Fall 2021 TV Survey: 18 Network Chiefs on the Shows They’d Steal and How the Biz Should Change

The 2021-2022 TV season officially kicked off Monday, with a new season of “Dancing with the Stars” on ABC, the return of comedies, “NCIS” and the new “NCIS Hawai’i” on CBS, NBC’s new season of “The Voice” and the premiere of drama “Ordinary Joe,” and Fox’s new season bow of “9-1-1” and the launch of freshman drama “The Big Leap.”

Of all those shows, just one made it to a 1.0 rating with adults 18-49: “The Voice.” NBC won the night with a 0.9 rating. But of course, this isn’t news anymore, the massive live+same day ratings erosion has been years in the making, as audience habits change and more competitors flood the marketplace, all competing for viewer eyeballs. “Fall TV” isn’t the end-all, be-all of the television business that it once was, but nonetheless, it’s still a good time as a natural signpost to take the industry temperature.

Normally, the press gets to do that during the Television Critics Association summer press tour— but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the TCA tour has gone online. And few networks have included executive sessions, once a TCA staple, as a part of those virtual sessions. But Variety contacted several outlets to nonetheless bring back its annual network exec survey, asking the traditional questions like “what show do you covet from another network?” (credit to the once-standard HRTS network presidents lunch for that one), as well as the new show they hope we check out and a few other fun questions in the mix.

We also asked the execs to share the thing they’d most like to change about the business, and that’s where our brief mention above about the ratings comes in. Measurement is changing, and execs remain frustrated that the business isn’t keeping pace. NBCUniversal’s Frances Berwick, for example, would like to change the “commercial monetization that is limited to consumption by 18-to-54-year-olds.” CBS’ Kelly Kahl is encouraged to see the industry “beginning to move away from such narrow demo targeting in terms of sales.”

Adds TBS/TNT/TruTV’s Brett Weitz: “The internet and subscription models have changed the way people discover and stick with brands – we need to be making television that is targeting and loved by a wider swath of age groups than has been historically dictated by outdated advertising perceptions.” And ABC and Hulu’s Craig Erwich would like to see us “stop talking about the demise of broadcast television. There is a ton of opportunity for creators.”

Here’s this year’s Variety Network Presidents Fall TV survey, answered by execs from Netflix, ABC/Hulu, NBC, CBS, Fox, The CW, HBO/HBO Max, Showtime, FX, AMC, A+E, Discovery, Freeform, Paramount Plus, Epix and TBS/TNT/TruTV.

Bela Bajaria, Netflix VP/global head of TV

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “Colin in Black and White”
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? My Instant Pot is still in the box, but I’ve been boxing, going hiking and doing yoga.
What show would you like to steal from a rival? “Succession” or “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
Best perk of the job? A smart, fun, hard-working team I love working with every day. Also, when we were in the office, the hot lunch was pretty great.
What reality show would you excel at? “Indian Matchmaking”
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? Categorizing things as “international’ or “foreign language” – those are only if you’re in the US.

Frances Berwick, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming Entertainment Networks chairman

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “Ordinary Joe” (NBC) and “America’s Big Deal” (USA)
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? Wine tasting
What show would you like to steal from a rival? “The White Lotus”
Best perk of the job? Watching a lot of excellent content
What reality show would you excel at? “Below Deck” – being a primary
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? Commercial monetization that is limited to consumption by 18 to 54 year olds.

Casey Bloys, HBO and HBO Max chief content officer

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “The Sex Lives of College Girls” from Mindy Kaling, coming this fall to HBO Max.
What show would you like to steal from a rival? “Derry Girls”

Paul Buccieri, A+E Networks Group president/chairman

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? It’s hard to pick just one… we have a Lincoln documentary executive produced by Doris Kearns Goodwin that is for the History Channel and a truly compelling and up-close documentary on Janet Jackson that will air on A&E and Lifetime, as well as History’s “Greatest Mysteries with Laurence Fishburne.”
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? I’ve always enjoyed taking long nature walks, but we did recently get a dog, so walking with her helps me reset and recharge.
What show would you like to steal from a rival? I love the uplifting and inspiring “Ted Lasso” (I even liked season two) although it’s not a fit for us. ESPN’s “30 for 30” is a smart format with fantastic storytelling.
Best perk of the job? I am always humbled and inspired whenever we have the opportunity to make a positive impact through our programming and social responsibility initiatives.
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? I try not to focus on things out of my control; rather I like to look at things, like challenge and change, as opportunities to stretch and grow.

