Kevin Kay Outlines Paramount Network Launch Plans, Sets First Slate

The soon-to-be-former Spike TV has also renewed 'Lip Sync Battle' for a fourth season as the executive talks with THR about his long-term plans for TV Land and CMT as well as how vertically aligned his new network will be.
Courtesy of Paramount Network
Kevin Kay

Paramount Network is beginning to take shape.

President Kevin Kay has revealed the first-quarter slate for Spike TV-turned-Paramount Network and it's a mixture of scripted imports from TV Land as well as returning favorites, including the newly announced fourth season of Lip Sync Battle. The executive, who recently added oversight of fellow Viacom cablers TV Land and CMT, talks with The Hollywood Reporter about his long-term plans for Paramount Network (six scripted shows in 2018), the future for the non-core networks as well as how he and Viacom CEO Bob Bakish landed on Spike to rebrand.  

As THR previously reported, TV Land's Heathers anthology as well as Alicia Silverstone comedy American Woman will move to Paramount Network. They will launch in the first quarter of 2018 and be joined by Taylor Kitsch-Michael Shannon miniseries Waco; documentary I Am Martin Luther King Jr.; and returning Spike series Lip Sync Battle, Ink Master, Bar Rescue and Bellator MMA matches. (Lip Sync Battle will return for 18 episodes, with the first set to air live from the Paramount lot in Hollywood. Season three bows April 20 on Spike.)  

"Our mission is to establish Paramount Network as a prime destination for premium storytelling," says Kay. "From Alicia Silverstone as a trailblazing independent working mother in the 1970s to Michael Shannon as an FBI negotiator during the Branch Davidians dramatic standoff and siege, Paramount Network will be the home to compelling stories, unforgettable characters, and high quality production with a distinctive global appeal." 

The Q1 slate marks the first official outline of how Kay plans to program Paramount Network, which will launch in January with a slate of programming from various Viacom-owned networks. Heathers and American Woman are the latest series to jump networks as Viacom begins to shuffle the deck chairs across all of its brands under new CEO Bob Bakish. The exec outlined his plan to rejuvenate the media conglomerate by focusing on six key networks: MTV, Comedy Central, BET, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Paramount Network. To that end, first-run episodes of Ru Paul's Drag Race recently moved from Viacom's LGBT-focused Logo to VH1, where it delivered a series ratings high.

Below, Kay talks with THR about how many other Viacom shows will jump networks, the status of Spike's remaining lineup and what his plans are for how to develop and further program Paramount Network.

Younger generations may not remember the original Paramount Network. Why go with that and how do you improve awareness?

One of the first things we did when we made decision was go out and talk to people about what Paramount means to them. I was surprised that younger people actually know the Paramount name stands for great movies, originality, gravity — it has some weight to it; cinematic production and quality. I couldn't ask for more as a name. There is nothing negative in the consumer's mind about the Paramount name. Older people know The Godfather; some remember the Sherry Lansing years. Younger people know Transformers and Mission: Impossible. Those are the franchises they identify with the Paramount name. I think it has a tremendous amount of value and sets a really high bar about premium in the consumer's mind, and it's up to us not to screw that up.

How did you land on Spike to rebrand among all the Viacom nets?

There was a discussion early on about if we should start a Paramount Movie Network, because a lot of studios have their own smaller cable networks where they run just movies. But when Bob Bakish got here, he really wanted to think bigger. He took a look across the landscape and he and I had a conversation and we discussed flipping Spike to Paramount and making it a much broader-based premium entertainment play. We've done a good job of getting Spike, which was known as a network for men, to a much broader identity. We pushed general entertainment and we brought a lot of women to the channel through Ink Master, Lip Sync Battle and Bar Rescue. But the one thing that stands in the way of us getting to the finish line of a broader, premium entertainment network is the name Spike. We did some research in our latest brand tracker with the audience and 50 percent of women still identify Spike as the network for men. So no matter how hard we were going to work and no matter what we put on the air, we were still leaving women out of the equation just by the name of Spike. The other part of the thinking is that Spike has very deep HD penetration and some of the other networks that were under consideration were not as deeply distributed with HD. Our affiliate agreements also allowed for a rebrand, so there wasn't going to be any resistance from any of our partners — they loved the idea.

As you look beyond Q1, how many other shows from different Viacom networks do you plan to move to the Paramount Network?

Keith Cox developed both American Woman and Heathers and came over to Paramount and we mined deep on his stuff. One of the other things he was developing at TV Land — and even better for us — is a piece of Paramount IP for First Wives Club. They made a pilot, it wasn't perfect, but we all love that idea and are going to redevelop it. That could potentially be on Paramount Network as one of the next things we look at. There's a big idea there. It was such a great film and great opportunity to reinvent it. We'll look at everything. Heathers and American Woman — these are things that feel premium to me, and this is where we want this network to go.

