- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Flipboard
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Tumblr
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
Showtime has been committed to Halo for nearly a decade, but a lot has changed since the adaptation of the best-selling video game franchise was first announced in 2014.
For starters, Showtime’s parent company re-merged to form ViacomCBS and, like other media behemoths, prioritized streaming as it rebranded the former CBS All Access as Paramount+ to better reflect assets from across its sprawling entertainment portfolio. At the same time, Showtime ushered in a new era as its signature hits Homeland, Ray Donovan and Shameless wrapped their runs and the premium cabler’s top exec, David Nevins, expanded his purview to include originals at Paramount+.
As Nevins climbed the corporate ladder, 20-year Showtime veteran Gary Levine and Jana Winograde were promoted to serve as co-presidents of entertainment as they plotted a return to genre programming with fare like the recently concluded Dexter: New Blood, Yellowjackets and upcoming vampire saga Let the Right One In. Those series would join a roster of buzzy originals including the Bryan Cranston legal drama Your Honor, a premium show from The Good Fight creators; the Jon Bernthal-led American Gigolo update; and The Curse, a series starring Emma Stone from the Safdie brothers and Nathan Fielder.
As Disney+ continued to win over viewers with Marvel and Star Wars offshoots, Amazon inched closer to launching its Lord of the Rings series, and Netflix and Apple continued to gobble up well-known IP and cast A-listers, ViacomCBS execs made the decision in early 2021 to move Halo from Showtime to Paramount+, giving the platform what it hopes will be the big, broad breakout it needs to compete in the streaming wars. In exchange, Showtime received the Alex Kurtzman-produced update of The Man Who Fell to Earth, which those involved say feels more like a premium cable show than a broad play for a rebranded streamer.
While much of the attention has focused on the oversized expectations for Halo — which has already burned through two directors and two showrunners before its premiere — Showtime has found itself riding high on a hot streak after the ratings and critical success of one-two punch Dexter: New Blood and Yellowjackets. The Dexter revival ranks as Showtime’s most watched series ever, while the latter became the second-most-watched original on Showtime’s streaming service.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Levine opens up about how the cabler plans to build on the success of Dexter and Yellowjackets, why he’s not worried about losing Halo — which Showtime continues to produce as the show’s studio — and the future of its stand-alone streaming service.
What have you learned about the current Showtime viewer following the linear and streaming success of Dexter: New Blood and Yellowjackets?
A couple of years ago, with Homeland, Ray Donovan and Shameless at the end of their runs, we were all saying, “What are we going to do when some of our tentpoles disappear?” That’s made this past year even more satisfying as Your Honor, Dexter: New Blood and Yellowjackets blazed. What’s so heartening about it is people come to Showtime for provocative, original, entertaining series. If we can build them right, they come. Those series showed it and it encourages us going forward.
Dexter: New Blood was greenlit to bring “justice” to the franchise, as you told critics in August. Will there be more of it or is that chapter closed, even though showrunner Clyde Phillips has already expressed interest in continuing the story?
Our goal with Dexter: New Blood was to give the series a proper conclusion and I couldn’t be more proud of how it turned out, both creatively and the response to it, which was off the charts. As you can tell, it was a good amount of closure. We accomplished what we hoped to do beyond our wildest dreams. Right now, we are still enjoying the closure of Dexter. It’s not uninteresting [to revisit it] but you have to be judicious about going on with existing IP vs. creating new IP. We don’t do it a whole lot and when we do it, we do it carefully. At this point, I can’t say definitively either way about it.
You were head of originals when Dexter ended the first time. How involved in the “first finale” were you compared to New Blood?
I was out sick the day of the lumberjack thing! (Laughing.) It’s so hard to end a series of a beloved character and iconic series. Even the conclusion we did for New Blood still had bunch of people saying, “What’s wrong with them?!” But it’s a high-class burden to have a show that is so beloved that so many people are counting on you to end it the way they want you to. We’ve done some beautiful endings and some slightly clumsy ones. Dexter is in the latter.
Yellowjackets, on the other hand, landed at Showtime after being pitched around town in 2018 and went through the pilot process until being picked up to series in December 2020. How much of the show’s success do you attribute to sticking to the development process rather than the straight-to-series model that most of your competitors have embraced?
I think building it piece by piece and making sure the foundation is solid before you build the first and second floor and start decorating is a smart way to build a successful series. It’s not the only way. We can make things succeed without pilots, but it is a much riskier proposition. With something as unusual as Yellowjackets, the idea of working it out as a pilot and having the chance to do reshoots as you go to series helps us learn things. It’s an enormous advantage on that show. When you go straight to series, by the time you see the first episode, they’re shooting episode six, so what adjustments are you making at that point? It’s a real leap of faith. We’ve made it work that way, but there are real advantages to doing it step by step and letting it organically grow to the show it should be.
The show has also been a breakout for its young cast and a reminder that Melanie Lynskey, Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci have always been great. All are in demand right now and two — Jasmin Savoy Brown and Liv Hewson — are hosting a podcast for Netflix. How are you looking to build on the show and the cast’s momentum?
