Turner wins cable's summer ratings race, lets programming architect Wright walk away

The management turmoil at Turner Networks continues, with longtime programming architect Michael Wright set to leave the top cable programming conglomerate over the coming weeks.

The news isn't a complete head-scratcher, given the recent departures of a number of top Turner executives, including Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin and longtime Turner chief executive Phil Kent. It was also just revealed that Turner will offer buyouts to around 600 senior staff members as part of the restructuring under new CEO John Martin. The cuts represent about 6 percent of the company's workforce.

Then again, with The Last Ship, Major Crimes and Rizzoli & Isles--all series gestated under Wright's watch--making Turner's TNT flagship channel the dominant original programming brand over the summer in terms of audience ratings, there is speculation as to why the Time Warner Inc. cable programming conglomerate is letting Wright walk away.

Joining Turner in 2002, Wright is credited with establishing TNT and TBS as original programming forces, launching venerable series including The Closer, Falling Skies and Men of a Certain Age, and luring talk show host Conan O'Brien to cable.

But the Turner audience skews older and Wright's shows didn't generate Emmys, critical acclaim and cultural buzz in the same way that, say, AMC's Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Mad Men have.

The writing was probably on the wall earlier this year, when Time Warner chief executive Jeff Bewkes, in an earnings call with investors, said Turner channels "don't take enough creative risks."

According to Deadline Hollywood, Wright responded by pulling his name out of the running to be Koonin's replacement and asking Turner management to let him out of his contract at the end of the summer. Turner says he'll stay on during at least the initial phases of a replacement search.

For more:
- read this Deadline Hollywood story
- read this Los Angeles Times story

Related links:
Report: Around 500 Turner Networks staffers to receive buyout offers
Comcast cuts full-access on demand deal with Turner
Turner to sell ads on Boomerang, expand Adult Swim block on Cartoon Network

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