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The conversation was lively today at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society's "Cable Programming Summit" luncheon held at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. Along with moderator Billy Bush from "Access Hollywood," the panel consisted of Michael Wright (EVP, Head of Programming, TNT, TBS, TCM), Joel Stillerman (EVP, Original Programming, Production, Digital Content, AMC), David Janollari (Head of Programming, MTV), Kate Juergens (EVP, Programming & Development, ABC Family) and Carmi Zlotnik (Managing Director, Starz Media, LLC). Our Jim Halterman was there to track all the talk about the current state of the cable business.
12:59 PM - HRTS Executive Director & Executive Producer of Events Dave Ferrara makes his welcome statement before introducing HRTS President Sean Perry who in turn brings out the panelists: Michael Wright! Joel Stillerman! David Janollari! Kate Juergens! Carmi Zlotnik! And Billy Bush, who, according to Sean, is a much better golfer than he is.
1:05 PM - Billy starts out by asking if there one challenge that faces each of the panel members. Kate says competition is the common threat and she and David acknowledge they are competing for the teen audience but in different ways. "We need a wedding!" exclaims David of his programming dream for the now-pregnant star of its mega-hit "Jersey Shore."
1:07 PM - "The great thing that it seems to bring in so much more content.... the fact that we're all doing scripted right now.... 10 years ago that wasn't the case." says Kate. Carmi adds that he sees a common theme as being that "everyone is trying to do more for less."
1:08 PM - Billy asks if it's a good time for buyers and sellers in the current climate? "I think it's a great time if you're a seller at Turner," says Michael. "The biggest challenge for us is that the model is changing... the cable business is radically changing right now."
1:10 PM - "It's all about content, no matter where it comes from," says David. On each network having specific needs and wants, Joel adds, "Gone is the day where you have a very long list of places to sell to... you really have to know what the person you're pitching to wants and tailor it to that channel and I think that's actually a challenge."
1:12 PM - Billy asks if you have to have a creative instinct to do the job they do. "I think if you don't have the mechanics of good storytelling [and] reflecting the world back to the audience in an entertaining way, I don't know how you do that job," says David. Kate admits that a lot of the day is spent dealing with money but the fun stuff is spending her time dealing with the writers.
1:13 PM - Billy asks if Michael is concerned about having "The Closer" wrap up. "Sure you're concerned from a rating standpoint but it's also a family. There's a certain emotional aspect to it, too." He says that the timing couldn't be better since a few of their shows have actually passed it in the ratings lately.
1:15 PM - On whether the group works to get the network's brand out there, David says they had to educate people on what the MTV brand is. "We tried to go out and preach 'this is the brand,'" Joel says of AMC. On how that relates to what projects they're being pitched, Michael says, "We love to be surprised.... those are really the moments where you get the most satisfaction." He urges people to please bring him "the thing we didn't know we wanted."
1:17 PM - Billy asks about breakthrough shows like "Mad Men and "Breaking Bad." Joel says that even though those were developed before his time at the network, "those were enormous swings especially for a smaller cable channel," he says. "I can tell you that there was no certainty that either of those shows would get to where they are today.... it's paved the way for us to continue doing what we've been doing."
1:18 PM - "Mad Men" is coming back soon but it's been off the air a long time. Is Joel worried people might not come back? "I honestly think the 'Mad Men' audience is among the most devoted audience in television." Joel thinks the show will actually benefit from being off the air for a time and cites "Breaking Bad" had a long hiatus and had a 20% increase in season four.
1:20 PM - Is everyone looking for non-scripted or focusing on scripted? Michael says over at TNT they're looking for it and "it's a huge initiative for TNT." Carmi says the unscripted world is "a valid world where there are a lot of great ideas... you never know when something is going to break through and you think 'Oh my God, that would work perfectly for our brand.'"
1:24 PM - Billy asks if there is show loyalty or network loyalty? Carmi answers by saying, "Once it's done right I think networks accrue a loyalty." Joel adds that, "People form habits and they're hard to break so if you're in those first three channels that they go to that's an incredibly valuable commodity that you have to protect." Michael cites "sampling loyalty" so if you put something new on the network, the audience will at least try it.
