Turner's chief shopper
Katz acquisitions help drive TNT, TBS, Cartoon successes
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/12/2002 8:00:00 PM
As Turner Entertainment's chief programming buyer, Jonathan Katz can't afford to miss a movie or TV show. Every new film or series might be a prospective purchase for his stable of cable networks.
Katz buys for Turner's diverse portfolio of entertainment networks, from Turner South to Cartoon Network to TNT. His selections help drive the successes at TNT, TBS Superstation and Cartoon, which regularly rank among cable's highest-rated nets.
Unfortunately, he says, "there isn't a formula" for acquiring programming. "Each network has priorities, a distinct brand, and demographic and psychographic targets."
Katz took charge of Turner's acquisitions group in January 2002, after long-time department head Bob Levi retired. He had been Levi's deputy for two years.
His goals are simple: "Naturally, you always want to buy a hit." Recent acquisitions include CBS drama Judging Amy for TNT and theatrical films Legally Blonde and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
Whenever possible, he looks to share programming, such as movies that run on TNT and TBS. "Economic conditions," he says, "are dictating that we have to spread our costs and risk across multiple platforms."
A Sopranos fan who also is hooked on movies and news, Katz notes that a hit show on a broadcast network might not be a good fit for his cable channels. "There are no black-and-white rules. Buys depend on what a network needs."
His biggest properties, TNT and TBS, have developed very different programming needs. Turner executives have been working hard in the past year to differentiate the two.
TNT hypes its "We Know Drama" brand and has added off-nets Law & Order and The X-Files to back it up. Judging Amy, which draws strong female demos on CBS, fits the mold. "The focus on drama is not a constraint," Katz says. "It provides me with a clear guide of what I'm interested in."
TBS, meanwhile, pushes comedy and action. In September, it will launch an early-evening comedy block of Seinfeld, Friends, The Drew CareyShow and Home Improvement. Most acquired movies are in the comedy and action genres.
Buying programming for cable networks never figured in Katz's early career plans. He spent 14 years in local news and production and programming at stations across the Southeast, including three tours at WTOG-TV Tampa, Fla.
He had jumped into television at 16 as a news producer for WCFT-TV in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala., where his mother taught linguistics and his father still teaches broadcast and film at the University of Alabama. "There was no escape from the business in my house," Katz recalls. "But I wouldn't have had it any other way."
Katz worked at WCFT-TV through his college years at the University of Alabama, where he majored in, not surprisingly, broadcast and film. After graduating in 1987, he stepped up a market, to WDBB-TV in Birmingham as production manager.
His run in local news ended 10 years later. CNN Newsource Sales needed a head of marketing in Atlanta, and Katz made the jump. Newsource manages CNN's relationships with local stations. He says he was very comfortable with the idea of marketing a national news product to local stations. "Your constituents might change, but creating value and satisfied customers does not."
After three years there, he learned that Levi needed a second in command.
Cable originals like The Shield and The Osbournes are stealing most headlines lately, but acquired programming still drives 70% of cable fare. Katz doesn't see that balance changing any time soon. "Acquiring programming is a long-term aim," he says. "The job is to acquire hit movies and series that fuel the future success."
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