EXCLUSIVE: The TNets, WarnerMedia’s linear entertainment cable networks TBS, TNT and truTV, are firming up their 2022 scripted plans with a new series pickup, two renewals and three premiere dates.
TBS has picked up to series comedy pilot Kill The Orange-Faced Bear, headlined by Damon Wayans Jr. with a 10-episode order and has renewed the Daniel Radcliffe-Steve Steve Buscemi starrer Miracle Workers for Season 4. Additionally, truTV’s flagship — and only — scripted series, Tacoma FD, also has been renewed for a fourth season.
Snowpiercer, the only scripted series on TNT not headed into its final season, has been assigned a return date. Season 3 of the dystopian thriller will debut Jan. 24. Meanwhile, TBS has set Jan. 20 for the Season 7 premiere of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and Jan. 24 for the season 17 premiere of American Dad!. (TNT/TBS also recently announced January airdates for The Go Big Show and Wipeout and a simulcast of the 2022 Critics Choice Awards.)
While WarnerMedia’s HBO and HBO Max, with buzzy new series like Mare of Easttown and Hacks, have been getting a lot of attention amid the continuing growth of streaming at the expense of traditional linear viewing, the company’s TBS has been able to successfully launch three new series this year, #1 cable premieres in adults 18-49 for Go Big Show, Wipeout, and Chad. TNT and TBS remain ad-supported cable’s #1 and #2 entertainment networks in 188-49 (Live+7) and truTV has joined as the Top 30 cable network (At #26) among the 200-channel universe.
In an extensive interview with Deadline tied to the scripted series pickup and premiere date announcements, Brett Weitz, General Manager, TNT, TBS, and truTV, discusses the original programming strategy for the three linear networks, built around scripted and unscripted entertainment fare, sports and acquired content, and whether it is impacted by WarnerMedia’s pending acquisition by Discovery.
Weitz shares the story of his pursuit of Kill the Orange-Faced Bear, the Romansji-created comedy about one man’s (Wayans Jr.) epic revenge journey after a bear eats his girlfriend, which was originally set tp for development at Comedy Central in 2017. He also reveals what the series pickup of Kill the Orange-Faced Bear means for the other pilot TBS had ordered at the same time, Space (It remains in contention.)
There has been a scale-back in scripted pilot and series orders at the TNets over the past year while several series have come to an end over that period, including TNT’s Animal Kingdom and Claws, both headed into their final seasons. Weitz signals an upcoming replenishment of TNT’s scripted series pipeline, with UFO-themed drama Roswell, now in development, among the contenders. He also teases the Animal Kingdom finale, addresses whether the two popular departing TNT shows could spawn spinoffs and if new extensions of truTV’s formidable Impractical Jokers franchise are on the horizon.
Weitz also talks about how the Late Show offshoot Stupid Pet Tricks hosted by Sarah Silverman landed at TBS and what the network’s late-night plans are following the end of Conan and how Full Frontal plays into them.
Also addressed in the interview is TNets’ evolving relationship with HBO Max and half-sibling the CW (co-owned by WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS), the network’s acquisition strategy and whether Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso could air on TBS. (Under series’ producer Warner Bros. TV’s deal with Apple TV+, the studio controls linear rights and could sell them to a Turner network, something the streamer has been trying to prevent by buying out that window.
DEADLINE: TNT, TBS and truTV are currently the three entertainment basic cable linear brands of WarnerMedia, but potentially soon, they will be joined by more, if the deal with Discovery comes together. Has that impacted your strategy, especially on the unscripted side, where there could be potential overlap?
WEITZ: No, I think the best thing for us in the merger — obviously, I can talk about some things — my most exciting piece is that there’s no duplication. These are two very different businesses and very different brands. TBS, TNT, and truTV have such distinct brand lanes that we find ourselves into: TNT, always here for a thrill ride, TBS, always here for a good time, TruTV, always here for a good laugh.
And when you think about the totality of what their businesses do and how people consume the Discovery content and how they discover how they view our content, for me, together, I think we can actually own the total day of people and really be a one-stop-shop for all of consumers.
I’m always hoping for big and positive things but I think this will be pretty fantastic, and for me, especially on the unscripted side, we do something so specific. We do almost broadcast-adjacent unscripted programming, it’s bold. It’s big. It’s shiny floor. We have big auspices attached to it. Discovery has their big brand builders, as well, but it’s very different and very specific, and they’ve also stayed in very specific lanes.
