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Someone Get Time Warner's Bewkes a Rabbit's Foot

Maybe all Time Warner’s big cable networks need is a little luck.

Jeff Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner, was asked about disappointing ratings at TNT and TBS at Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia conference Thursday. He insisted that the business model for the networks — built mainly on acquired programming — remains sound, but that a break couldn’t hurt once in a while.

TNT relies heavily on off-net dramas that are big hits on broadcast, but by the time they get to cable, they decline gradually over time, which means “you’re always adding new series and having some of them tail off,” he said. And last time, TNT refreshed its schedule it didn’t work so well because the network picked shows that were “like bananas, ripening faster than we thought.”

TNT decided to go with a Warner Bros. show, Without a Trace, which is “doing fine but declining more than we thought,” Bewkes said. There was another show TNT didn’t take. The price was lower. Ratings turned out much higher. And it was snatched up by USA. The series: CBS’s NCIS.

“They were either smart or lucky. I think it was more of the latter,” Bewkes said. “If we had NCIS on TNT, you wouldn’t be asking the question because the ratings would be up 10% from where they are.”