Nancy Daniels, Discovery Inc.’s Discovery & Factual chief brand officer

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “Naked & Afraid of Love”
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? Yoga and meditation — calm anxiety
What show would you like to steal from a rival? “Survivor”
Best perk of the job? I get to work in television.
What reality show would you excel at? None— I am meant to be behind the scenes.
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? Metrics of success.

Tara Duncan, Freeform president

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “Single Drunk Female”
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? Scrolling through real estate on Redfin
What show would you like to steal from a rival? “I May Destroy You”
Best perk of the job? A stable income.
What reality show would you excel at? “Love is Blind”
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? More time to be inspired and intentional.

Craig Erwich, Hulu Originals and ABC Entertainment president

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “Abbot Elementary.” World, get ready to meet Quinta Brunson.
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? I did a ton of reading and research to learn about wine and all I still know is that I like red.
What show would you like to steal from a rival? “This Is Us,” the show is still at the top of its game.
Best perk of the job? Well, I’ve never even seen my office at ABC so it would have to be early screeners of “The Bachelor.”
What reality show would you excel at? “Big Brother” (no floaters)
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? Stop talking about the demise of broadcast television. There is a ton of opportunity for creators.

Peter Friedlander, Netflix head of U.S. and Canada scripted series

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “Cowboy Bebop”
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? Learning very basic Japanese with my team.
What show would you like to steal from a rival? “The White Lotus.” I’d like that wallpaper too.
Best perk of the job? Working with brilliant colleagues and talent from all over the globe. Can’t wait to start traveling again to be with them all in person.
What reality show would you excel at? “Best Leftovers Ever!”
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? Calling it “the business.”

Tanya Giles, ViacomCBS Streaming chief programming officer

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “Mayor of Kingston”
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? Crossword Puzzles.
Best perk of the job? Working across a variety of content and genres.
What reality show would you excel at? My dream job is to be a judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? No comment!

Kelly Kahl, CBS Entertainment president

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “Ghosts.” It’s smart, funny, and there’s nothing else like it on TV.
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? Not sure it’s a hobby, but have been able to actually read books vs listening to them in the car.
What show would you like to steal from a rival? It’s probably cheating, but “Billions” has an amazing cast.
Best perk of the job? We make TV shows. It’s all a perk.
What reality show would you excel at? I’m certainly not “Tough as Nails,” but I’ve been here a long time and haven’t been voted off the island yet, so I’ll go with “Survivor.”
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? We’re beginning to move away from such narrow demo targeting in terms of sales and I think that’s a really positive development.

Dan McDermott, AMC original programming president

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “Ultra City Smiths” is a unique, wildly entertaining and expertly crafted series created and run by the brilliant Steve Conrad (“Patriot”). Give it a watch, you’ve never seen anything like it. Baby doll crime drama!
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? I love to read, and the pandemic allowed me more time for that.
What show would you like to steal from a rival? “The Mandalorian.” And, as long as we’re in the realm of wishing, can I steal the entire Star Wars universe?
Best perk of the job? Engaging with my colleagues across AMC Networks, as well as the artists and craftspeople who make our shows. They are some of the best storytellers in the world, and it’s more than a perk, it’s a gift. Amazing to be here, for the rich history and particularly this moment.
What reality show would you excel at? “Top Gear.” I like cars, driving, and traveling the world.
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? 48-hour days, so everyone would actually have the time to watch and fully appreciate all the great content that is being made right now.

Mark Pedowitz, The CW chairman and CEO

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “All American: Homecoming”
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? Cooking.
What show would you like to steal from a rival? “Doom Patrol”
Best perk of the job? People seem interested in what I have to say.
What reality show would you excel at? “Legends of the Hidden Temple”

Susan Rovner, NBCUniversal Television & Streaming entertainment content chairman

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “LaBrea”
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? Walking with my husband and dogs.
What show would you like to steal from a rival? The entire Marvel universe.
Best perk of the job? Discounts at the Universal Studios theme parks.
What reality show would you excel at? I would be an exceptional charter guest on “Below Deck.”
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? I want TV to bring us together again. Everyone having their own screen can have its merits, but I really miss the idea of the whole family gathering around and having a shared experience around a great show. And it’s on the top of my list to crack that!