We really are trying to build and develop for the entire country, as well — they do that incredibly well — and our scripted stuff is something that they don’t quite have. I know they’re dipping their toe into movies, but we’ve had many years of working in not only scripted, but unscripted half-hours, dramas. So, I’m excited for what the future’s going to be. I really am.
DEADLINE: Let’s go through your brands, starting with TNT. By the way, are you changing the URL for the network’s Web site anytime soon? It still says TNTdrama.
WEITZ: Oh, TNTdrama.com? Does it really?
WEITZ: No, because I still think we do really good dramas on TNT, it’s not “We know drama” [TNT’s tagline from the early 2000s], it just says drama. TNT really is going to be that thrill ride experience with us. Animal Kingdom, Claws, Snowpiercer. Roswell fits perfectly into that, edge of your seat, consumer facing. We have an incredible sports offering, I think we have first in class when it comes to sports, whether it be NBA, NHL. We have NCAA. It is a true thrill ride when you watch those.
We have great unscripted coming next year in Rich People Problems (tentative title), which we’re excited about, and when you think about the acquired series that we have, it really has become one of almost those quintessential brands that people really look to for that thrill ride experience when it comes to consumption. So, I love what the brand has become.
I just saw the series finale of Animal Kingdom. It’s so brilliant, it’s exactly the things we want to continue to do, just celebrating brilliant content. We have AEW, which continues to be such an overperformer; this challenger brand of a wrestling asset has now become one of the biggest shows in cable, which is incredible for us. We obviously started a completely new night and new show on Friday nights with AEW Rampage.
And we have Rhodes to the Top, which is a different asset, but when you think of it in totality, TNT really has something for everyone, and that’s the thing that we wanted to be able to deliver for those people that still come to us each and every day. If someone comes to us to watch Shawshank Redemption, they stay for Snowpiercer, Animal Kingdom, our sports. They come to us for some of the greatest content, first-in-class content on basic cable.
DEADLINE: You mentioned Rhodes to the Top. Have you made a decision yet about second season?
WEITZ: No. Not yet. It just it ran and finished, and we’re settling in with numbers. You know this, Nellie, to just go Live+Same Day is so antiquated. You want to see how things are consumed on VOD and see how things continue to play out.
DEADLINE: You also mentioned Animal Kingdom. Anything else we can tease about the finale?
WEITZ: No. John Wells directed it. I called him, and I said to him, this is one of the most brilliant pieces of television. I have a brother, my brother and I don’t deal with those Cody boys. They’re never done, but watching the emotional connection of these brothers and watching it come to an end, it was as fulfilling as you want it to be for a consumer.
DEADLINE: With Animal Kingdom and Claws ending, Snowpiercer is the only ongoing scripted drama series on TNT. You are developing new projects, you mentioned Roswell, there is also a TV series sequel to the Liam Neeson movie Unknown in the works. What are your plans?
WEITZ: The goal is to reconstitute the pipeline, obviously. As Animal Kingdom, Claws go off the air, we’ll have new dramas in ’22. That is ultimately our goal, to really reconstitute the air with new dramas and continue to be a destination for originals. That is very important to our strategy.
DEADLINE: Is there potential for Animal Kingdom or Claws spinoffs?
WEITZ: Sam Linsky and Adrienne O’ Riain and I have said to John, we are here, John knows how much we love him and love working with him. In our jobs, you want to nudge the creators, you don’t want to force them into a decision. So, when he’s ready and he feels like there’s a natural evolution to that show or spinoff, not only is my door open, but there’s probably a slot on the air for him to do that. He could do no wrong in my books.
DEADLINE: What about procedurals? At some point, TNT was a network of original procedurals like The Closer, Rizzoli & Isles. Could crime procedurals fit into the “thrill” branding or will you keep them only as acquired programming?
WEITZ: No, no, it’s also for originals, as well. There are still people that love those shows and watch those shows. I look at the ratings, those shows are doing incredibly well where they live, and so, nothing wrong with those shows coming back to our ecosystem, for sure. When we think about the thrill of a procedural, that is very much a premium populace sensibility, and that’s exactly who our audience is. The procedural doesn’t have to be as closed-ended every week as they once were. Serialized procedurals are doing incredibly well. Mare of Easttown, for all intents and purposes, is, to me, the best procedural of the year, and I give my partner in crime, (HBO/HBO Max’s) Mr. Casey Bloys, a shout-out for continuing building great successes over there.
