Showtime Chief Teases 'Homeland's' ISIS Season, Talks TV's 'Stupid Money'

David Nevins also talked about the demise of 'Happyish' and the lack of "great TV" in his stop at the TCAs.
Joe Pugliese
David Nevins

"There may be too much good TV, but there's never enough great TV," declared Showtime president David Nevins during his stop at the Television Critics Association summer press tour Tuesday morning. "We're trying hard to make great TV," he added in reference to FX Networks CEO John Landgraf, who told the same roomful of reporters five days earlier that the glut of "too much TV" would begin to deflate in the next year or two.

Rather than use his TCA platform to bemoan the challenges of TV's proliferation of content, Nevins took issue with both the quality and the strategy that has seen streaming services entering the scripted space with, at times, little in the way of development. "There's a lot of stupid money going in a lot of different directions," he said. "You hear about two-season commitments off of pitches. We're in expansion mode, but we're expanding at the rate that we feel like we can do great, meaningful television."

Nevins, who will assume the role of CEO in January, did agree with Landgraf's assessment that quality brands will weather the transition just fine. "I like our positioning in that game," he said, noting that Showtime and corporate sibling CBS stand to benefit in an unbundled world.

In addition to a series of announcements, including renewal for both Masters of Sex and Ray Donovan, here are the other highlights from Nevins' half-hour before the press:

No end in sight for Homeland

The network's Claire Danes-Many Patinkin spy thriller has taken its brickbats for implausible storylines, with many in the critical community predicting the series' demise at the end of the third season when Brody (Damian Lewis) was finally dispatched. But the show restored some faith with its critically praised (and Emmy-nominated) season four, which featured tighter writing and a new story thread that followed Carrie (Danes) to Kabul where she was CIA station chief. Nevins explained that season five, which kicks off Oct. 4, follows an entirely new story that explores cyberterrorism and privacy in the world of 24-hour surveillance with a ripped-from-the-headlines story that will include ISIS, Edward Snowden and the Charlie Hebdo massacre."[The Homeland team has] shown the ability to have a new, fresh story," he said, adding: "It's a show that's never the same season after season, and those are the kind of shows that can just run. I think there's a lot of life left in Homeland."

All about ownership

In Nevins' tenure at the premium network, he's made owning his programming a priority, as it's long been at competitor HBO. Five years in, Showtime can lay claim to roughly 80 percent of its programming, including Ray Donovan, The Affair and newcomer Billions. Doing so allows him to "monetize the shows around the world," not to mention serve them up to streamers without getting the kind of blowback he's currently dealing with on Fox 21 TV Studios' Homeland. (He downplayed the latter: "I don't think there are really any complications. Homeland will be on our air for many years to come. We're not even at the end of the license period. They want to figure out how to maximize their window of the show, and I want to help them.")

Twin Peaks is a-coming

Nevins brushed off the recent drama surrounding Twin Peaks' will-they-or-won't-they revival, telling the room that he "never had any doubts" that co-creator and director David Lynch would come back on board. "This was a huge priority project for me," he said of the revival, which comes 25 years after the original. "It became clear it was going to take more than nine episodes, which was the originally budgeted length of the series." At this stage, Nevins isn't clear how many episodes they'll have — though he expects there will be more than nine. Similarly unclear at this stage is when the series will be ready to air, though he said he was hopeful that it could still be in 2016: "I want it as badly and as soon as the biggest fans want it." Asked later about the notes process, Nevins cracked a smile: "I would call them conversations, not notes," he said. "But ultimately [Lynch] has creative control."

Speaking of revivals

Turns out Nevins isn't all that interested in jumping on the reboot bandwagon that increasingly is carrying many of his competitors. Asked if he'd considered breathing new life into any other former Showtime series, he said Dexter is the only one that he'd be interested in. (Yes, he's been talking about a Dexter spinoff for a while.) Whether it happens or not will come down to "timing" and "willingness," he said, adding: "In general, I'm about creating the next new thing."

Comedy is no laughing matter

Though Nevins noted (twice) that his network can claim three of the six lead comedy actor Emmy nominees, he acknowledged that the genre has been tough to crack. In attempting to explain why that may be, he suggested that networks like Showtime may be incentivized to produce more dramas because they travel better around the world. To that end, he noted that there hasn't been a network-defining comedy produced in years. Of course, his recently canceled half-hour Happyish, which originally starred Philip Seymour Hoffman before his passing, was supposed to be that for Showtime. "But there was something about that show that was hard to take," Nevins said, admitting that the series simply didn't connect. Still, he added, "It's a risk I would take again," and praised first-time showrunner Shalom Auslander, with whom he'd be eager to work again.

Doubling down on docs

For years, Nevins has used the TCA stage to highlight Showtime's diverse slate, which includes a growing batch of ambitious documentaries. This year, the latter includes projects that examine such cultural icons as Jimi Hendrix, Suge Knight, Barney Frank and New York Giants star wide receiver Victor Cruz. More impressive, three of Showtime's films will have theatrical releases: the Marlon Brando film Listen to Me Marlon; Amy Berg's Prophet's Prey, about former fundamentalist Mormon sect leader Warren Jeffs; and Dreamcatcher, about a former prostitute helping women leave the sex trade. And now he wants attention from the Oscar community, which rival HBO has enjoyed with its collection over the years. Nevins suggested the current golden age of documentary film can probably be attributed to the cinematic approach to the form. Though he didn't offer any metrics, he noted that Showtime's docs do very well on its streaming platforms. Similarly advantageous is how many of the films, including the long-awaited Knight film and Spymasters, have the potential to generate news. "We're clearly building up," he told the room. "We've never had a lineup like we have this fall."

comments powered by Disqus