Will First Wives Club be recast?

Keith has a big idea about recasting that is a genius idea. We're not that close. It's something we've talked about for the last two to three weeks about how we can reinvent it in a different way than what they did in the pilot. We have some work to do.

Do you see something like BET's Real Husbands of Hollywood or TV Land's Younger moving? How much more do you envision taking programming from the non-core brands?

It'll be case by case. We're not moving Younger anytime. Younger is a staple of TV Land. What we are thinking about is Darren Star has another project in development here and we're not really sure where that lands. Once we know more about it, we'll make a decision about whether that is a TV Land show or a Paramount show.

It's like what FX does — when they develop, it's for FX and once they pick it up, then they decide where it goes — the flagship network or younger-skewing FXX.

That's fair to say. We'll look at the things we develop for Paramount Network and then decide if it's Paramount Network or if it fits better somewhere else. That goes across all the brands.

What's the status of other Spike TV shows — like, namely, scripted drama The Mist?

The Mist premieres June 22 on Spike. We're going to see how the first season does. We're really happy with it; there's a big campaign that you'll start to see soon for it. If it does well, and we believe it will, the second season would be on the Paramount Network.

What about Craig Robinson's Caraoke Showdown and Adam Carolla's That Awkward Game Show? Has anything been canceled or is it a wait-and-see based on programming needs?

It's a wait-and-see. It's more what do we need right now. Caraoke just finished and we'll take a deep dive into the ratings. Awkward Game Show is not coming back. It was a good try but the audience did not agree with me. The three shows coming over — Lip Sync Battle, Ink Master and Bar Rescue — feel very premium. We need a companion for Lip Sync that we are actively developing. That can be a night of programming for us if we can find the right thing to go with that. We're picking up 18 more episodes for next season and we are going to do a live show to launch on the Paramount lot with hopefully the casts of some of these shows that are going to be on in the first quarter. It's a big welcome party and will be an hour long.

Walk us through the decision to move Heathers and American Woman to Paramount Network. TV Land's Keith Cox, who recently added oversight of Paramount Network, developed both shows. Doesn't that gut TV Land, which has been gaining traction?

Not at all. Keith and I have talked about this. Keith and [senior vp development] Brad Gardner are still developing for TV Land. Their head is still in the game. What changes is, in the past, TV Land was launching six or eight shows at a time. There was a 10 p.m. show and a 10:30 p.m. show and all the marketing went to the 10 p.m. show. A show like Younger got a tremendous campaign. But the 10:30 show that followed it didn't get anything. And that happened in every case. Teachers, a 10 p.m. show, is doing well with a good marketing campaign, but the 10:30 shows, they never felt like they moved the needle because they didn't have the resources to market those shows properly. Our vision for TV Land is we will launch a new show every quarter at 10 p.m., with considerable marketing behind it so that the shows can be successful. The audience needs an original once a quarter, whether that is Teachers coming back or a new season of Younger or a new show followed by another new show; it's four shows a year adequately and properly supported so they have the strength of getting an audience and finding an audience and having an audience find them so they can be hits and continue like Younger and Teachers will.

TV Land, VH1, Logo and CMT, among others, are not among the six "key networks" that are the main focus of Viacom's rejuvenation. What's their function now? Are they incubators for the big six core brands?

I can speak to TV Land and CMT and Chris McCarthy will tell you the same thing about VH1: These are brands that make money and they have devoted audiences, great distribution and ad sales clients. The only difference between, say, TV Land and CMT and Paramount Network is Paramount Network — by virtue of Spike — has international channels all over the world. When you look at Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, BET, Paramount Network, MTV, they're international businesses. CMT and TV Land are not. The other distinction is the potential for feature films. Paramount Network is going to support and develop with Paramount [the feature film division]. Whether we make prequels or sequels to franchises that are Paramount movies or we develop our own stuff that becomes Paramount features, the same thing goes for Comedy Central and MTV — they're in the movie business with Paramount. CMT, TV Land, VH1 are not necessarily in the feature business. If they can be incubators, great, if it works. But they're really stand-alone businesses. CMT's ratings are up because of Nashville; TV Land is up thanks to Younger and Teachers. These are good businesses. The only distinction is the international and theatrical.

RuPaul's Drag Race moved from Logo to VH1, where it scored a series ratings high. At the same time, there were rumors that MTV and VH1 could merge. Is it fair to expect some contraction or additional mergers among lesser-performing networks in the future? Could you see CMT folding and some of their content — like Nashville — moving to Paramount Network?   

