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Kevin Reilly nears deal to run TNT, TBS cable channels

Time Warner has said it wants its TNT and TBS cable channels to be edgier and more culturally relevant.

The company is near a deal to hire former Fox programming chief Kevin Reilly to attempt to do just that.

Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting unit is expected this week to announce that Reilly will become the new chief of TNT and TBS, the company’s two largest cable channels, according to people familiar with the talks who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive negotiations. The announcement could come as soon as Tuesday.

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Reilly will be based in Los Angeles.

The new job would essentially combine the duties of two former top Turner executives: Steve Koonin, former president of Turner Entertainment Networks, and Michael Wright, former programming president for TNT, TBS and Turner Classic Movies. Earlier this fall, Wright was named chief executive of Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studios.

Koonin left Turner last spring to become chief executive of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team.

The departures left Turner without a leader for its two largest channels at an inopportune time: amid a downturn in the advertising market, and when Turner was engaged in high-stakes carriage negotiations with top pay-TV distributors, including Dish Networks.

Reilly left Fox Broadcasting in late May, at the end of a particularly tumultuous TV season. Ratings plummeted as Fox’s juggernaut singing competition, “American Idol,” lost 20% of its audience. At Fox, Reilly championed such shows as “Sleepy Hollow,” “The Mindy Project,” “Glee” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

Reilly had discussions with Turner executives early last summer, but talks cooled as he explored other options.

Turner approached Reilly again last month. Negotiations intensified over the last two weeks after Turner agreed to give Reilly a more expansive role, one knowledgeable person said.

Reilly is expected to oversee program development, business affairs and production, marketing, scheduling and digital platforms for TNT and TBS. He will report to David Levy, president of Turner Broadcasting System.

Before joining Fox in 2007, Reilly was head of programming at NBC. There, he was instrumental in launching the American version of “The Office.”

Earlier in his career, Reilly was a top programmer at 21st Century Fox’s FX network, helping to establish the cable channel as a destination with such edgy and original programming as “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck.”

In an awkward twist, Reilly will be joining a company where his former NBC boss, Jeff Zucker, also works. Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, however, is in charge of a separate division of Turner and he reports to John Martin, chief executive of Turner Broadcasting.

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT


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