Sheila Nevins Sets Next Act: Launching MTV Documentary Films

The former HBO exec, who departed the premium cable network in 2018 after a 38-year run, will develop new projects for third-party outlets and the Viacom-owned cabler via the MTV Studios division.
Brigitte Lacombe
Sheila Nevins

A year after wrapping her nearly four-decade run at HBO Documentary Films, Sheila Nevins has lined up her (surprising) next act.

The Emmy-winning producer has joined Viacom-owned MTV and will launch MTV Documentary Films, which will be a division of its MTV Studios. In her new role, Nevins will develop documentary films and specials for third-party streaming services, premium networks and MTV platforms. She will oversee the division and look for projects from a new generation of filmmakers that explore the social, political and cultural trends and stories that are important to young people.

"MTV has always been at the forefront of youth culture, and the generation that is growing up now will change the world in ways we can’t even imagine," Nevins, whose projects have earned 28 Oscars and 44 Peabody Awards, said Tuesday in a statement. "I’m excited to join MTV with electrifying stories that explore the crises and commitments that young people face every day."

Nevins will oversee the documentary unit at MTV Studios, the in-house production company that launched in June 2018 with the larger goal of monetizing the cable network's 35 years of library content. MTV Studios, which recently sold a revival of the hit The Real World to Facebook, is also shopping new takes on Daria, Aeon Flux and others from various networks in the Viacom fold. The new MTV Documentary Films is considered a relaunch of the music-themed cabler's MTV News and Docs division that launched two decades ago. That unit was behind the Emmy-winner True Life, the Oscar-nominated Tupac: Resurrection and the Academy Award-winning Hustle & Flow.

"Throughout her stellar career, Sheila has elevated documentaries into one of the most compelling, culturally influentially forms of modern storytelling,” said MTV president Chris McCarthy, who also oversees MTV Studios. "As we grow and expand MTV, we’re excited for Sheila to bring a new generation of filmmakers to the forefront and continue to extend our creativity and cultural impact."

During her 38 years with HBO Documentary Films, Nevins accumulated 34 Emmys and executive produced more than 1,500 series and films, including Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, When the Levees Broke, Paradise Lost, America Undercover and Citizenfour.

The Nevins hiring should be seen as a massive win for MTV and Viacom, which continues to evolve under CEO Bob Bakish. The new gig will allow Nevins to sell to third-party outlets and, in success, help bolster Viacom's bottom line in an era where cable networks including Paramount Network, Nickelodeon, BET, Comedy Central and more are working overtime to change their fortunes in the crowded Peak TV landscape. While launching a studio is typically indicative of creating and owning content for your own platforms, MTV Studios faces similar hurdles to landing shows on outside networks. Fellow indie studios like Warner Bros. TV and Sony TV have faced mounting obstacles as broadcast, cable and streaming platforms alike all look to buy from their own internal studio counterparts.