No, I don't think there's any scenario in which CMT goes away. It's a vibrant business with a core audience. … Could Nashville air on the Paramount Network? I don't know. We could use Paramount Network to help promote Nashville on CMT. But what we're trying to do on CMT is build an audience, and Nashville was a watershed moment for them. Are we looking at opportunities to do Bar Rescue country version? Sure. Is there Lip Sync Battle: Country? We did a holiday special last year and it did really well for CMT. Are there opportunities to share the other way as well as them sharing to the Paramount way? Yes. I don't see it going anywhere anytime soon. By the way, Chris McCarthy's decision to move RuPaul? That was a smart move.

How do you protect these non-core brands like CMT and TV Land in a future a la carte world?

There are so many networks that are so much smaller than those networks. Those are the ones who should be more worried! You saw what happened with Esquire. Networks that don't have tremendous distribution, hit shows or devoted fan bases or a clear brand identity and that are being pushed on to consumers — that consumers don't necessarily want — are the ones that are going to be the most challenged and risk not having a future. I don't see CMT or TV Land or VH1 in that way at all. They've got pretty bright futures. We need to keep pumping out must-have TV like Younger, Nashville and the CMT Awards.

Connie Britton just left Nashville. Does that show go another season on CMT?

It's hard to know. You've got a great creative team there that has a lot of ideas how to move the show forward post-Rayna. From a ratings perspective, it's almost impossible to know. There was the Rayna death and funeral, which was more highly rated than her death episode. And then there was only one episode after that. I can't tell you that there's data to support my notion that Nashville should continue, but I believe it should continue. We're trying to figure out how we continue Nashville because the fans want it. If the ratings were to fall off a little bit? Who cares! I feel very bright about the future of Nashville.

MTV, VH1 and Logo now share scripted and unscripted development teams. Is there a plan to additionally consolidate development across Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT?

We're in a good place now. We'll keep running scripted and unscripted at Paramount, TV Land and consolidating those teams. They're working together really well. One vision is always the way to go. [At] CMT, Jayson Dinsmore runs development there and does a great job. It's a different animal given that it's in Nashville and has a different audience than TV Land and Paramount Network. When it's not broke, don't try to fix it. I don’t see any future consolidation among the brands I'm in charge of.

What kind of balance do you expect Paramount Network to have when it comes to scripted and unscripted over, say, a 12-month period?

Right now we have three: American Woman, Heathers and Waco. We'd like to have six on the air in the first year. That might be ambitious, though if First Wives comes around to where we need it to be, that can be a contender. Then we need two more. I'd like to grow that over the next couple of years to eight. That's a big number in this world we live in today, and Viacom seems very willing to support that and help us build to that. The nonscripted, it's volume, volume, volume. You have to fill the schedule. We need the nonscripted to be premium like Lip Sync and Ink Master are. We need some big ideas. Nonscripted right now is more challenging than scripted. There aren't a lot of new ideas out there; there's a dearth of derivative programming out there and audience fatigue on nonscripted. We need more that's different — we just can't sit back and do more of the same.  

Ownership is becoming increasingly more important and many networks are relying almost exclusively on their in-house studios. How much are you committed to buying from Paramount Television on the scripted side?

There's a great library there and they're great partners and we're all one company. We're trying to figure out what we can do to support Paramount and what they can sell to us. It would be foolish to think Paramount TV is not going to sell to other people, too. Obviously we want to be first in those discussions and that's where we are. I do believe there's a way for Paramount Network to support the features that Paramount is making, develop projects that can eventually be featured at Paramount and exploit the Paramount IP to create shows for the Paramount Network. It does not mean we won't buy from other people. There's no way that they have everything we need or we have everything they need. There are lots of places to buy in town and the doors are open. We want to own, there's no question about that. It's important to us to own, but we're not married to it for the right property. We have to be smart and go into the community and get our message out and be a first-choice place for people to come to, make some big bets and take some big risks and spend some real money, which we're already doing, and continue to do that and make a statement that says we're a premium place where you will get marketed. You won't be in a queue on some SVOD platform — you'll be in the conversation from week to week, which is a big selling point for us. 

Paramount Network is billed as the broadest of all the Viacom networks. Will there be repeats of some of the top shows on other core Viacom networks that air on Paramount in a bid to expand the viewership on lesser-watched networks?

That's absolutely on the table. We're looking at all of that. You'll see a lot more sharing between Paramount Network, TV Land, CMT and potentially Chris' networks [VH1, MTV and Logo] and CMT. The Kalief Browder docuseries aired on Spike at 10 p.m. and on BET at 11 p.m. In this new world that Bob has stressed to us about breaking down silos, there's a lot more cooperation between the networks than there used to be and more willingness to help each other. Lip Sync Battle Shorties is going to be on Nickelodeon and we piloted that together and it belongs there. We're doing some Lip Sync Battle specials across the other networks. Yes, will Younger have a place on the Paramount Network and have that audience firmly ensconced? Sure. There's no reason why we wouldn't air repeats there. We've taken TV Land's development, but we don't want to take what's working. But we can help them to grow their audience by putting repeats on some of the other channels.