Showtime's David Nevins on 'Happyish,' 'Halo' and Emmy Controversy

"What we do at Showtime is make shows that challenge the boundaries of the medium," he tells the TCA of his programming philosophy. "Any [Emmy] category you do, I'm going to try to defy it."
Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP.
David Nevins

Showtime’s David Nevins appeared before the press Friday with a familiar message of "depth and breadth."

Before fielding questions from reporters gathered for the Television Critics Association’s semi-annual press tour, he touted the premium network’s programming mix of high-quality original series, relevant documentaries and sports fare as well as the commercial impact Showtime is having of late. His new series, from Ray Donovan to Masters of Sex, are performing better than the ones that they replaced, and though Homeland is no longer an Emmy darling it's among the returning series that continue to grow. 

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Here's a look at what was addressed during Nevins' panel, including Shameless' Emmy move, the prospect for Happyish and what's next for Halo -- if anything:

Emmy Murkiness

Like several execs earlier in the week, Nevins was asked to weigh in on the murky Emmy category definitions and the moves being made to game them. It's a topic that he's had to address before since Showtime's slate is heavy on semi-elusive dramedies, including Nurse Jackie (submitted as a comedy) and Shameless (switched this year to comedy, per showrunner John Wells' wishes). "There's an arbitrariness to all of it," he said of the process, suggesting he'd like move on to another genre if the "dramedy" became one that the Academy recognized. He continued with the kind of passion for which he is known: "What we do at Showtime is make shows that challenge the boundaries of the medium. Any category you do, I'm going to try to defy it. That's what we do at Showtime." 

More Tough Topics

Among the things Nevins made clear, he will continue to commission documentaries on social issues that might not get in-depth treatment elsewhere. Earlier this year, Showtime explored the impact of global warming in eight-part the Years of Living Dangerously, a big-budget doc that included the participation of Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron. And last year's Time of Death, a six-part series about palliative care and the end of life, has earned accolades and awards. "That kind of programing, the deep-dive, long, serious look at something, I definitely think it's good programming for us," he said from stage, noting that there are multiple new documentary projects he's considering. "We'll continue to go with depth into a difficult subject that probably are not cut out for broadcast television." 

Next Steps for Halo

Microsoft's Halo is still alive with Showtime, according to Nevins, despite the company's decision to scrap its original scripted studio Xbox Entertainment Studios. The conversations to bring the Steven Spielberg-produced adaptation of the best-selling video game franchise are still under way. "It's their premium property and there's enormous will in the company to do the right thing and find the way to bring it to a new medium in an exciting way," he said. "If we can put all the pieces together, it's still possible," he added, noting that it would require a big financial commitment on Showtime's part and would air on the premium network. Following the session, Nevins said he could envision Halo becoming a key franchise for Showtime in the same vein as fantasy series including HBO's Game of Thrones, Starz's hopeful Outlander and MTV's recently ordered Shannara.

Letting a Series End

One of the luxuries of Nevins' job in premium cable is a lack of ratings pressure to force decisions on an expedited timeline. And because of that freedom, he noted that he's able to let producers and major stars work with him to decide when and how a show should conclude on his network. Those discussions often begin a year or two before the series' signoff, and are as important to those involved in the show as they are to those who watch it. On the topic of series finales, he insisted that, despite rumors, there were no conversations with the producers at any point about killing off Dexter"The only one who wanted his character to die was David Duchovny," he added, referring to the star of since-ended Californication. "He always wanted Hank Moody to go out in a blaze of glory."

The Future of Happyish

With greater distance from the tragic death of original star Philip Seymour Hoffman, Nevins acknowledged he’s given more only slightly more thought to moving forward with Happyish. He’s currently sitting on five scripts that he deemed “brilliant,” adding of his mindset: “If I can cast it the right way, it’s something I will probably make. There are no guarantees. It’s got to be perfectly put together.”

A Dose of Almost Famous

Nevins didn’t make any attempts to downplay his enthusiasm for his recently ordered Roadies, a behind-the-scenes look at people working with a touring rock band from Almost Famous’ Cameron Crowe. Having just rewatched the Crowe film with his 11-year-old over the weekend, he noted how well it holds up. What's more, he's confident --and thrilled -- that there will be similarities between that project and this one: “The blue collar vibe of a roadie crew is something that Cameron loves and has a lot to say about it… It’s what he does best."