Turner Pushes Hard for Upfront Dollars

Original Series Feature Big-Name Stars

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2009 Turner Upfront

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- While Fox and ABC spent a good chunk of their upfront presentations defending broadcast's leading role in the media mix, Turner's TNT and TBS made the case for cable at their upfront presentation to advertisers at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom today.

"The TV-advertising landscape has changed. This should force us to think and act differently. We need to collaborate and adapt," said David Levy, Turner's president-sales, distribution and sports.

To illustrate how blurred the line between broadcast and cable programming has gotten, Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, showed a clip from "Live With Regis & Kelly" in which Kelly Ripa horrifies co-host Regis Philbin with a story about a reality show called "Momma's Boys," where a Queens mother picks her son a girlfriend who most resembles herself. After Mr. Philbin dismisses Ms. Ripa for watching "obscure shows on cable," she tells him she was surprised to see it was on NBC.

"It's older viewers like Regis who are holding onto the perception that broadcast is churning out all the high-quality TV," Mr. Koonin said.

For the next 90 minutes, Turner unveiled an aggressive slate of original dramas, comedies and reality series with some of the biggest names in the TV business attached.

This summer, TNT will program three nights with at least two original prime-time dramas apiece, adding three shows to a lineup that already includes "The Closer," "Saving Grace," "Raising the Bar" and "Leverage."

Joining "Saving Grace" on Tuesdays this summer is "Hawthorne," a hospital procedural centered on a nurse, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, and "Wedding Day," TNT's first unscripted reality drama from executive producer Mark Burnett. The latter will come equipped with a lineup of Mr. Burnett's trademark integrated sponsors, including Nationwide Insurance, CoverGirl, Olay, Crest Whitestrips, Comfort Inn hotels and David's Bridal. Wednesdays will introduce "Dark Blue," a Los Angeles-based cop drama starring Dylan McDermott from "NYPD Blue" producer Steven Bochco.

(From l.) Michael Wright, exec VP-head of programming for TNT, TBS and TruTV; Jada Pinkett Smith, star of TNT's upcoming series 'Hawthorne'; and Phil Kent, chairman-CEO of TBS.
(From l.) Michael Wright, exec VP-head of programming for TNT, TBS and TruTV; Jada Pinkett Smith, star of TNT's upcoming series 'Hawthorne'; and Phil Kent, chairman-CEO of TBS.

And in December, TNT will premiere "Men of a Certain Age," a comedic drama starring Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula. The former "Everybody Loves Raymond" star said of the new series, "When I told my parents I had a new show coming on TNT, my mom was pretty excited, but my dad said, 'Looks like we gotta get cable.'"

That sentiment was shared by DreamWorks co-president Jeffrey Katzenberg, who presented a new animated for sitcom for TBS, "Neighbors From Hell."

"If it's good enough for Tyler Perry, it's more than good enough for us," he said, referring to the creator of "House of Payne" and "Meet The Browns." Mr. Perry's sitcoms are two of the top five highest-rated comedies on cable, and the highest-rated shows among African-Americans on all of TV, beating even "American Idol" in the demo.

But all the ratings success can benefit Turner only so much in this upfront, as the costs per thousand viewers cable can charge advertisers haven't grown as fast as its ratings in relation to broadcast. According to Turner's analysis of Nielsen Media Research, ad-supported cable claimed 60% of prime-time viewing as of May 10, yet only 29% of prime-time ad dollars. Mr. Levy chalked up that disconnect to a "legacy tax" that has prevented a top-rated show such as "The Closer" from claiming a CPM higher than $29, while a broadcast show with middling ratings, such as NBC's "Lipstick Jungle," still commands a CPM as high as $51.

The long-standing debate was a frequent topic of discussion at Ad Age's recent upfront roundtable, where Kris Magel, exec VP-national broadcast director at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative, said the wholesale shift of dollars from broadcast to cable hadn't begun until recently because "a lot of clients have seen significant business declines when they've done that. So they're afraid to give up something that they have seen impact their business when they took it away the first time. Now we believe that's diminishing."

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