Showtime Chief David Nevins on 'Homeland' Reset, Netflix and 'Vatican' Troubles

David Nevins - P
The Hollywood Reporter

Showtime's David Nevins was prepared for the deluge of Homeland questions.

The network's entertainment chief used the Television Critics Association winter press tour platform Thursday to address what many critics have called an uneven season for the Claire Danes CIA drama. In fact, before a single reporter was handed a microphone, Nevins thanked the room for "being so invested" in the series, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the passionate tweets he acknowledges he was tracking throughout the season.

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Showrunner Alex Gansa and his writing team have yet to present a detailed plan for the series' fourth season, but Nevins noted that the upcoming season likely will bring the Emmy-winning drama back to its roots. "This is a show that's fundamentally about a field operative, and we haven't seen her much out in the field operating," he noted from onstage, adding that the likely plan for the upcoming season is to have her on the ground in a foreign capital doing her job. Later in the panel, he confirmed that Mandy Patinkin's Saul will be "central" to the fourth-season storyline as well.

Though Nevins continually -- and perhaps strategically -- referred to the series' fourth season as a "reset," he was careful to note that he wasn't put off by the last season in the way critics were – and, for that matter, neither were viewers. Much the opposite: Homeland's third season became Showtime's first original series to reach the 7 million mark, he reminded the room, before suggesting the high-profile drama has played a role in expanding the Showtime subscriber base to some 23 million.

"This season was pretty brilliant in its architecture … I thought it was very clever and very audacious what they set out for," he added of the show's most recent season, which saw Damian Lewis' Nicholas Brody die in the finale, "but we always knew we were headed for a major reset." As he waits to hear more about what that will look like, he revealed that Gansa and his staff would be spending a week in Washington, D.C., hearing more from CIA agents and other people immersed in that world.

In addition to announcing two new series, The Affair and Happyish, Nevins also addressed the demise of The Vatican, a delicate relationship with Netflix and his thoughts on TV's hottest trend. Here are the highlights:

Vatican No More

The overarching theme of the winter press tour has been the merits of pilot season, and Nevins noted that Showtime had never had a one-size-fits-all approach to development -- and he likes it that way. He noted that upcoming horror series Penny Dreadful was ordered straight to series on the strength of creator John Logan's scripts. In fact, he was able to see the first and last script before having to make a decision with regard to moving forward. In another moment of candor, he said he was glad he didn't do the same with now-dead The Vatican, which was to star Kyle Chandler and look at the political machinations of the Catholic Church. As Nevins acknowledged, when Pope Benedict XVI stepped down last year and was replaced by the reformist Pope Francis, the project suddenly lost most of its real-world relevancy. "One of the fundamental issues of The Vatican is the world changed on us," said Nevins. The project, which also endured behind-the-scenes turmoil, was "conceived in a world that I think now would feel very dated. So I'm glad we had not made 13 episodes of that."

About that Miniseries Trend...

Asked about Showtime's interest in the current "it" genre in TV, limited series, Nevins acknowledged that traditional miniseries weren't as appealing to him as he "fundamentally" believes in "renewable resources." Still, he isn't ruling it out, and suggests limited anthology series such as FX's American Horror Story or HBO's Woody Harrelson-Matthew McConaughey drama True Detective, which Showtime lost in a multinetwork bidding war, holds an appeal. In fact, he noted that Homeland could take on anthological aspects next season, explaining how the series would be different next year following the death of Brody. "You're going to see a different kind of story with Claire Danes. I don't know if it's going to be a one-season story or a two-season story," he said, adding: "A lot of the narrative forms are morphing. I still think fundamentally the best thing for us are shows that we can get people really in love with and then bring them back a year from now."

A Strategic Broadening

Nevins has made good on his promise to broaden Showtime. With series like Homeland, Ray Donovan and Masters of Sex, the premium cable network chief noted that he has been very pleased with his results: Masters was up 10 percent over Homeland's first season, and Ray became the network's top-rated freshman season. More promising, he added, is the fact that his newer fare is his highest rated. "These last few years have been good for us," said Nevins, adding that he's eager to add horror drama Penny Dreadful, Philip Seymour Hoffman's personal comedy Happyish and his relationship drama The Affair to the mix in the next year or so. The latter, he noted, will look to counter a premium cable trend to go big in both size and scope by doing one of the things that the television medium can do best: offer an intimate close-up.

The Dance With Netflix

As Nevins reminded the room, Showtime, like its parent company CBS Corporation, has been very protective of content distribution rights. So while SVOD services including Netflix, which has rights to all eight seasons of the recently wrapped Dexter, are important partners, the premium cable network's policy is not to sell streaming rights until current seasons have concluded. "We think stacking rights are really important," he said from stage, noting that every season of his series are available on Showtime Anytime. He added: "We decided about three years ago, if you want our first-run programming, you've got to subscribe to Showtime."