TBS, TNT to undergo a radical change

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PASADENA — To make room for the set of "Animal Kingdom," a new TNT drama coming this summer, producers had to destroy the family home from "The Waltons" on a Hollywood soundstage.

It makes for an irresistible metaphor: New boss Kevin Reilly has begun the process of transforming the Turner Networks of TBS and TNT from a home for television comfort food into what he hopes is a destination for buzzy, edgy fare that can compete on the same turf as the AMC, Netflix and HBOs of the world.

Reilly calls it a necessary move that reflects the need to attract attention in a crowded world of programming and the different ways a new generation watches television.

"Frankly, we intend to rewrite the rules now to lead the transition to the next era to define what a TV network is in years to come," Reilly said. The former Fox and NBC entertainment chief came to his new job a year ago and is only now starting to outline his vision for the networks.

TNT and TBS are hardly failures despite recent slippage; they're consistently among the top-rated cable networks. But their fare is symbolized by the TNT police procedural "Rizzoli & Isles," that Reilly just canceled, the most popular series on cable TV that no one talked about.

Such comfort food was fine in an era of passive television viewing, when there were relatively few choices. "The Waltons" didn't have much competition. But it's also, in Reilly's view, little remembered. People actively choose what shows to watch now, and they need some flash and critical attention.

"Animal Kingdom," which stars Ellen Barkin as the matriarch of a crime family, certainly has a much darker feel than "Rizzoli & Isles." TNT also has two thrillers, "Good Behavior" and "Alienist," in the works, and it has invited filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan in to curate a "Tales From the Crypt" remake that will lead a new block of horror programming.

Reilly's vision for TNT is "bolder, more cinematic fare," he said. He wants "series that are less by the book, more engaging, challenging and, we like to say, more muscular. And we're looking to muscle our way right into the top consideration set of the very best of what's on television and hopefully knock out a few competitors while we do."

One of TNT's direct competitors, the USA network, has been making a similar transition and received a significant endorsement Sunday when its new series "Mr. Robot" won the Golden Globe for best drama.

TBS will keep its meal ticket, reruns of "The Big Bang Theory." But Reilly wants to position it as a bridge between the current TBS and the youthful Adult Swim network.

Among its upcoming programs are "Angie Tribeca," an "Airplane"-like spoof of a police procedural made by Steve Carell and his wife, Nancy. "People of Earth" is about a support group for alien abductees. "The Detour," from former "Daily Show" correspondent Jason Jones, is a family road trip tale but, based on a few highlights, has its racy moments.

"Going into the future, this is a wise strategy," said Billie Gold, vice president and director of program research at Carat USA. Both networks need to replace outgoing programming with shows that put them on the map as a destination.

Turner is also expanding into businesses that it hopes will complement the networks. The boldest is ELeague, an organized competition for gamers that will have its contests televised on TBS. Super Deluxe, a startup company, is operating in Los Angeles as a digital content creator and incubator for tech products.

"These are going to be integral to the core of what we call our network business," Reilly said.

He's giving himself three years to fully put his new vision in place.


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