It’s my biggest priority! Having it succeed on Showtime resonates within the entire company. Showtime delivers a lot to the parent corporation. Yellowjackets was one of the stars of Paramount+ international in the last few months. The fact that it’s not on year-round and that the actors are able to have other successful gigs, they know this is the one that lit the fuse for them and audiences can’t wait to get it back. I have no problem enjoying the Yellowjackets success and the fact that it’s launching or reinvigorating the careers of so many talented actresses. Let them succeed in everything they do and then come back to the home base.
What about creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, is there an overall deal in their future?
They’re enormously talented, and I’d be very pleased to expand the relationship.
Ashley and Bart have spoken a few times about having a five-season plan for the show. While it’s not a fair comparison considering it had 20-plus episodes a season, Lost suffered from not having an endgame. How far have you mapped out the future for Yellowjackets?
They’ve always given us hints about things to come, but we haven’t done a long-range plan. We wanted to make the first season count. We’ve all buried ourselves in that first season and worked hard to make it the success it was. They [last week] went into the writers room and with Jonathan Lisco to start to unearth what can happen in season two. I love that they have some general idea of a five-year arc, but we take it one season at a time and get very granular about making it satisfying.
Will it be back this year?
I hope so. I’d love to have it back this year.
You smartly used Dexter: New Blood to help launch Yellowjackets. How will you use Yellowjackets as a launchpad when it returns?
The majority of our viewing is in streaming, so lead-ins don’t matter. Yet putting it behind Dexter made a lot of noise. It put Yellowjackets on the map more quickly than it might have gotten otherwise. It was a great beneficiary of lead-in of Dexter, and I hope Yellowjackets can be a lead-in for something, too.
Looking at your scripted slate, you recently announced cancellations for American Rust with Jeff Daniels, Don Cheadle’s Black Monday and niche comedy Work in Progress. Did these three decisions boil down to cost vs. ratings — especially considering Black Monday was a Sony show — or are they part of a shift in strategy?
There wasn’t a sudden shift, and it wasn’t three cancellations in a row. Black Monday had three fun, inspired seasons with a great cast and we felt that was sufficient. American Rust I thought was an interesting try and it didn’t light up the world in the way we hope something can, and as we assessed its future potential, we made a tough call. And Work in Progress, Abby McEnany is a national treasure and we loved working with her. Very few people watched the first season, but we ordered a second season because we loved it. And fewer people watched that. At some point, you have to pay attention to how many eyeballs a show is getting and sometimes make tough decisions. The beauty of being a streaming network in addition to a premium one is these shows will live on our site where they can be discovered for years to come. We’re not throwing them away; this is now the shape of those series.
Two of those three were comedies and your half-hour slate is on the light side with only the upcoming Vanessa Bayer comedy I Love That for You, season two of British import Back to Life and Flatbush Misdemeanors plus the Ziwe and Desus & Mero variety shows. Is building up scripted original comedy a space where we’ll see Showtime focus on this year?
Scripted comedy remains important to us. It’s fair to say our dramas have moved the needle more than our comedies have. We’re still working at it and have high hopes for I Love That For You and the second season of Flatbush. We also have those different forms of half-hour comedies. But comedy remains a priority for us, and we’ll keep working at it.
Getting back into genre programming seemed like a priority there for a bit with Halo, Dexter’s return and the upcoming Let the Right One In, plus Yellowjackets. How did losing Halo to Paramount+ impact your larger plans for the network?
Halo was always a little bit of an outlier for us, in all honesty. We’ve been working on it for a number of years. There were times where we said, “How do we make a first-person shooter video game into a Showtime series?” We worked hard to make it a real, character-based and interesting drama. It is filled with action, and I understand how it was an outlier for Showtime, and I understand why it’s in the sweet spot for Paramount+. Conversely, The Man Who Fell to Earth [which moved from Paramount+ to Showtime] is a creatively ambitious adaptation of the iconic film. There wasn’t any big change in our programming strategy. Halo was a bit of an aberration and will do great business for Paramount+ and we’re producing it. I love the show and hope it’ll be a huge hit. As Halo emerged, it felt like Paramount+ could promote it bigger and better, and it seems to be more in their blockbuster mentality than us. And the show we got in return is interesting and ambitious.
You wrapped Ray Donovan with a movie after an early cancellation. You made good with Dexter. The L Word is back for a third season for Generation Q. Is this it for the Showtime legacy titles?
Certainly, nothing is on the tarmac that I’m aware of. One of the reasons Yellowjackets took off the way it did is people are hungry for originality. That’s what we shoot for. Occasionally, there’s an original, interesting way of reviving something. You want to be looking forward and not in the rearview mirror. We resisted the urge to repeat ourselves even if it could be good business.
Is that part of the reason the Queer as Folk revival landed at Peacock instead of coming home to Showtime, which rebooted the short-run British original to great success?
We had some conversations about it and as I said, there’s a limit to how much you can look backward. I’m happy they’re doing a new version; I’m a big fan of the show, but I’m comfortable with it living elsewhere.
