Lazarus To Revive Series
New TBS entertainment chief plans to bring originals back to TNT
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/16/2003 7:00:00 PM
In the new Turner Broadcasting System order, entertainment chief Mark Lazarus and Turner programming whiz Garth Ancier will develop original series to keep TNT on top of the cable ratings heap.
"It's been fairly dormant," said Ancier of series production. "Phil wants to enhance the scripted side with series like USA Network and FX [have]." Phil is Phil Kent, who spent his first days as TBS CEO last week streamlining top management and installing TBS veteran Lazarus as head of TNT, TBS, Turner Movie Classics and Turner South.
"We're going to look at what to acquire and what to create," said Lazarus.
TNT hasn't had an original series on its air since Witchblade ended its two-season run last year. Instead, the network has gone with original movies, off-network series like Law & Order and blockbuster theatricals. That has all worked well—TNT is currently the No. 1-rated cable network—but original series are prized for their branding and buzz.
Lazarus's emergence as the top network executive was the most significant change in Kent's new TBS structure. He had been president of Turner Sports and oversees Turner Entertainment Sales.
In the new post, Lazarus is essentially taking on some of the duties of Brad Siegel, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, who is leaving the company. Siegel decided to leave after Kent got the top TBS post in mid February. "I want to compete against someone, go at it in ratings," Siegel said. "I like to be on the lines, not manage the people that manage the people."
Siegel said he plans to take time off before pursuing new opportunities, most likely in television.
Kent and Siegel are old friends who started at Turner within weeks of each other 10 years ago. Kent said he understands Siegel's decision. "I did it; I get it," he said, referring to his own Turner hiatus.
Kent left Turner in September 2001 after CNN chief Walter Isaacson was tapped to be chairman of CNN News Group, a job Kent had wanted. He agreed to return after Kellner let it be known that he wanted to return to the West Coast. Kellner continues to run The WB broadcast network, which like TBS is owned by AOL Time Warner.
Kent reorganized TBS into three divisions: entertainment, news and kids. Previously, ad sales reported to Kellner, and network heads were charged only with programming and marketing. Each division, Kent said, "will have a single leader responsible for the revenue side of business and the cost side, including the marketing and programming."
Entertainment chief Lazarus has had a good run at Turner. In last spring's upfront market—his first as Turner's ad sales chief—he resisted cutting spot prices when other general entertainment nets, namely USA Network and Lifetime, slashed rates up to 10%, according to analyst estimates.
Last year, he led Turner's efforts to renew National Basketball Association rights. Turner's new $2.2 billion package (shared with ABC and ESPN, which are paying $2.4 billion) is sweetened with new extras like the All-Star Game, more playoff games and exclusive Thursday-night telecasts.
Now Lazarus's purview expands even wider. Turner Entertainment's "programming decisions, sports decisions, ad sales decisions will be vetted collaboratively," he said. "In the past, we made those decisions in a vacuum."
David Levy, co-president of TBS International, is returning stateside to be president of entertainment sales and Turner sports, Lazarus's former charges.
Levy has been with the company since 1986. He helped build Turner Sports' ad sales unit before transitioning to international sales. After climbing Turner's international sales ranks, he became co-president of TBS International in 2000, a job he shared with Andrew Bird, now the sole president.
Busiest time of year
After spending about 30 weeks a year crisscrossing the globe for TBS International, Levy will now split time between Atlanta and New York, where his family lives. He says he is energized by his arrival at a busy time of year for ad sales and sports. "With the upfronts coming up, that should take up the majority of my time," he said. "Plus, we'll have the NBA playoffs and baseball season starting."
Jim Walton is the news chief as president of the CNN News Group, a post he acquired in January after Isaacson called it quits. CNN's domestic ad sales chief, Larry Goodman, will add international ad sales to his watch and report to Walton.
Kent has not yet appointed an executive to run the kids division, which includes Cartoon Network, Boomerang and Kids WB. It is possible that Jim Samples, general manager of Cartoon Network, could get the nod. He once worked for Kent in the international division.
Turner's affiliate sales operation, headed by President Andrew Heller, remains unchanged.
Kent has a history of trying to simplify Turner operations. When he was chief of Turner Broadcasting's international operations in the late '90s, Kent set out to regionalize CNN international and Turner's entertainment offerings and put ad sales under respective entertainment services. As president and COO of CNN, he was tasked with shoring up the news net's operational expenses; part of that meant shaving 400 jobs.
The latest reorganization "will create three independent businesses supported by very strong people," said Kent. It's like running a family business: "You pick the right people and create an operating system that matches their strengths."
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