‘MILF Manor’, ‘Power Slap’, Restructure, Tax Write-Offs & More: Kathleen Finch Gets Candid On Warner Bros Discovery’s Unscripted TV Strategy

“We’re going to put 2022 behind us and focus on the future,” said Kathleen Finch, Chairman and Chief Content Officer of Warner Bros. Discovery’s U.S. Networks Group.

Speaking candidly during a Deadline-moderated keynote at the Realscreen conference in Austin, Texas, Finch opened up about the challenges and plans at the newly merged company.

“Going through a merger — and this was a humungous merger — is tough, it’s tough on the content creators, partners, staff, we’re a little ‘rear view mirroring it’ and we’re thrilled about what 2023 is,” she said. “Just now is when we’re able to put our strategy in place; last year was based on bringing two giant entities together.”

Related Story

'Power Slap: Road To The Title' Generates Controversy Online By Concussion Specialist: "What's Next, Who Can Survive A Stabbing?"

Finch talked about programming plans for its networks including the Turner networks, Discovery channels as well as the likes of HGTV and Food Network. She also discussed the recent restructure that led to the departure of Nancy Daniels and Jane Latman as well as the tax write-offs that impacted shows such as The Big D, Snowpiercer and Chad.

She also talked about the overall state of the unscripted business; the challenges of budgets and deal terms; Netflix’s emergence into the unscripted space; diversity; the controversy around Dana White’s Power Slap series; and, of course, reality buzz MILF Manor, a show that seems to have come straight from a 30 Rock skit.

Personnel Changes

The D-nets are now overseen by Howard Lee; Jason Sarlanis runs TNT, TBS and truTV as well as true-crime programming for ID and now HLN; Betsy Sanner Ayala runs Food; and Loren Ruch oversees HGTV following the departure of Daniels and Latman as well as a number of other executives earlier last year.

“I have got the dream team, the absolute dream team heading up all these networks,” Finch said. “They’re all producers. They know content better than anybody, they know their brands better than anybody. When you go through a merger, you do sort of figure out how many layers we need. How much staff do we need? I’m not really running these networks as 30 individual teams, they’re clustered together, they’re put together with leaders at the top who really live and breathe that content and adore the best of their game.”

“That’s not to say that the people that we lost aren’t amazing people, they are, we just had to have a restructure that has less people doing the jobs. One of the big changes that I made is we now have one head of marketing overseeing all the networks that are really important that we have one head of scheduling, so we’re not scheduling competing with one another anymore.

Tax Write-Offs

Reality series The Big D was pulled from the schedule a few weeks before it was due to air. The Turner networks also canceled a raft of shows including Chad and Snowpiercer for what was considered a tax write-off — the ability to save some money by axing the shows.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t categorize it really as for tax reasons,” Finch said. “The challenges when you bring two companies together, you assess what you have. Then you see if what you have fits with your ongoing strategy. So that had a lot to do with what we had to do. They were painful decisions. I know what it what it must feel like to be a content creator, and then have your work [pulled]. None of this was taken lightly at all. These were really, really painful decisions and whenever possible, we’re working really closely with the creators to finding homes for a lot of the content.”

“I’ve had some long heart to hearts with people, explaining what happened, why it happened, all the decisions that went into it. I totally get why people would be nervous. I hope they won’t be because that that was a moment in time, that had nothing to do with how we intend to run this company. It’s happening in the industry in other places. It’s not how we do business, it’s not a strategy. I’m happy to talk personally with anybody who wants to have a conversation about it, because it was really painful and not the way that we tend to move forward.

Turner Networks

“What really works on the Turner networks is sports and off-net sitcoms,” she said. “We will commission around 4500 hours of content for this year. On a percentage basis, we’re not making a whole lot for the Turner nets because so much of the success there is things we don’t make like NBA, baseball, The Big Bang Theory. We do have unscripted content on the nets, but I wouldn’t focus your attention there.”

“We have a really a really fun unscripted comedy show, kinda like Punk’d that we’ll be launching for TBS. We like sports-adjacent, a couple of reality shows in the sports world that we’re working on.”

Power Slap

Power Slap: Road to the Title, a reality series based around a new sports league from Dana White, has generated controversy after the UFC president was caught on camera slapping his wife over the holidays. TBS airs the series, although it pushed back the premiere a week.

Was Finch concerned about airing it after what White did?

“Of course. Yes,” she said. “This is an experiment. The goal is, we are making shows for our fans, that’s who we work for. Fans of wrestling have a lot of overlap with the fans of this and it’s huge on social media so the idea really is, if we can take something that’s huge on social, bring it to a linear audience giving the fans what they want.”

“This may surprise you to know that I did not know much about wrestling before I took this job. I know, I seem like a wrestling fan, but I’m not. But I did have to learn a lot about the audience. A lot of families that watch [wrestling], I was very surprised to learn this. I have huge respect for this audience. AEW wrestling airs on two of our networks, TNT and TBS — on both nights it kills. Finding something that speaks to that audience, that would be gold.

MILF Manor & TLC

MILF Manor, a series that finds a group of eight women, ranging in age from 40 to 60, who are brought together at a plush estate on the beaches of Mexico on the lookout for love, launched on TLC last week.

It has, as one might expect, generated a lot of social media attention and memes, largely for the fact that it sounds like 30 Rock’s fake reality series MILF Island. The actual series is produced by eOne and Spun Gold.

