Showtime Chief on 'Twin Peaks' Plans, 'Homeland' Backlash and Free Speech

“Our shows get noticed,” David Nevins said of Showtime's differentiator
Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP.
David Nevins

David Nevins was trotted out before the press with plenty to tout.

Fresh off a big night at the Golden Globes, where The Affair was crowned TV’s best drama, the Showtime Networks president kicked off his Television Critics Association panel Monday with a mix of announcements — a renewal for Shameless, a pickup for Happyish — and network plugs. The latter included one for the “breadth and depth” of Showtime’s programming slate, which he noted features nine tentpole series, all of them awards contenders.

Though there are rival shows like Amazon’s Transparent that he wishes were his, Nevins said from the stage that Showtime is at a point where he has no trouble attracting projects or talent to the network. “I like the hand we’re playing,” he said of the premium network’s positioning in an increasingly competitive landscape. Among his selling points: “Our shows get noticed,” he added of Showtime's fare, pointing to Globe winner The Affair as the latest example, before adding: “Our actors get noticed.”

Read More Showtime Renews Shameless, Orders 'Happyish' to Series

Here are the highlights from Nevins’ half-hour before the press:

Enough About Anthology Series

Turns out Nevins is just as tired of all of the anthology series hype, or “moral superiority” as he characterized it, as we are. It’s not that he won’t touch the limited space — he’s rebooting Twin Peaks for a close-ended nine episodes, after all — but the bulk of his resources will be focused on ongoing series, which is what he argues viewers want. “They want to make bonds with characters and they want to follow them over time,” he said, making clear during a follow-up that he wasn’t trying to knock the current batch of anthology series, which includes HBO’s True Detective and FX’s Fargo. The riff came as part of a question about format of The Affair, which he confirmed would return for a second season focused on the same two couples as it did in the show's first season.

“A Bad Time for Free Speech”

“It’s a bit of a scary time to be a maker of controversial, political boundary-breaking shows, so I watch it really carefully,” he said when asked about the recent flak Homeland received from Pakistani officials for such things as the series’ portrayal of the Southwest Asian nation as a friend to terrorist groups. “It’s been a bad month for free speech around the world," Nevins continued, "[but] I thought the Pakistani embassy handled it the way you’re supposed to handle it. They made a statement through the press that represented their side. That’s how the game is supposed to be played, so in a lot of ways I really respect how they handled it.” In his comments on the topic of controversial material, Nevins felt it important to add that he intends for Homeland, along with his other shows that tread into similarly charged areas, to continue pushing boundaries.

Speaking of Homeland

The Showtime honcho got some laughs early in his presentation when he was willing to overlook past criticism and welcome critics back to Homeland, which underwent a creative reboot this past season that drew raves. “No hard feelings,” he joked of the digs many in the Pasadena ballroom had taken at the series only a year earlier. But when it comes to the fourth season's finale episode, which some, including THR’s chief TV critic Tim Goodman, felt fell short, Nevins wasn’t quite as understanding. In fact, he said he “loved” how Alex Gansa’s team wrapped up the show’s season, arguing that it felt critical for the show to bring Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) back to Washington to deal with the issues of motherhood.

About That Twin Peaks Reboot

Nevins is the first to acknowledge that he was the one “begging” David Lynch and Mark Frost for a Twin Peaks reboot, not the other way around. And the only way to do it right was to have Lynch direct all nine episodes, which he signed on to do. The Showtime chief shrewdly used the TCA stage to confirm that star Kyle MacLachlan would be returning to the franchise as well. “They’ve been very specific in promising closure…and from what I’ve seen, I think this is going to live up to expectations and then some,” Nevins added to the hype, acknowledging that his role as the network executive in this process is fairly simple: “Writing checks and leaving them alone.”

Comedy Is No Laughing Matter

Getting Happyish right is a huge relief to Nevins who readily admits that it’s been “frustrating” that he hasn’t launched more comedies since he arrived at the network nearly half a decade earlier. Though he willingly praises Transparent, he’s been largely disappointed by the genre’s progress of late: “I don’t think comedy has been breaking ground in the same way drama has been breaking ground, so there’s opportunity there,” he said, noting that Happyish feels like it coule be a potential new way to do cable comedy, which is to say it’s not too niche or too cool.

Move Over, Game of Thrones

Among the other spaces that Nevins is eager to keep dabbling in, particularly given that his boss, Leslie Moonves, has given him more money to push deeper into originals, is genre. As his network has proved with both Dexter and Penny Dreadful, genre fare can play older, broader and more female than many previously assumed. It's not just “young dudes going to Comic-Con," he joked, adding: "I only want to do stuff if it feels like it has adult appeal and it has sophistication and depth... But I'm not going to chase Game of Thrones."