TBS, TNT Plan to Put on a Show

Jan 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

When Steve Koonin came to Turner Entertainment Networks eight years ago, the Screen Actors Guild Awards was already a fixture on TNT. But the erstwhile Sports Executive of the Year—so named by Sports Business Journal in 1998, while Mr. Koonin was Coke’s vice president of sports and entertainment marketing—has helped to make the awards show one of cable’s brightest spots. That might hold particularly true this year, when most Hollywood awards shows have either been drastically scaled back due to the writers strike or remain, like the Oscars, in a kind of show business limbo.
But unlike the Golden Globes, which was reduced to a news conference in order to avoid the sticky problem of actors not crossing a picket line to collect their awards, the Screen Actors Guild show will be broadcast with the sanction of—and a waiver from—the Writers Guild of America. The show is a no-host program, with actors presenting the 13 awards, eight for television and five for film.
The SAG Awards Show “fares better than most awards shows,” Mr. Koonin said from Atlanta, where he is based and where he reports to Turner Entertainment Group President Mark Lazarus—“because it’s strictly about actors. And what people love about the show is that it’s purely actors.
“Set designers and production people—we’d be nowhere without them,” he said. “But people tune in to see the actors all dressed up.”
This is the 11th year that TNT will host the awards, and the third time the show will be simulcast on TNT and TBS. Last year’s show drew 5.8 million viewers, topping the previous year’s record-setting audience and making it easily the most-watched awards show on cable.
Mr. Koonin said this year’s show will feature a number of platforms, with broadband streaming “going live from the red carpet prior to the event,” enabling viewers to get “the whole 360-degree experience of the show, from red carpet to pressroom.”
The two networks, Mr. Koonin said, market the product differently: more drama-heavy for TNT and comedy-focused for TBS. But some branding themes seem to fit comfortably on either side of the dividing line.
Two years ago, cable ads for the awards show featured the theme song from “Fame,” with “SAG” substituting for “fame” in the lyrics; last year and this, Mr. Koonin said the network was using the same technique, “this time with the theme from ‘Shaft.’” But he stressed a “more lighthearted promotion” would be running on TBS. “We have two distinct networks and two distinct audiences,” he said, “so we have two distinct ways of promoting the show.”
The awards show was originally broadcast on NBC, but according to producer Kathy Connell, “NBC canceled us. They had picked up the Golden Globes that year and didn’t think they needed two awards shows.” TNT rose to the challenge of televising an awards show for a guild that many people in middle America had probably never heard of.
Under the auspices of TNT, “The show has grown so much,” Ms. Connell said. “The very first year it crossed my mind, ‘Is anyone going to come?’” But I looked out and [the auditorium] was packed.”
TNT has grown its own branding over the last decade, most notably with the third-season launch of “The Closer,” starring Kyra Sedgwick, in what was ad-supported cable’s all-time top series telecast, and Oscar winner Holly Hunter’s vehicle “Saving Grace,” which lays claim to the top series opener for the year to date.
“TNT’s quite brilliant at marketing and advertising,” Ms. Connell said, “and they basically say [to us], ‘You go and create the best show you can, and we’ll take care of the rest.’”
The early landing on TNT was a smooth one, according to Ms. Connell, and the actors guild has never regretted the move. “We have a great relationship with TNT and TBS,” she said. “The partnership with TNT happened really quickly [after NBC canceled]. Quite frankly, SAG’s had the opportunity to go elsewhere, but our relationship with TNT has always been so good we’ve stayed.”
That’s fine with Mr. Koonin. “That’s what this show is about,” he said. “It’s the celebration of actors.”


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