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Plug is pulled on TBS telepics

NEW YORK -- TBS Superstation is getting out of the original movie business, dismissing the division's top executives.

The exit is an early indication of how the top-rated cable network's brand is being repositioned under Steve Koonin, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Turner Entertainment Group, who was the architect behind turning TNT into a destination for dramas. Funding that once went to TBS original movies will be diverted to developing original nonscripted prime-time series.

"We felt we had a better idea about investing our dollars," said Koonin, who added TBS to his responsibilities in April. "We want to become an active player in the light entertainment/reality business while continuing to make award-winning movies at TNT."

Three positions were eliminated to accommodate the shift in resources: Tana Nugent-Jamieson, vice president original programming, movies, and Margie Moreno, director of development, were told sometime last month that they can remain on the payroll through the spring. A third employee, an assistant to Nugent-Jamieson, also was pink-slipped.

Since taking on the position at TBS in 1998, Nugent-Jamieson had shepherded a long list of films that often delivered the highest ratings in basic cable. On Sunday, the shark thriller "Red Water" became the highest-rated movie in the 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54 demographics on basic cable all year, even surpassing ABC, CBS, and the WB by the same measures.

"Water" was one of many action-oriented films TBS aired over the years that may not have been Emmy contenders but were consummate crowd pleasers. "Atomic Twister," which premiered in June 2002, whipped up last year's highest basic cable movie ratings among viewers 18-49.

Despite the great ratings, Koonin believes that TBS must subsist only on programming that reinforces the new brand identity. He likened the decision to drop original movies to TNT's cancellation of its top-rated wrestling showcase "WCW Monday Nitro Live!" in 2001 in order to concentrate strictly on dramatic programming.

"When we took over TNT, I made a hard decision to eliminate that project," Koonin said. "This is no different than wrestling. It's all about making decisions for the sake of the brand."

TNT has since emerged as the highest-rated network on basic cable in primetime in all major demographics, powered by a mix of NBA basketball, "Law & Order" reruns, and movies united under the "We know drama" brand campaign.

In contrast, TBS has long been criticized for being an ill-defined jumble of syndicated sitcoms, Atlanta Braves baseball, and movies that has made it seem like a stepchild that garnered less attention than its sister network.

However, TBS has stayed potent mostly because of its afternoon "Non-Stop Comedy Block," an assemblage of high-powered syndicated sitcoms including "Seinfeld," "Friends," and "Home Improvement" that has dramatically lowered the median age of its viewership. To complement its core strength, Koonin wants to add new series in the vein of "Punk'd" or "Survivor," which can attract a like-minded young viewership.

"TBS has a lot of comedies that do extremely well," Koonin said. "We believe light entertainment/

reality is more compatible than movies."

On Boston.com

9 a.m.: Op-Ed columnist Derrick Z. Jackson chats about the week's hot issues.

Globe on NECN

Here's what's happening on "Around the Globe" today on NECN:

* 12:30 p.m.: "Globe at Home"

* 4 p.m.: "Around the Globe"

* 6:30 p.m.: "New England Business Day"

* 8 p.m.: "NewsNight" Schedule is subject to change.

Talk of the dial

6 a.m. WBIX-AM (1060) -- "Boston Business Journal." Guest: Pierr Johnson of John Hancock Funds discusses overall trend of the tech market.

2 p.m. WSRO-AM (650) -- "The Frankie Boyer Show." Guests: Dr. Rich Delaney; Dr. Leonard Shlain, author of "Sex, Time & Power," discusses what women want.

7 p.m. WBZ-AM (1030) -- Guest: Peter Huber, author of "Hard Green: Saving the Environment From the Environmentalists."

Other radio highlights

8 a.m. WGBH-FM (89.7) -- "Classics in the Morning." Franck's Symphonic Variations; R. Strauss's Ein Heldenleben; Piston's Symphony No. 4; Schumann's Fantasy in C; Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini.

Noon WUMB-FM (91.9) -- "Live at Noon." Guest: Al Rose, singer-songwriter.

8:30 p.m. WCRB-FM (102.5) -- "Boston Symphony Live from Tanglewood." Sir Neville Marriner conducts an all-Mendelssohn concert: Piano Concerto No. 1 with pianist Lang Lang; "Midsummer Night's Dream" music.

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