Showtime Chief "Dying" for More Sacha Baron Cohen, Sees Big Market for 'Halo'

"He's the Daniel Day-Lewis of comedy," David Nevins said of the 'Who Is America?' creator.
Patrick Ecclesine/SHOWTIME
David Nevins

Showtime Networks president and CEO David Nevins' meeting on Monday with reporters broke a weeks-long silence his premium network has kept since the surprise drop of its somewhat controversial series from comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Nevins was not ready to commit to say there will be a second season of Who Is America?, but he made it abundantly clear that that is what he wants.

"I'm dying to bring it back," he said at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour. "It will be a process. I don't know that I'll be making any announcements [soon], but [Cohen] had me at 'hello.'"

The series, which finds Cohen taking on multiple identities to get politicos of varying legitimacy and views to admit to absurd things on camera, has been a fixture in the news since the pay cabler announced that it had been making the series only days ahead of its premiere.

"[The controversy] has been helpful," added Nevins. "Everything we did about it was unconventional. We kept secret a show that was in process for more than a year. We kept quiet until a week before it was on the air. He has a remarkable ability to make noise. I think it's remarkable what he's achieved ... and I think Sacha is one of the great comedians of our time. He's the Daniel Day-Lewis of comedy."

What Nevins wouldn't say is what he thought the series' answer might be to its titular rhetorical question. "I don't know what he's saying about America," said Nevins. "Clearly we're in a time of extremes. There's no question about that."

Who Is America? is one in a growing number of Showtime series, a reflection of both its increase in scale and clout. Recent months have seen the network commit to its first weekly talk show with podcast breakouts Desus and Mero, a sure-to-be pricey adaptation of video game franchise Halo and, as of Monday, a potential miniseries vehicle for Wonder Woman's Gal Gadot.

Nevins, joined after some opening remarks by Showtime programming president Gary Levine, said that this push for more content is not one that will put it in the realm of Netflix or, perhaps, the future HBO.

"There are a lot of people chasing tonnage," Nevins cautioned. "We are chasing distinctiveness."

In terms of individual programs, Nevins seemed particularly excited by Halo. Both he and Levine seemed to scoff at labeling it as their Game of Thrones. Instead, he thinks the show will be better positioned as Showtime's answer to the kinds of space operas that drive big box-office numbers.

"It's weird that TV hasn't turned up those kinds of franchises," said Nevins. "I've seen scripts. I think it's a very different genre. It's futuristic, space-based science-fiction. It's not fantasy."

Showtime used Monday to finally confirm that Homeland will be ending, but that's all of the "final season" news it had to deliver. Levine said the door is wide open for more of Shameless, heading into its ninth season, as it is for Ray Donovan. As for one of its less commercially successful properties, I'm Dying Up Here, a decision on a future beyond the recently concluded second season has yet to be made.

Monday's Q&A also marked Nevins' first public appearance since parent CBS Corp. began its investigation into sexual misconduct accusations against CEO Leslie Moonves. Unlike at CBS' presentation the day before, Nevins was not grilled on Moonves matters, but he did get out ahead of any potential question during his opening remarks.

"When it comes to questions about the culture of where we work, I care very deeply," said the exec. "Who we are, what we do and what we stand for in our daily operation really matters. We have a great deal of pride in the culture we've built at Showtime. There's nothing more important than having a strong, safe inclusive environment. It's essential to the core of our business, especially one that so heavily relies on creativity."