With ‘The Weekly,’ The New York Times Gets Serious About TV

Posted May 9, 2018 12:33 p.m. EDT
Updated May 9, 2018 12:36 p.m. EDT

The New York Times is going Hollywood.

The cable channel FX announced Wednesday that it would be making a new weekly documentary series centered on stories that appear in The Times and the journalists who report them. The show, which will be called “The Weekly,” builds on the success of the podcast “The Daily,” which began last year and generally examines a story a day from the Times newsroom.

FX has given “The Weekly” a 30-week commitment and a Sunday night time slot. The show, at 30 minutes per episode, is expected to debut later this year, possibly in time in for the midterm elections. Hulu has the rights to stream the new series, giving the program a dedicated streaming platform the day after it premieres on cable.

Unlike “The Daily,” which is hosted by Michael Barbaro, the television version will not have a dedicated host, FX said. But in keeping with the podcast’s format, “The Weekly” will follow a reporter or team of journalists as a Times story makes its way toward publication.

For The Times, the FX show signals a turn toward the entertainment world. The company recently made a deal with Netflix to turn a feature from The New York Times Magazine into a documentary series called “The Diagnosis,” with Scott Rudin producing. Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures and Plan B, a production company co-founded by Brad Pitt, have gobbled up the rights to make a movie about how The Times broke the Harvey Weinstein story. Later this month, “The Fourth Estate,” a four-episode series from documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus chronicling the Times newsroom during the first year of the Trump administration, will premiere on Showtime.

Times leaders have been sending signals that this would be the year it would be aggressive in entering the crowded television space.

“We think this could be a way both of directly generating revenue but also again of getting Times journalism in front of new audiences and further building the reputation and the influence of The New York Times,” the Times Co. chief executive Mark Thompson said on a quarterly earnings call last week.

The Times receives most of its revenue from subscriptions and has said in recent years that it is making a concerted effort to get its product in front as many potential subscribers as possible.

In a statement, Meredith Kopit Levien, the chief operating officer of the Times Co., said: “Our ambition with ‘The Weekly’ is to bring the authority and excellence of New York Times journalism to the largest possible television audience. Partnering with FX and Hulu together for distribution represents an entirely new and uniquely powerful way do just that.”

In a memo to the staff, Dean Baquet, executive editor of The Times, and Joseph Kahn, the newspaper’s managing editor, said that the show “represents one of our big bets of the year.”

“With it,” they added, “we expect to reach entirely new audiences, tap new revenue streams and gain entry into new parts of people’s lives beyond the time reserved for reading news — all of which should give our journalism even greater impact.”

The three Times people who worked on developing “The Weekly” and finding distribution partners for it were Sam Dolnick, an assistant managing editor; Jake Silverstein, editor-in-chief of the Times Magazine; and Stephanie Preiss, director of strategy and business development.

The planned series also breaks ground for FX, a cable network known for critically acclaimed scripted shows like “The Americans” and “Atlanta”: It is the network’s first foray into unscripted content in some time. Rivals like Showtime, Netflix and HBO have been making documentary series for years.

FX, like nearly every other cable channel in the streaming and cord-cutting era, has had declining ratings in recent years but is still available in 90 million homes. Hulu announced last week that it now has more than 20 million subscribers.

Partnerships between publications and traditional cable players are nothing new. BuzzFeed has a dedicated studio division and recently made a deal with Netflix to create a new series featuring its reporters following a story. Vice has a daily newscast on HBO, although that series has had trouble breaking through the din. And two cable channels built on journalism-based brands — Viceland and Esquire — premiered in recent years but fizzled.