TCA: Reilly ‘Having Fun’ With Flexibility at TNT, TBS

‘Trying times’ for traditional TV, he concedes, but talent and assets at Turner offer hope
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Complete Coverage: TCA Summer 2016

Beverly Hills, Calif. -- TBS and TNT president Kevin Reilly, now more than a year into his renovation of the top-rated but buzz-starved cable networks, said during his executive session at TCA summer press tour that he’s getting to do what he only envisioned doing while at Fox.

Even allowing for the different business model of cable vs. broadcast, the Reilly-led networks have made a flurry of moves, from creative infusions of both networks to a bold reduction of ad loads to aggressive multiplatform strategies. The result?

“I’m having so much fun in the job because, look, it is trying times. There’s a lot of content. It’s hard to get attention. But we have a big platform. We have fantastic executives,” Reilly said. “We’re right in the middle of it with everyone else. We’re competing with HBO, Netflix, FX. And in comedy, it’s been pretty open-field running because I don’t think anyone is doing what we’re doing.”

Related: TNT Picks Up Charles Barkley Series ‘The Race Card’

The rollout of one new show is emblematic of the possibilities that Reilly often spoke about—most notably the “end of pilot season” he heralded in 2014—but ultimately didn’t get to execute. When Turner introduces Search Party, a young skewing series, in the fall, it plans to air it every day of Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks in “binge” blocks before putting the entire show online.

“We’re playing with air patterns, windows on our air and windows off our air. We’re also spending time talking with the MVPDs about this," he said. "We’ve had some conflict about this because they’re saying, ‘You’re giving it away!’ What we have to educate about is, we would never give away a whole season. But we’re in the five-year business. To get sampling, we’re trying to create a methodology. These audiences need recruiting tools. And so far so good.”

Related: TBS Greenlights ‘The Guest Book’ Comedy series; ‘Tarantula’ Animated Show

Reilly said the data “points in the right direction” for viewership during TNT dramas carrying reduced ad loads (meaning roughly 10 minutes more programming per hour). Even if Turner rolls it out to TBS and other networks, Reilly said wider adoption will be required in order for the entire business model to shift. “I cannot go it alone,” he said. “Two networks are not going to change the industry.”

In his initial remarks before opening the session to Q&A, Reilly, energetic and wiry as ever, shaded his eyes from the spotlight and asked for a show of hands. “Are any of you guys gamers? How many of you have watched e-Sports?” He then offered a reassurance that he himself knew little about the phenomenon before Turner’s pursuit of ELeague broadcasts. But while watching the league’s finals over the weekend, he found himself caught up in it “just like football.”

Related: TBS Renews ‘Wrecked,’ ‘Angie Tribeca’

About 170,000 viewers were streaming the action on Twitch and the digital activity around the sport is considerable—and appetizing to a traditional TV company eager to reach viewers however it can.

Over the next 12 to 24 months, Reilly said, the full extent of what Turner’s assets can yield will become more clear. “We’re still going to put on top-rated linear television and drive toward that experience. That is our tentpole of activity. But the sweep of businesses we’re going to wrap around it … is going to continue to get more and more vibrant.”

Reilly, who will be inducted into B&C’s Hall of Fame in October, has never been one for slow and contemplative. But while he appreciates the tempo of his current job, he also expressed enthusiasm for the combination of disciplines it requires.

“We’re moving really fast,” he said. “But fast doesn’t do you a lot of good if you put on a lot of crap.”

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