CTV’s King talks programming at LA Screenings

The Screenings marks Phil King's debut as the face of CTV on studio lots after BCE acquired the Canadian broadcaster.
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Despite a new Canadian primetime calculus following industry consolidation, Phil King is pumped about CTV’s chances at the Los Angeles Screenings this week.

“If we didn’t buy a show, we’d be number one next year again. We are in rock-solid shape,” he told Playback Daily ahead of the Canadians’ annual Hollywood shopping expedition.

Stability is the byword for CTV’s new president of programming and sports.

The Screenings marks King’s debut as the face of CTV on studio lots after BCE acquired the top-rated Canadian broadcaster, sending former toppers Ivan Fecan and Susanne Boyce to the exits.

If King makes headway with the CTV schedule this coming season, he can put a feather or two in his cap.

If CTV loses ground to its rivals, King can shift blame to Boyce and Fecan, who retained aging dramas like ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives and NBC’s Law & Order franchise, including a cancelled Law & Order: LA.

CTV has solid drama performers to fall back on, including The Mentalist and Criminal Minds, along with Chuck Lorre comedies like The Big Bang Theory, Mike & Molly and an Ashton Kutcher-led Two and a Half Men that has King eyeing still more comedies to keep CTV’s schedule stable and successful.

CTV will also continue shifting series that pop on the A channels to its main network to better assemble and schedule a team of rookie, sophomore and perennial hits for audiences and advertisers.

The sports metaphor works for King, a former TSN exec who helped transform TV properties like hockey’s world junior championships and the CFL’s Grey Cup game into national institutions.

Of course, King knows the difference between programming a sports specialty channel and a conventional TV network, where the US networks on which you depend for prime time simulcasts are forever playing checkerboard with their schedules.

“If we’re going to bid on a golf tournament and we’re unsuccessful, we can’t have that golf tournament for four years,” King recalls of his TSN years.

By contrast, options abound in conventional TV.

“If [CTV] didn’t get that show at 9 o’clock, there’s always a plan B, or we can put in a Canadian show. There’s always other moves you can make in conventional TV that you can’t do on a sports channel,” King said.

But the need for a plan C or plan D can also come into play, like last fall when CTV and the As had to share American Idol episodes so CTV could keep Big Bang Theory in its plum Thursday night slot.

With hindsight, the ratings for Idol held up, and Big Bang Theory popped on Thursday nights.

But the programming challenge left CTV programmers with a big headache.

“That’s disruptive, and you hope it doesn’t happen,” King recalls of splitting the Idol telecasts, unlike TSN where a programmer can be certain of an entire season of NHL games on their programming grid from September to April.

There’ll be more high anxiety this coming week before CTV and the other Canadian broadcasters finally do deals for new and returning US shows, likely Wednesday or Thursday, before bringing new buys home to shop to local advertisers at the Canadian Upfront presentations at the end of the month.

King insists CTV doesn’t have many holes to fill, given its solid primetime lineup currently.

But his team won’t be shy about gunning for rookie shows if they sniff a possible hit.

“If we see a great show on Sunday night at 9 o’clock, we’re not frightened going after that show,” he predicted.