1:26 PM - Answering Billy's question about kids and parents watching together, Kate happily exclaims, "Yes!" She says that everyone knows parents are happy to find a shared experience to have with their kids and ABC Family is a destination for them. David says the same with MTV, even with some of their edgier programming. "Believe it or not," he says, "'16 and Pregnant' and 'Teen Mom' are big appointment viewing shows with moms and daughters." Joel admits to watching MTV with his teen boys, who think he's an idiot for having left that job!
1:29 PM - With some of the edgier programming, is there advertising pressure? David says "Not at all." Kate adds, "There's always an advertiser for every show." Billy brings up "Skins" to which David jokes, "You're really going to bring that up, aren't you?" He continues that even though it didn't succeed, "it was the show that planted our flag in the scripted space... I thought it was a valiant effort and it was a terrific show but it wasn't a show for every advertiser.... ['Skins'] did a great deal with [our] audience in terms of establishing the direction in which we were going."
1:31 PM - Does Kate want to push the envelope? "Within our brand and within the walls of the Walt Disney Company, we definitely do.... but we have to do it in the way that presents all sides of the argument.... you have to be loud enough in cable to get attention and in order to be loud you have to be a little bit edgy."
1:33 PM - In talking about acquisitions over original content, Michael says that "The Big Bang Theory" has been huge for TBS since they started airing last fall and the network is up 30% and is also a great lead-in for original material. Carmi agrees and also states that an original's purpose is to differentiate the network and create an identity all around.
1:38 PM - Michael cites Apple and Steve Jobs as being so good at knowing what people wanted next and how that's a hard part of their job. David talks up the way FOX launched "New Girl" as a great way to get the word out there since it was put out there everywhere. And it helped, he said, that the product was good.
1:40 PM - Billy asks if there is more harmony between TV and the internet? Joel says of their post-"Walking Dead" show, "The Talking Dead" as a way to get a piece of the social media pie. "You watch this social media monster suck all the energy from your show into platforms that you aren't monetizing and you have to respond to that," he says. Michael talks about how his social media group has created a family timeline to go with the summer launch of "Dallas." He said it had 500,000 "likes" after only a few days and says "you want to harness that kind of interest to your platform."
1:43 PM - What are the social media tools that works well? Facebook and Twitter are mentioned the most by everyone and Michael says "it takes the notion of direct marketing and applies it to television." David adds that when the talent gets on there it only enhances the engagement. (Tweet, Snooki, tweet!)
1:45 PM - Billy wants to know what shows on their competitors networks are they loving. Kate and Joel both love "Boss." Carmi is a big "Mad Men" fan. Michael admits to an addiction to "Jersey Shore" and vows to watch all the spin-offs. He also thinks "The Walking Dead" is a great show.
1:48 PM - Of the overt sexuality in the Starz hit, "Spartacus," Carmi says, "Just come by my office, it's like a Mapplethorpe trial." Of the show's nudity and sexual presence, he adds, "Sexuality is part of the human experience and it's okay to include in our programming."
1:50 PM - What's not working for them in their day-to-day business, asks Billy? Michael says since they're looking for an artist with a strong point of view what doesn't work is when someone doesn't want to write to your audience. Kate says the more knowledgeable about your brand the better and the more you write to what people expect from the brand, the better of a success it is.
1:55 PM - How hard is it for a younger, unknown producer to come in and get your attention? Michael says you always worry about the show you might be missing because "the big fish" is in your office. He hopes someone in his team alerts him to that unique voice if he doesn't hear it. Carmi feels that "ideas are important but execution is really what counts" while David says MTV tends to do a lot of development with really young writers who haven't done it before but they have tapped into a voice that's really connected to the young culture.
1:56 PM - So, in wrapping up the panel, how does everyone feel about the state of cable TV? Kate says, "It's such an exciting place to be." Michael agrees and states "I think I have the greatest job in the world." Joel says, "Cable seems to be the home to some pretty amazing stuff.... but there's also some kind of energy in the entire business to build models to keep the best stuff out there."
1:58 PM - That's a wrap from today's HRTS Cable Programming Summit!
For more information on HRTS, visit its website. The next event will be on April 26 with the annual "Unscripted Hitmakers" panel.