Analysis: Many complications to consider if Turner tries to woo Kevin Reilly
Whenever a high-profile executive is suddenly out of work, Hollywood goes into overdrive trying to figure out where they will land next.
In this case, speculation is swirling about Kevin Reilly, who is leaving as head of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting. Whether he jumped or was pushed won’t hurt Reilly’s value. He’s a well-regarded programmer whose résumé also includes stints at FX and NBC.
There is a big opening at Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting that seems like a good fit for Reilly. In April, Steve Koonin stepped down as president of Turner Entertainment Networks to become chief executive of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team.
Turner Entertainment houses cable networks TNT, TBS, TruTV and other channels and is a key unit of Time Warner. It also has also been struggling as of late. Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes has been public about his concerns that original programming on Turner channels, particularly TNT, has not been edgy enough.
Improving the situation is crucial because Turner is trying to raise the rates it charges distributors to carry its networks, which means boosting its ratings is high priority.
Earlier this week, new Turner Chief Executive John Martin also issued a lengthy memo to Turner staffers about the problems the unit has been facing lately.
“In the near term, we have challenges at some of our networks. In particular, some of our largest, most profitable and highest-profile networks have experienced ratings headwinds,” Martin wrote. He added that the networks have not “kept pace with the competition or, just as important, with our own high expectations.”
Besides his long run at Fox, Reilly was at FX when it was first getting into the original programming game and played a key role in putting that network on the map with original shows such as “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck.”
On paper, Reilly seems ideal for the Koonin position. While Koonin was based in Atlanta, Turner brass has said his replacement does not have to be based there.
But that doesn’t mean there are not other factors Turner and Time Warner and Reilly need to consider should they actually start talking, which has not happened yet, according to people familiar with the situation.
For starters, would Reilly report to Martin or to Turner President David Levy? These things matter to executives of Reilly’s stature. Martin is seen as a potential successor to Bewkes. Levy was promoted to his current position by Martin’s predecessor, Phil Kent.
Jeff Zucker, the head of CNN (and a former boss of Reilly’s when both were at NBC) reports to Martin, not Levy. Turner’s international operations also reports to Martin. If Reilly were to report to Martin as well, that might not sit well with Levy, who would have a lot less turf than his title implies.
Also, if Reilly does come in, what happens to Michael Wright, the current president of original programming for TNT and TBS? Levy told the Los Angeles Times in April that Wright was a candidate for the Koonin position. That declaration caught some industry observers by surprise given the challenges the channels have had with original content as of late.
Reilly would probably want his own people in key programming positions should he take the job. Wright might want to leave if he is passed over for Koonin’s job.
Filling Koonin’s post is not the only key issue for Turner. It is facing a tough negotiation to keep the NBA on TNT. Fox Sports 1, the new cable channel launched by 21st Century Fox last year, is expected to be very aggressive in its pursuit of basketball.
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