Why TBS and TNT Are Undergoing a ‘Top-to-Bottom Rebuild’

Networks are hoping to attract more binge-watchers

Daniel Bruhl, Dakota Fanning and Luke Evans, stars of the TNT drama Alienist, appear at the 2017 Turner Upfront. Getty Images

TBS and TNT president Kevin Reilly told ad buyers at Turner’s 2017 upfront today that his channels are not just in the middle of a refresh “but a top-to-bottom rebuild.”

“When you think of great immersive binge-worthy drama, much of it is not on ad-supported TV,” Reilly said, acknowledging that traditional TV’s newest and fiercest competitors, steaming networks like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu (in which Turner parent Time Warner has a stake) are increasingly alluring for cord-cutting audiences.

So Reilly has set about creating a slate of dramas for TNT and comedies for TBS that can match what bingers want, and, Reilly hopes, what brands will want to be a part of.

"We’re doing our part. Now it's time for you to do yours."
Turner ad sales president Donna Speciale to ad buyers

TBS has greenlit four new series, including a Lorne Michaels-produced workplace comedy starring (in their first TV series) Daniel Radcliffe and Owen Wilson; Tracy Morgan and Cedric the Entertainer starring in The Last O.G; and a reboot of the classic game show Joker’s Wild hosted by Snoop Dogg.

TNT has greenlit Will, a period drama about William Shakespeare, and has struck a deal with filmmaker Ridley Scott to develop original science-fiction programming. And in what Reilly calls “the biggest project we’ve ever undertaken,” psychological thriller Alienst will finally debut in January.

“TV is still the most powerful medium for your message,” said Turner’s ad sales president Donna Speciale. “But I think we can all agree we are in need of a reinvention.” Speciale argued that as Turner rebuilds its portfolios, giving advertisers more flexibility, it’s now their turn. “We’re doing our part. Now it’s time for you to do yours. Break out of your historical behaviors and push this industry forward.”

In addition to the new offerings from TBS and TNT, the company also announced a new four-year deal with Conan O’Brien and his TeamCoco. In a sit-down conversation with corporate siblings, TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, O’Brien made a not-so-sincere plea to buyers in the room: “If I were you I’d jump on board! We’re the team to stick with! Platforms!”

Anderson Cooper and 7 colleagues explain how CNN is anything but 'fake news.'
Chris Ariens

TBS’s breakout star Samantha Bee, whose show, Full Frontal, is up 98 percent since its debut, told the crowd: “I am here to say that TBS is an amazing and supportive network. We could not be here without them and without you. Yes we’re irritating, but we’re flexible.” She then showed a photo of a crazed Standards & Practices unit who must OK the sometimes racy (even for cable) content.

In one of the more moving moments of the morning, eight CNN anchors stood in silhouette on stage as soundbites from Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, President Trump and others blared throughout the theater declaring the network “fake news.”

One by one the anchors, including Anderson Cooper, Jake Tapper, Dana Bash, Wolf Blitzer, Erin Burnett and Don Lemon, explained why they’re anything but fake news. Anthony Bourdain also announced his show Parts Unknown will return along with a digital platform, sponsored by Land Rover, called Explore Parts Unknown.

Other Tuner networks including TruTV, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network and Turner Sports had their time on stage, mostly through sizzle reels.

“Two years ago we decided to disrupt our own success,” said Reilly, “and that’s about to pay dividends.”

@ChrisAriens chris.ariens@adweek.com Chris Ariens is the managing editor and director of video at Adweek.