DEADLINE: Transitioning to TBS, you are doing it with AEW, which will be switching from TNT to TBS as NHL hockey joins NBA basketball on TNT. What do you think wrestling’s move to TBS would mean for that network?
WEITZ: We obviously make these decisions with a lot of data and gut behind them. The brand of TBS is we’re always here for a good time. That is exactly what AEW is and AEW Dynamite, and so, when we look at the concentric circles of TBS and TNT, our TBS viewer is a heavy drama viewer, believe it or not. So, we know that those fans will migrate over, and we also believe that wrestling fans find the content wherever it is, and we also think, more wrestling’s better for everybody, honestly,.
DEADLINE: Onto scripted. Can you talk about the decision to pick up Kill the Orange-Faced Bear to series and what that means for your other TBS comedy pilot, Space?
WEITZ: Space is still in contention, as well. Kill the Orange-Faced Bear was a pitch that I had tried to buy many moons ago, and it ended up going to a different network, and when that network developed it and they’d ultimately passed on it, knowing that we were passionate about it, the producers brought it back to us.
We made a couple changes, cast it very quickly and then put out the pilot. I’m a big fan, and Sam Linsky and Adrienne O’Riain, who run all of our scripted content, were big on what’s not on television and what’s going to make noise and land with the consumer, but also what’s going to be threaded with joy, and what’s going to make people laugh, and the absurdity of Kill an Orange-Faced Bear is so beautifully constructed.
It’s exactly kind of dead center of the target of comedies that we want to be doing on TBS. When you look at Chad, when you look at Miracle Workers, O.G. is just now premiering, obviously. That’s the same kind of brand prism that I want you to think about when you think of Kill the Orange-Faced Bear, despite the kind of aggressive title.
DEADLINE: What about the decision to order a fourth season of Miracle Workers?
WEITZ: It was number one scripted comedy of the year last year. We’re in the renewal business, not in the cancellation business, and so, for me, I’m always about finding the successes on our air and delivering that to the consumer, and I think what, for me, when you have Daniel Radcliffe and Steve Buscemi on your air, brilliantly funny, wickedly funny, it’s hard to pass that up. I think these guys have a very specific idea of how this shows plays out. There’s meaning to the anthology, so, we’re really excited to see what they’ve crafted for season four, and it’s been unbelievable being in business with them.
DEADLINE: You are also now in business with David Letterman on Stupid Pet Tricks unscripted series based on the popular Late Show segment.
WEITZ: I was a huge Letterman fan, obviously he is a legend when it comes to late night, but also from producing chops on Everybody Loves Raymond. The guy is literally a brilliant producer, and when they presented this to us with Sarah Silverman at the center of it, there’s no one more irreverent, whip-smart, brilliant who can pull America into the insanity of dogs, pets, birds, whatever it may be and make it fun and inviting. Again, always here for a good time, Stupid Pet Tricks kind of seals the deal on that brand promise.
DEADLINE: Is Letterman involved in the process?
WEITZ: He is, yes, big time. He’s like the man in the high castle who’s creatively telling everybody how he would like it. I want his imprimatur on this show as much as possible, but it’s the Tony and Jay show, Sarah Silverman, and David is very much involved.
DEADLINE: Since the segment originated in late night and you have been looking at non-political alternatives for late-night to succeed Conan, would Stupid Pet Tricks be considered for late night or is it strictly prime time?
WEITZ: No, if you look at our strategy, the thing I’m trying to dial in is family crossover content, which is if you look at Wipeout and Go-Big, the upcoming Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses you can watch it with your kids, you can watch it with your spouse, your significant other, whoever it may be. It’s broad enough and appealing enough that everyone can watch it together, and I think Stupid Pet Tricks is exactly the same thing. We’re casting the net as wide as we possibly can to capture the biggest audience we can when it comes to family fare as well as, adult entertainment.
DEADLINE: How is your search going for a successor to Conan? You also just announced a Season 7 premiere date for Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.