“We’re not the Learning Channel anymore. TLC is a fun network. I am so surprised at the number of people I know who say, ‘Oh my god, I’m so glad that you work at TLC, because now you can tell me all the things that are going on behind the scenes at Sister Wives,’ or whatever the show is,” Finch said. “It’s got such a passionate fan base and we embrace that fan base, because we love them.”

“We considered calling in a dozen other [names]. We knew this thing would be controversial. But that’s exactly why we chose it. We like causing attention. We just choose subjects, though, that are that are loud and unusual and they’re living lifestyles that are not ours necessarily, but they’re really interesting and they’re living very genuine lives.”

Discovery Channel

Discovery Channel is known for long-running, male-skewing shows such as Deadliest Catch, Gold Rush, Moonshiners and Street Outlaws.

“It’s going to double down. I mean, it’s going to continue even more,” Finch said. “I made a lot of staffing changes recently and I have empowered Howard Lee to oversee the Discovery Channel and he’s done brilliant overseeing TLC. One of the reasons I wanted to bring him over is because what works best on the Discovery Channel is making heroes out of everymen. They’re fishermen, they’re gold miners, a new show with sewer divers. There’s sort of a sweat equity in the stars on the shows that’s very admirable and really sort of speaks to hero worship for a lot of people. Howard is very good at finding the everyman, and then turning them into a television star. That’s what Discovery does very well, and what we want more.”

“What works on our networks in the unscripted space is not somebody that William Morris brings us, it’s somebody that you guys find out in the middle of nowhere that you shoot on a cell phone and send us the tape. We don’t need a fully formed show. We don’t need anything that is polished or even needs to have a format necessarily.”

Diversity

Finch is aware of the need to continue to improve diversity across the networks.

“Some of them are better than others, it’s not intent,” she said. “But in some, it’s just harder, I mean, depending on what the content is sometimes. But we’re trying to all of us get to the same level of doing better. And that’s really our goal is.”

“We are always looking for new people to follow in the genres that we cover, and with absolutely the highest priority on diverse talent. Finding people in these interesting worlds, it is a challenge.”

HGTV

HGTV is a top 10 network, seven days a week, which is something that only really applies to the likes of Fox News and ESPN.

“It always surprises me that it doesn’t have the highest profile because on a high heft basis HGTV is a monster,” Finch said. “I credit Loren Ruch who’s sitting here who you can all attack him afterwards, because he’s looking for content.”

Budgets

Discovery networks have historically had a much lower budget than the likes of TNT and TBS, which poses a challenge in the new company.

“I would say don’t let perceived budget challenges cause you to decide whether or not to come to us because budgets are fungible,” she said. “Is there a cost per hour we like to hit there? Do we break that rule? Often we do. Don’t restrict yourselves come to us. Let us sort of talk to you about it. The other thing is, we like to work with producers, if there’s an idea that’s really great, that’s budgeted [at a certain price], we might think it would work better [lower] anyway, to sort of once let’s talk about it and see if we can [make it work].”

“My preference is not to have a shiny-floor show in a shiny-floor studio, I think for our network, or all of our networks where we’re outside a lot, we’re in real venues, I would prefer to do things out in the real world. That also brings costs down very often.”

Deal Terms

Similarly, the Turner networks were historically better for producers in terms of international and ancillary rights, rather than the Discovery work-for-hire model. Finch says that she’s become more “flexible.”

“At the end of the day, we want the best content, we want the best producers, the best storytellers, the best talent, if it means that we have to do a slightly different deal, in order to get something that we really think is going to resonate, that’s fine,” she said. “I mean, the reality is, we have a new streamer that’s launching this spring, we’re going to need a lot of content there. We have a huge international footprint now, and we were all over the world. We have a lot of places to put our content, which is really why we like the deals to be work for hire, because we do have a lot of places that we want to put the content. But again, we don’t want to miss out on an idea or on a talent, because of a deal point.”

State of Unscripted

“We’re coming out of this little bit of a trough that we’ve unfortunately all been in — Covid has been hard,” Finch said. “Everything was strange. I think people were just so happy to see fresh content, and we bought a lot of goodwill during that period. We actually stayed really strong. But I think the industry, you know, with the 20%-30% Covid costs that we had to pay once we went back into regular production, it’s been rough. But I definitely sense that we’re making a turn and that people are visiting. I was at a green-light meeting last week, we [ordered] about nine different projects, and renewed a bunch of big series. I think that things are suddenly moving back at the pace that they are getting back to the pace that they’ve been at.

Competition with Netflix, Amazon, Others

Warner Bros Discovery faces competition from a lot of the streamers in the unscripted space.

“Even Netflix will admit to [the fact] that they ratcheted the prices up on things to such a point that they kind of caused problems,” Finch said. “There was a feeding frenzy for a while that then caused just a lot of things to get a little out of whack. I think quite honestly, what we’re seeing right now is a bit of a level set. At the end of the day, we all want this business to be as successful as possible We all want to work together and find the best ways to get stories told on the right networks, so I think we’re back to being on an equal footing.”

Must Read Stories

Searchlight Scores ‘Theater Camp’ In $8M Global Deal Including Theatrical Release

Sequel Crosses $2B Worldwide; Overall 2023 U.S. Box Office Tops Half-Billion

‘Hot Wheels’ Revving Up As Writers Set For Mattel-Warner Bros-Bad Robot Pic

Lineup Set; Fest Chiefs Q&A; Penn’s Ukraine Pic In Comp

Read More About:

Source: Read Full Article

click fraud detection