TNets Strategy Comes Into Focus With Lower-Cost, Mass-Appeal Shows As New Chief Kathleen Finch Meets With Creative Community

EXCLUSIVE: There probably has been no other division of WarnerMedia more impacted by the Discovery merger than the TNets, which consist of TNT, TBS and TruTV. In the span of a couple of months after the transaction was completed, they got new leadership, with Discovery’s Kathleen Finch adding them to her portfolio, while the previous toppers exited: General Manager Brett Weitz, SVP Original Programming Adrienne O’Riain, and unscripted chief Corie Henson.

The new owners quickly scrapped or ended scripted series such as Chad, Snowpiercer and Kill the Orange Bear, cut a number of unscripted series such as the already completed The Big D, and let go a number of big-ticket development.

As the dust has started to settle, Finch, Chairman and Chief Content Officer, US Networks Group, Warner Bros. Discovery, recently made an outreach to talent agencies and producers, laying out her plans for what original programming on the TNets will look like going forward.

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In response to a request for comment on that outreach and her message to the creative community, Finch issued a statement to Deadline.

“I’ve had some great meetings with agents and production partners to let them know that yes, we’re definitely open for business at TNT, TBS, and at all the brands that make up the WBD US Networks portfolio,” she said. “We’ve spent the past few months evaluating content, our audience make up, which audience groups we want to grow and what kinds of series we need to do that. The content teams are looking at both scripted and unscripted, and have already put some exciting projects into development. Once the deals are signed we’ll be able to share more, but for now the message we want to send to the production community is that we’re bullish on delivering great slates to the fans of these Top 10 networks.”

Finch would not comment further. But according to sources, on the scripted side the focus is on TNT, whose sole current series, Snowpiercer, recently wrapped production on its fourth and final season. On the unscripted side, TBS is believed to be more of the focus, with sibling network truTV leaning in to its Impractical Jokers franchise and spinoffs.***

Scripted Strategy

Snowpiercer, TNT’s post-apocalyptic drama starring Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs, may be the last of the kind of high-end, prestige dramas with big stars and budgets (in the $7 million-$8 million an episode range) that the network has been doing since The Alienist in 2018. TNT is now looking for more cost-effective series that don’t go after A-list movie talent and would complement the tentpole sports/unscripted programming on TNT — as well as the rest of Warner Bros. Discovery’s suite of linear networks under Finch. That could include wrestling-themed shows, as AEW is a major draw on TNT, and scripted series that have the feel of some of the signature Discovery docu reality series like The Deadliest Catch. IP-based/genre series also are being explored, we hear.

Before taking the turn to big-budget, premium dramas under previous programming chief Kevin Reilly, TNT had success with original crime procedurals that complemented its roster of off-network crime dramas, most notably The Closer and its spinoff Major Crimes. 

To keep costs low, we hear producers are being asked to find a studio that would handle international distribution, somewhat emulating the traditional indie financing model where international pre-sales bring in the funding needed to make a movie feasible and lower financial risk for its backers. TNets’ sister studio, Warner Bros. Television, which most recently produced TNT’s recently departed drama Animal Kingdom, is expected to continue to be a supplier with the right projects that fit the new business paradigm. As Finch noted, there are a handful of projects currently under consideration.

We hear that TNT was presented to the creative community as the sole scripted brand among the TNets, though Warner Bros. Discovery sources dispute that. TBS, which relies heavily on off-network sitcoms, mainly The Big Bang Theory, currently has two ongoing scripted series in hits Miracle Workers and the animated American Dad!

Unscripted Strategy

As for the unscripted side, TBS has a history of attracting big talent to unscripted such as John Cena co-hosting its reboot of Wipeout and NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade fronting its adaptation of British format The Cube. 

In a stronger way than the scripted side, we hear agents and producers have been encouraged to remember that Warner Bros Discovery owns a movie studio, and to figure out if there can be any crossover, be it on talent or IP. For instance, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses, the Warner Bros-produced, Helen Mirren-fronted competition series, performed well for TBS and Cartoon Network.

It was also pointed out that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson acted as master of ceremonies for this summer’s Shark Week on the Discovery side.

However, one of the challenges remains budgets. The TNets have long had higher budgets for its slate of unscripted shows than the Discovery networks, partly down to bringing in higher carriage fees.

Similar to how the scripted side is looking at deficit financing via international distribution, their reality counterparts are looking for “Discovery-style dealmaking” on the unscripted side. In the past, this has meant selling full global and format rights to projects, with producers essentially operating on a work-for-hire basis.

There remains some confusion among unscripted agents and producers as to TNets’ messaging, with one source saying Finch’s comments have been “inconsistent” with remarks from some of its other network executives.

Industry insiders argue that the TNets will need to keep offering desirable originals rather than a slate of repeats of Discovery shows such as 90 Day Fiancé, for Warner Bros. Discovery to justify the significantly higher affiliate fees cable and satellite operators pay for them compared with the Discovery cable networks.

However, the TNets’ main attraction is sports. TNT and TBS boast NBA and Major League Baseball coverage, wrestling, and last year they closed a big, seven-year NHL deal. Additionally, TNT, TBS and TruTV share NCAA men’s basketball games. In today’s environment and proliferation of streaming, live sports is what drives premiums for linear networks, with entertainment considered an additive.

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