WEITZ: Sam, I said this to her a couple weeks ago, I said, you’re firing on all cylinders. She’s doing her best work. She’s tackling issues that I believe people want to really dig into. She’s zigging where people are zagging. She’s trying to be less political because she knows that there is just fatigue around that, and so she’s really tackling issues that are important to the world. She is the gold standard when it comes to late-night television.
I was very sad to see Conan go, but I know, for him, it was time to move on, and it was a moment in television. To be part of that for me in my career was a honor. To be part of the ending monologue of Conan O’Brien’s sendoff from television will be a high point in my career. When it comes to replacing that guy, that’s an irreplaceable asset. Finding a new voice, absolutely open to it and consistently looking.
DEADLINE: Is there any chance that Samantha Bee could follow Conan O’Brien in transitioning off TBS? Could Season 7 be Full Frontal’s final season on the network?
WEITZ: No. No. I love what Sam’s doing right now.
DEADLINE: What about animation? You have American Dad coming back, you will be losing off-network series Bob’s Burgers soon. Are you looking build up in that area?
WEITZ: And we have Close Enough on the air right now from HBO Max. I’m very open to animation because it works on our air. That’s a pretty destination-based consumer, meaning they will show up for great animation, which is fun to pull a younger audience in. American Dad does so well for us, after 17 years, it continues to just be such a top 10 performer each and every week.
So, we have a ton of stuff in development when it comes to animation, and we also have some great animation that we’re partnering with DC on. It is stuff we’re doing with Warner Bros. animation and Peter Girardi, Sam Register and his whole team over there. So, we are constantly looking for new animation, we’re open to all forms of funny and all forms of great content on TBS.
DEADLINE: On truTV, Tacoma FD is getting renewed, which has established itself as the leading scripted brand on the network. You just picked up sketch comedy pilot,Seoul Hunters. What are your plans for building around Tacoma on the scripted side?
WEITZ: We always say you can watch truTV for five minutes or five hours. It’s just one of those networks where you enjoy the content that’s on there, and the Jokers have been really the central focus of that brand strategy. So, when you think of Tacoma, that works exactly perfect. Fast Foodies, exactly where we wanted to be. Backyard Bar Wars, exactly the kind of shows that we’re playing around.
Seoul Hunters, when Cory Hensen and her team saw that and shot the pilot, we felt like that plays in that same kind of pranking world space of Jokers, but with a different spin to it, and not that I want to be known as the prank network, because that’s not what we want to continue to do. It’s deeper than that, it’s about the ethos of the network, it is really about joking, surprising people, being there for a good laugh, a good time.
And I think, for me, as we build out the strategy around truTV, it’s going to be building shows that feel more along the lines of those types of shows. So, it’s going to be Fast Foodies, where comics are coming in and having a great experience. Jokers, which feels like it continues to grow and evolve, and Tacoma is exactly the kind of scripted show I would do. So, the minute a new scripted show comes in that fits that same brand parameter, we will do it.
DEADLINE: The Jokers franchise has been expanding. Are you planning any new extensions?
WEITZ: No, not at this point.
DEADLINE: What about your relationship with HBO Max? It started with several of your shows, like Search Party and Raised By Wolves, migrating there. How has it evolved?
WEITZ: Absolutely. It’s actually both directions, which has been pretty incredible, and we have this. I’m sure (Warner Bros. chairman and CEO) Ann (Sarnoff) has talked to you about her Flywheel approach to businesses, which we’re really excited about. Casey and I are very close and have become closer through this experience, being in the trenches together.
We, last year, announced the Front Row experience, which was taking HBO Max content, putting it on linear television, which creates a whole new consumer step for HBO Max people, and gives our linear audience exposure to a whole new type of program, which we’re excited about. Snowpiercer, Miracle Workers, all of our shows that premiere on our air ultimately land on HBO Max.
The greatest thing that I’ve seen, at least thus far, is watching season one of Snowpiercer drop on HBO Max as season two of Snowpiercer was premiering on linear and watching, I think it was 13% attribution back to the linear network, to help that grow. We’ve got the Harry Potter experience this year, we’re doing the Tournament of Houses, which we’re really excited about, and then they’re going to be doing the retrospective somewhere on HBO Max.
