced volume of scripted originals. Comcast-backed USA Network, too, has pulled back to focus on a similar scripted tentpole strategy as its long roster of scripted originals that once topped more than 12 now sits at around half that, with Brave New World now the cornerstone of streamer Peacock’s national launch next month. FX, too, is seeing a number of its high-profile originals move its dedicated channel on corporate sibling Hulu.
Weitz is quick to admit the challenges of success on linear networks in the cord-cutting and streaming era. “I was going to have to cancel Search Party,” he says of the comedy that launched its third season and first on streaming this week. “HBO Max scooped it up and gave it a second dose of life.” (The series has already been renewed and filmed a fourth season for the streamer.)
Looking ahead, Weitz says he’s looking for broad-skewing shows that play more toward the center of the country — (RIP, Rizzoli) — for TNT and TBS compared with the “coastal” content HBO Max has curated as part of its originals strategy. (HBO Max, like other streamers, targets kids and families with a wide swath of new and library content.) To that end, Weitz has decided to scrap the long-gestating drama Tell Me Your Secrets, starring Lily Rabe. While the entire series had been filmed and in the can for a few years, he said the thriller about three damaged people trying to start over (formerly titled Deadlier Than the Male) just “wasn’t right” for TNT. (The series is not streaming on HBO Max and while it’s produced in-house, has no plans to move to another network at this time.)
Weitz also hopes that TBS can be a home for dramas after a five-month flirtation with the idea of launching Snowpiercer on the network that’s home to Tracy Morgan’s The Last O.G. andanimated veteran American Dad. “That brand has a lot of elasticity; it can hold the right kind of dramas,” he says, noting that action drama Obliterated — originally picked up with a 10-episode, straight-to-series order — is still in development.
The exec, who first joined TNT in 2008 as vp series development, is also looking at expanding Shaq Life into a larger franchise for the drama-leaning network that is also home to pro wrestling with AEW: Dynamite and its roster of syndicated movies like Black Panther. TBS will continue its course with syndicated favorites, movies, sports and an increase in unscripted fare. To that end, TBS recently greenlit Celebrity Show-Off, hosted by Big Bang grad Mayim Bialik, and Jason Sudeikis’ Tournament of Laughs. Weitz is also optimistic that bubble comedies The Last O.G. and anthology Miracle Workers will return for additional seasons. As for TruTV, which Weitz inherited with Reilly after network president Chris Linn left a year ago as part of WarnerMedia’s consolidation, he considers Impractical Jokers as the definition of the network’s brand. “Those three make up a great whole,” he said. “But individually, they’re very different and attract very different consumers.”
As for the future, Weitz is aware that basic cable’s best days may already have come and gone, though he remains optimistic that networks like his will always have a place in the television ecosystem.
“When you start talking about the future and the SVOD platforms that are being built and curated, these take a long time to get to critical mass,” he says. “[Basic cable is] never going to trend back up but great content will always bring the consumer in.”
Here’s a closer look at TNT and TBS’ current development slate:
Logline: A captivating paranoid thriller about a woman whose dark secrets start to unravel her seemingly perfect life. Inspired by the Albert Camus tale of the same name.
Writers: Jeremy Miller, Daniel Cohn (Entourage)
Studio: A+E Studios
Director: Philip Noyce (The Bone Collector)
Nonwriting producer: Ross Fineman
Logline: Part comedy, part pulp thriller, Liar’s Club tells the story of a woman leading two very different lives — one adorned in the trappings of Connecticut country clubs, and the other drenched in the murkiness of the underground gambling circuit in NYC. It’s Marvelous Mrs. Maisel meets Breaking Bad.
Studio: CBS Television Studios
Co-EP/writer: Amy Rutberg
EP: Christopher Silber (Elementary)
Nonwriting producers: Paul Giamatti, Dan Carey
Logline: On the verge of a break-up, long-term couple Rob and Marin are granted the ultimate “space” to figure out their future when they suddenly begin jumping into the bodies of other couples. It’s a hilarious, romantic, oddly relatable Quantum Leap.
Studio: Sony Pictures Television
Writer: Hilary Winston (Community)
Nonwriting producers: Stoller Global Solutions
Director: Nick Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)
Logline: A half-hour comedy that picks up where Paramount’s 1985 feature left off. What if a top-secret, 10-year-old human weapon grew up to be a 44-year-old guy just trying to keep up with a world that he was never designed for? And what if the story morphed from an ’80s sci-fi adventure movie about a child with a computer in his skull … into a single-camera comedy starring Tony Hale? The boy everyone wanted … has become the man no one needs … in the TV adaptation nobody asked for.
Cast: Tony Hale
Studio: Paramount Television Studios
Writers: Jody Lambert (People Like Us), Matt Oberg (The Warren Klein Voicemails)