It’s official: Kevin Reilly has lined up his next gig.
Six months after he announced his departure from Fox Broadcasting Company, the veteran TV executive is taking the creative reins at Turner Entertainment. The job, which will be broader than predecessor Michael Wright‘s Turner post, will have Reilly focused on cable behemoths TNT and TBS, with additional oversight within the business. He will remain Los Angeles based, reporting to Turner Broadcasting president David Levy, with the title of president of TBS and TNT and chief creative officer for Turner Entertainment.
“Kevin is one of the most respected, innovative and influential executives in the television industry, and he’s joining Turner Broadcasting at the ideal time for him and for the networks,” said Levy in a Nov. 4 statement. “Kevin brings a tremendous track record of success not only in terms of programming hits but also in the new media arena, where he was among the first broadcast network executives to push for meaningful investment in digital and social media. He has never shied away from taking bold programming risks and being a true champion of quality television. And on top of all that, he’s an inspiring leader whose energy, creativity and style are a perfect fit for Turner’s flagship entertainment networks.”
Reilly’s name has been in the mix at Turner ever since he stepped down as Fox entertainment chairman in late May. He fills an executive hole at the suite of Atlanta-based cable networks, first felt in April by the departure of longtime entertainment chief Steve Koonin. The search for new leadership at Turner became even more urgent in late August with the announced exit of Wright, who had served as programming president of TNT, TBS and TCM. In the new role, Reilly will be responsible for overseeing and leading TNT and TBS networks and brands, including all content development, business affairs and production, marketing, brand and creative services, digital platforms and program scheduling, planning and content-monetization strategies. He’s expected to appoint a day-to-day programming executive, too.
Cable seemed like the expected move for Reilly, who told THR in May that he thought his broadcast days were behind him. “There’s a whole host of new players existing now and that will be coming in to the landscape soon,” he said not long after his own news broke. “I think that part is really what is exciting for me. Whether it’s a more traditional company, and I’m by no means [ruling that out] — I’ve spent most of my career at a big media company; I’m comfortable there.”
“There’s so much theoretical blabber these days about the potential of emergent content and platforms that you can drown in it,” Reilly said on Tuesday. “My six-month journey through the robust but chaotic media marketplace led me to reconfirm a less novel idea: the best place to create, distribute and consume premium television content today is cable TV. Through this process, I connected with kindred spirits in David Levy and the whole Turner organization, who understand both the real value of what we deliver today and how we need to push forward to stay positioned for tomorrow. We are going to use the considerable resources at Turner to entice top talent, create world-class content and meet and engage consumers in a contemporary fashion. I can’t wait.”
Turner Entertainment, part of Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting, is in the process of trimming its workforce. Despite significant cost-cutting measures, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes and Turner CEO John Martin noted publicly during an Oct. 16 investors meeting that they remain invested in original programming at TNT and TBS. In fact, Martin, who said he was “pleased with the growing momentum” at TNT, outlined that the roughly $500 million in spending on originals would double to $1 billion over the course of the next four years. Bewkes has been vocal about his desire to have programming that is younger and edgier going forward.
Under Wright, TNT had begun a noteworthy shift in its original programming strategy — moving away from the proven formula of almost exclusively airing crime procedurals (see enduring hits Rizzoli & Isles and Major Crimes) to genre fare and plays for prestige drama. The network saw success this past summer with the launch of Michael Bay‘s The Last Ship, a Sunday companion to alien drama Falling Skies. Even in Wright’s absence, the network has been busy buying new projects. As for TBS, the comedy-skewing network has been a steady ratings performer — thanks to a collection of off-net deals for The Big Bang Theory and Family Guy. It is one of the few cable networks to also have a consistent late-night presence, however modest by comparison, with Conan O’Brien.
Turner Entertainment marks the latest in a long line of top TV jobs for Reilly. He spent nine years at Fox, where he first served as entertainment president. During his time there, he added shows including Glee, New Girl and a 24 reboot, and became a vocal proponent of fixing what he had deemed an antiquated network development model. Reilly held that same title at NBC between 2004 and 2007 — the Office, 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights years — after tenures at FX and Brad Grey Television.
Though Reilly is said to have been a frontrunner for the top Turner gig from day one, there were several points throughout the summer when it seemed he wouldn’t take the job. Multiple sources suggest a key hesitation was having to report to Levy, best known for brokering hugely lucrative sports deals for the network group, as opposed to Martin directly. Others noted that a later concern was with regard to the number of channels he’d have in his portfolio.
To be sure, several other names were floated as possibilities, with Sony Pictures TV president of U.S. programming and producer Zack Van Amburg among those courted. Late last month, Reilly and Levy were said to have met at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles, a sign that they no longer cared about potential sightings.
The decision puts an end to the 2014 round of executive musical chairs that saw Dana Walden and Gary Newman assume Reilly’s old Fox job, while maintaining leadership of 20th Century Fox TV, with the elevated titles of chairmen and CEOs of the Fox Television Group. Wright has segued into film, quickly landing the top job at DreamWorks, as Stacey Snider moved to 20th Century Fox. Koonin opted out of entertainment entirely and now serves as CEO of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.
Levy informed Turner Entertainment of the news with the following memo:
It is my pleasure to announce that Kevin Reilly is the new president of TBS and TNT and chief creative officer for Turner Entertainment. In this dual role, Kevin will be responsible for overseeing and leading the TNT and TBS networks and brands, including all content development; business affairs and production; marketing, brand and creative services; digital platforms; and program scheduling, planning and content-monetization strategies.
As chief creative officer, Kevin will chair the newly formed Turner Entertainment Programming Council, a coordinated effort engaging the senior programming executives of TNT, TBS, Adult Swim and truTV to explore and develop cross-platform opportunities; expand the division’s pipeline of leading content; and position and advantage Turner as the premier partner for creative providers of every genre. This council will be about influence, creative collaboration, maximizing relationships in the creative community and increasing our strength and leveraging power in the war for content.
Kevin is one of the most respected, innovative and influential executives in the television industry. He most recently served as entertainment chairman for FOX after holding similar positions at NBC and FX. With credits like Glee, 30 Rock and The Shield, it’s obvious that Kevin doesn’t shy away from taking bold programming risks and championing quality television. He was also among the first broadcast network executives to push for meaningful investment in digital and social media. See the attached press release for a more complete look at Kevin’s extraordinary accomplishments.
Kevin joins us at a time when TBS, TNT and Adult Swim are enjoying ratings success, and truTV is in the midst of an extensive brand and programming refresh. But this is also a time when our networks are facing significant challenges, especially in growing our reach among young adults. I’m confident that Kevin has the energy, creativity, personality and leadership style to bring a fresh programming eye to the networks and position them for sustained growth in today’s changing environment.
Kevin is set to join the company this fall. He’ll spend his first few weeks acquainting himself with the network teams and getting up to speed. This fall, we’ll set up a full staff meeting to give all of you the chance to hear directly from Kevin and see for yourself what a great addition he is to our company.
Nov. 4, 2:15 p.m. Updated with quotes and information on Reilly’s final deal and new title.