A pair of cable networks could finally upstage broadcast’s Big Four during TV’s traditional upfront week in New York during the week of May 17. Though TBS and TNT (which, like EW, are owned by Time Warner) began staging a programming presentation for advertisers in 2008, the cable nets have a lot more to crow about this year—starting with TBS’ new 11 p.m. talk show starring Conan O’Brien that will bow in November. Given the reach of TBS and TNT, upfront week shouldn’t be limited to just the broadcast nets, argues Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks.
“TBS is the No. 5 network in all of TV, and TNT is No. 6,” he says. “We’ve earned our right to be there.” TNT has pretty much firmed up its prime-time plans for the next year, including new dramas starring Jason Lee (who’ll play an oddball police detective in Memphis Beat), Dylan McDermott (a cop in Jerry Bruckheimer’s Dark Blue), Angie Harmon (she’s a Boston detective in Rizzoli & Isles) and Noah Wyle (who’ll star in a Steven Spielberg-produced alien drama for 2011). There will also be new seasons of Men of a Certain Age, Southland, Leverage, The Closer and HawthoRNe. Doing a drama for a cable net like TNT has become an attractive outlet for actors because a typical season there lasts only 13 episodes – or less. One insider said Men’s second season, for example, is only 10 episodes long because that’s the way star Ray Romano wanted it.
TBS has yet to decide which dramedy (or two) it will pick up to potentially serve as a lead-in to O’Brien. Contenders include Uncle Nigel, a Gary Cole starrer about a Philly police detective; Glory Daze, a period series about four freshmen who rush a Wisconsin fraternity; In Security, about a sibling-owned private-security firm, starring Superman Returns’ Brandon Routh; and Franklin and Bash, which follows two streetwise lawyers (Breckin Meyer and Mark-Paul Gosselaar) who join a high-profile firm. Boundary pushing seems to be the name of the game with TBS’ development: Rumor has it the latter pilot shows ample shots of Gosselaar’s naked butt.