Billions has reinvented itself with Corey Stoll after Damian Lewis’ departure. I’ve heard Corey’s name come up recently for pilots. What’s the future of the series with him as the lead?
We’re so pleased at the response to the reboot with Corey Stoll. Nothing is set, but Corey is signed up for more. I hope this reinventing of Billions will give it more life. All the pieces are in place for us to do that.
Your 2022 slate is pretty diverse between American Gigolo, The First Lady, Three Women, Man Who Fell to Earth, Super Pumped and Let the Right One In. What’s the pitch to come to Showtime right now?
People know development at Showtime is a satisfying experience. And that if we get a project right on paper, when we mount it we mount it beautifully and the entire network dedicates itself to the launch of that series. A lot of other networks and streamers are throwing a lot against the wall. We dedicate ourselves to a show. When we put it on, it’s with all guns blazing, and every part of our company is dedicated to making it a success. And we are just as involved in subsequent episodes and seasons. Building it right and keeping quality up so it succeeds and continues to succeed. They know we’re paying attention. This is a place without ego and politics, and it’s all about the work. The community knows and appreciates that. Sometimes we’ll get outbid and sometimes people come for less money, and sometimes we’ll be the highest bidder. Right now, it feels like we have creative momentum on our side.
Before Yellowjackets, Showtime arguably hadn’t had a big watercooler/Twitter breakthrough. And now that it has, a lot of the narrative has focused on ViacomCBS’ streaming strategy in that Paramount+ — the company’s biggest priority — doesn’t have either Yellowjackets or Paramount Network’s Yellowstone. The former is, however, streaming on Showtime’s platform, which you can subscribe to separately or as part of a bundle with Paramount+ and Pluto. Nicole Clemens, who oversees originals for Paramount+, told reporters last week she wasn’t frustrated by not having either show. How much longer do you see Showtime continuing to be a stand-alone streaming platform rather than a brand within Paramount+, similar to HBO on Max, FX on Hulu, etc.?
The Disney model is more along the lines of what we’re talking about with [ViacomCBS’] multiple brands. The Showtime brand is very strong within ViacomCBS. The tangible side of that is they’ve given us more money to upgrade our offerings. We are unique in that we are bringing great growth in streaming subs, but we also have a healthy premium cable revenue model. Don’t ever discount that. It’s unique in that way. In a sense, it’s the best of both worlds. It’s feeding the parent company in a way they appreciate. Plus, Showtime series internationally are fueling a lot of the growth of Paramount+ international and that’s a big target of growth for the corporation. And with the bundle, they’re complementary brands; each one is strong, and our brand of Showtime is a very important piece of the ViacomCBS strategy.
Could you see a point where Showtime content winds up on Paramount+ domestically rather than ViacomCBS pushing the bundle? Either shared or exclusively?
Some of that is above my pay grade. All the signs I’m getting is that Showtime is performing well for the corporation both in terms of subscription growth on the streaming side and revenue on the traditional side and enormous power on the international side. They just launched SkyShowtime. That doesn’t sound like we’re light under a bushel. I’m feeling bullish and secure within our sphere.
Halo went to Paramount+ because it’s a big show with broad appeal, and Man Who Fell to Earth has more of a premium cable feel. How do you decide within the content groups there who gets what? What’s the process? Do you compete with the streamer?
We’re still figuring that out in some ways. I feel like because the profiles of the two services are distinct, there’s not a ton of overlap. We now have David Nevins sitting atop both entities and on the rare occasion when we do need it, he can be the traffic cop.
You’ve scrapped some high-profile shows in the past couple years: The President Is Missing, from Bill Clinton and James Patterson — which was already cast — and the Hedy Lamarr show starring Gal Gadot, which went to Apple. What’s the takeaway considering both landed at Showtime after bidding wars?
We are in a business of creativity, and there’s no formula; there’s no algorithm here. We go with our passion, and we work as hard as we can to realize that passion, and sometimes it gets across the finish line and scores and sometimes it falls short. It’s just the way of the world here.
How has the pandemic impacted your scripted plans considering costs for production along with talent and producers, et cetera, have only gone up?
If there’s a silver lining, there was more time for writing as things shut down. Our biggest successes ever were all made during the pandemic.
Looking ahead to 2023, you’ve got Ripley on deck. Is that envisioned as a one-book-per-season series? Or is it like Dexter where you have one book and future seasons might become their own thing?
Ripley came to us with Steve Zaillian having optioned all five books. His original intent has been one book per season.
Interview edited and condensed for clarity.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
More from The Hollywood Reporter
‘Yellowjackets’ Star on Filming the Cannibalism and Death in Season 2 Finale: “Seven Hours of Crying”
Bill Hader on Turning Point for Barry in the HBO Series: “A Nice Reminder That He’s Not a Good Guy”
‘Succession’ Star Peter Friedman Reveals His Pick for Logan Roy’s Successor, Says Some Fans Are “on the Right Track”
Rachel Brosnahan on the Legacy ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ Leaves Behind: “Stories Being Told About Women, by Women”