Showtime Touts Subscriber Growth, R-Rated Comedy

David Nevins

"Pay cable hasn’t really taken advantage of the kind of comedy you can get away with," David Nevins said Thursday at TCA.

BEVERLY HILLS -- With one year under his belt as president of entertainment at Showtime, David Nevins is beginning to put his stamp on the pay cable network. He opened a question and answer session with reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour here by touting Showtime’s growth. The net added more than two million subscribers last year taking Showtime above 20 million subscribers (20.5 million to be exact) for the first time in the network’s history.

Scripted projects that Nevins developed begin to roll out this fall with Homeland (bowing Oct. 2 after the sixth season premiere of Dexter) and featuring an all-star cast including Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin. Meanwhile series put into development by Nevins predecessor Robert Greenblatt Episodes, The Borgias and Shameless – premiered strong and have all been picked up for second seasons.

PHOTOS: The Quotable TCA: TV Press Tour Eavesdropper

“I want to have the best, most compelling stuff on television,” said Nevins. “I think there’s an opportunity to do really glossy, but really subversive shows that would not support advertising. Homeland is going to touch on some pretty dangerous themes.”

Nevins also sees an opportunity to get a foothold in R-rated comedy as HBO’s Entourage heads into the sunset and the net’s subsequent half hours series (Bored to Death, Hung, Curb Your Enthusiasm) have not reached the tune-in bar set by HBO’s Sex and the City.

“I feel like pay cable hasn’t really taken advantage of the kind of comedy you can get away with,” said Nevins. “I think Sex and the City was the show that best used pay cable to develop rich characters who talked candidly.”

VIDEO: David Nevins, Charlie Collier, Dana Walden and More at THR's Executive Roundtable

Nevins thinks House of Lies – which revolves around the seamy world of corporate consultants – can begin to fill that void. Lies – which stars Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell and Ben Schwartz – will bow Jan. 9 between season premieres of Shameless and Californication.

“There’s no substitute for just staying on the cutting edge,” said Nevins. “A healthy network is in a constant state of reinvention and renewal. We need to keep pushing forward, challenging the audience and challenging the medium and at the same time continuing to reinvent the shows we have on the air.”

Earlier this year, Nevins canceled United States of Tara after three seasons but picked up Emmy darling Nurse Jackie for a fourth season. And while he has yet to make a decision about an eighth season of Weeds, Nevins did say it has “real life in it.”

STORY: Showtime Orders Steve Carell-Produced 'Laughing Stock'

He also said that the controversial Oliver Stone documentary series A Secret History of America is going forward and is targeted to bow in 2012.

The long-gestating series will offer a “counterweight” to the historical narrative found in textbooks and the media, Stone has said. The series and Stone’s comments about Hitler (that he did more damage to Russia than to the Jews) and the old canard that Jews control the media, kicked off a firestorm last summer. (Stone later apologized saying his comments were “clumsy.”)

But Nevins said Stone has written four or five installments of A Secret History and finishing the series is simply a matter of juggling his film schedule.

“It’s a labor of love for him,” said Nevins, referring to Stone’s Showtime series.

Stone is currently shooting Savages, about pot growers and the Mexican drug cartel starring John Travolta, Benecio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Blake Lively, Emile Hirsch and Uma Thurman. Universal will release it in 2012.

“The movie is his day job,” said Nevins. “When you get movie financing in this world you take it and shoot it.”