Eric Schrier, FX Entertainment president

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “Reservation Dogs”
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? Power washing.
What show would you like to steal from a rival? “The White Lotus”
Best perk of the job? Hulu VIP account
What reality show would you excel at? “The Amazing Race”

Michael Thorn, Fox Entertainment president

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “Big Leap” and “Our Kind of People”
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? I make the best Negroni on the West Coast now.
What show would you like to steal from a rival? “South Park”
Best perk of the job? My colleagues
What reality show would you excel at? “Survivor”
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? One day a week free of emails and zooms.

Brett Weitz, TBS/TNT/TruTV general manager

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “AEW Rampage” – The second series from AEW on TNT, Rampage has just been killing it in the ratings. We knew when Tony Khan and All Elite Wrestling came to us just over two years ago with the mantra of “a show by wrestlers for wrestling fans” that they had something special, but none of us knew how deeply the fans would respond and crave more programming. To that end, I would also say, “don’t sleep on Rhodes to the Top” – a new unscripted series for TNT featuring top AEW talent Brandi and Cody Rhodes outside of the ring. Soo, I guess no sleep for you all?
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? Tequila. But in all seriousness, my family spent much of quarantine in Vancouver and there I developed an even deeper appreciation for nature and observing wild animals in their element, from a safe distance, while drinking tequila on my porch.
What show would you like to steal from a rival? I know “American Ninja Warrior” would fit right in with our originals such as “Snowpiercer” and “Animal Kingdom,” our incredible Big Ticket Movies, our best-in-class sports, and TNT’s overall philosophy of “always being there for a thrill ride.” Plus, ninjas are awesome.
Best perk of the job? I have the incredible privilege and pleasure to help my teams create shows and entertainment that provide laughs, thrills, connection, and an overall good time for hundreds of millions of people. Also, I get to fill out Variety surveys on the reg.
What reality show would you excel at? “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives.” I am a HUGE fan of the show, and I would crush it at eating great food and thanking the people who made it for me.
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? Over-valuing the younger demographic. The internet and subscription models have changed the way people discover and stick with brands – we need to be making television that is targeting and loved by a wider swath of age groups than has been historically dictated by outdated advertising perceptions.

Jana Winograde, Showtime Entertainment president

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? “Yellow Jackets.” This show’s originality and multi-generational appeal, not to mention its pure entertainment value, is sure to become part of the zeitgeist.
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? Organizing. I am very proud of my pantry!
What show would you like to steal from a rival? “Succession”
Best perk of the job? Having the opportunity to sit in rooms with the best creative minds and hear how they think. Seeing Sasha Baron Cohen, a true artistic genius, pitch a movie was one of the highlights of my career!!
What reality show would you excel at? HGTV’s “Design Star”
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? Talent in overall deals with platforms instead of studios. It blocks access to great talent and can limit artists’ ability to tell all of the stories they want to tell to the right audience.

Michael Wright, Epix president

What’s your new show that we shouldn’t sleep on? We’re currently halfway through the shoot of “Billy the Kid,” and it’s incredibly exciting to watch this one continue to come to life. From Michael Hirst’s smart and relevant script, to the incredibly detailed production Donald Deline has put together, to Otto Bathhurt’s inspired direction, to Thom Blythe’s breakout performance … I believe they might be making something very special.
What hobby did you pick up during the pandemic? Does eating junk food count as a hobby? I didn’t pick up a new hobby, but I did find more time to rehearse with my band – and we were just starting to get booked more frequently as the Covid restrictions were easing, so, hopefully that continues when we eventually re-emerge from our captivity!
What show would you like to steal from a rival? No question, “Succession.” Everything about that show is brilliant and enviable – it’s so expertly crafted, so relevant, and such a joy to watch – I think our audience would love it.
Best perk of the job? Working with gifted storytellers. I know it sounds hopelessly earnest, whatever, I love working with the people who tell the magical stories that touch us.
What reality show would you excel at? “The Voice.” Sign me up. I think I could turn a chair or two. Yeah, I said it. Lol.
If you could change one thing about the business, what would it be? I would dial down the cynicism and skepticism, and dial up the tolerance and empathy. Not every problem is a nail, and not every solution requires a hammer.

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