But all those things speak to each other, and the goal, the reason why everything flows on your end, is because we’re able to have those conversations cross-divisionally, whether that be DC. We did a really fun Wipeout Suicide Squad-themed episode with John Cena dressed up as Peacemaker the entire time, and that was fantastic. That was exactly the thing that we wanted to be able to do to try to, like, be the loudest voice in the company help to market those assets cross-divisionally.
DEADLINE: What about your collaborations with the CW? You’re now adding a new awards franchise to the SAG Awards with the Critics Choice that you’re simulcasting. There has been a lot of back and forth with them with the CW shows like Superman & Lois reruns on TNets and your shows getting sampling on the broadcast network.
WEITZ: CW has been amazing. I’ve respected Mark for years as not only a leader, but as a programmer, business guy, and finally to be able to stunt those shows and give them a new audience has been great. And when they presented us with the opportunity to be a part of the Critics Choice Award, we’ve had great success with SAG, and so, we wanted to really be the destination for those types of award shows. High caliber, first in class. Hollywood is this illustrative beast. It’s flashy, it’s shiny, and so, for us to be a part of it is exciting.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about your acquisition strategy. You recently acquired Young Sheldon for TBS, Big Bang is still doing big numbers on the network. Is acquired content still key, and will we see Ted Lasso on TBS?
WEITZ: Young Sheldon is doing incredibly well for us, and I couldn’t be more excited about the kind of pairing of Young Sheldon into Big Bang. That flow is working, and you’re seeing it through daytime, you’re seeing it through Prime and Fringe. The Ted Lasso conversation can point down across the street to Channing Dungey and ask her, she’s the boss of that studio (Warner Bros. TV). I’m a fan of the show, and she knows that. So, there you go, and I have clocked my excitement, enthusiasm for this show, for sure.
DEADLINE: Back to the overall acquisition strategy and the role of movies and off-network dramas on TNT.
WEITZ: Acquisitions are incredibly important to us, it really is the four pillars of our stool, if you will — our sports, movies, series, originals, scripted/unscripted, obviously, within that bucket.
The core of TNT is great acquiring series, movies that really hit the middle of the country in the perfect way, whether it be the Star Wars movies, the Marvel franchises, or DC movies that do incredibly well. In its telecast last year, some five and a half million people in total showed up to watch Aquaman together with commercials. So, when you think about the reach of these networks, they still hold an enormous amount of strength and weight when it comes to reach and relevancy for consumers and advertisers. It’s important for us to continue to have great movies. We also created a franchise on TBS called Friday Night Vibes that Tiffany Haddish is starring in.
That’s been an incredibly diverse night of content for us, so we’re exploring more diverse acquisitions so we can really be a loud voice on Friday nights. As Tiffany says, from the people, for the people. It really is exactly the kind of show that we want to do to celebrate culture in this country and educate people, because I think we all, in the last year and a half, have had a big education, probably an overdue education, when it comes to diversity and inclusion in our world. We created Friday Night Vibes as an opportunity to have that dialogue.
DEADLINE: What is the future of the Disney package? I know you got some extra Marvel titles in exchange for being flexible on the exclusivity of your digital rights to the Star Wars movies so they can put them on Disney+.
WEITZ: We’ve got them for the foreseeable future, which is great, and that’s what I need them for. I need them to do the heavy lifting for a bit of time.
DEADLINE: Are you concerned about the pipeline of strong off-network content from the broadcast networks drying up?
WEITZ: Yes, which is ultimately why we were excited about the Front Row opportunity for us, because that gives us a whole new pipeline of content from HBO Max that we see on our air. It helps refresh the air for us, for consumers that may not have HBO Max’s subscription, and it really fits. We’re curating those shows so they fit the network that they’re going to be on.
DEADLINE: What is your outlook for TNets?
WEITZ: We’re managing these businesses in totality and really figuring out how to look at them in 360 degrees. Best in sports, the best in movie acquisitions, the best in acquiring series, the best in originals, unscripted and scripted, and when you bundle those together across the three businesses, they are three incredible offerings. It’s why TNT is number one. TBS is number two, and TruTV is number 26 in a sea of 200.
So, the three networks are really firing on all cylinders right now, and I feel like we just need to stay the course, understand that linear television is not the thing that everyone wants to be a part, but it’s still the biggest reach vehicle, that consumers and advertisers have to watch great content, and we’re going to continue to deliver great content to them to their homes, in a manner that we believe is really top of class.
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