Viacom's TV Strategy Emerges: Fewer Scripted Series as Networks Rebrand

CMT ends 'Nashville' as niche channels lose out while the troubled company doubles down on building Paramount Network into a premium drama outlet.
Mark Levine/CMT
CMT's 'Nashville'

Following a year of reshuffling its programming across its cable brands, Viacom's scripted strategy is taking shape. With a focus on six core brands — Paramount Network (launching Jan. 18), BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. — niche networks CMT, VH1 and, to a lesser extent, TV Land are hitting pause on scripted.

CMT announced Nov. 17 that Nashville would end with its sixth season in 2018. That takes the network, which saw president Brian Philips exit in June after a 16-year run, out of the pricey scripted originals business.

"I wouldn't rule out that there's going to be some scripted in the future, but at this point, we will go back to what CMT was before Nashville: an unscripted network that did well," says Kevin Kay, president of Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT. New unscripted pilots will be unveiled soon, as the network also mulls scripted music-themed biopics.

Over at TV Land, Viacom has hit the brakes on adding new scripted originals after moving the Melissa McCarthy- and Ben Falcone-produced comedy Nobodies to Paramount Network. It will join TV Land-developed Heathers and American Woman on Viacom's general entertainment hub, which already boasts Kevin Costner starrer Yellowstone. That leaves TV Land, which recently canceled Lopez, with Teachers and Darren Star's critical favorite Younger.

Kay stresses that CMT and TV Land aren't going anywhere. (Viacom rival NBCUniversal pulled the plug Nov. 16 on little-watched horror network Chiller.) But the media behemoth's plan is to focus on building up those six networks that have international distribution.

MTV, meanwhile, has its rebooted Scream anthology due in March, as it looks to launch a tentpole scripted foray every quarter. BET, which is losing flagship Being Mary Jane in 2018, added VH1's Hit the Floor and The Comedy Get Down and went straight to series on Erica Ash legal drama In Contempt.

Comedy Central remains home to originals like Broad City and South Park, and Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. continue to add scripted shows. "For Viacom to underinvest in some networks, they can charge less for those," notes Brian Wieser, senior research analyst at Pivotal Research Group. "That will help grow operating income but not necessarily boost revenue as much."

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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