David Nevins On New Paramount+ & Paramount TV Studios Duties, ViacomCBS Healthy Ecosystem, Showtime’s Big Weekend & More

David Nevins On New Paramount+ & Paramount TV Studios Duties, ViacomCBS Healthy Ecosystem, Showtime’s Big Weekend & More

11/10/2021

In his 11th year at the helm of Showtime, David Nevins saw major shifts in his portfolio. In multiple restructurings across ViacomCBS this past summer, the veteran TV executive was named Chief Content Officer, Scripted Originals, Paramount+, and also gained oversight over Paramount Television Studios. As part of the changes, he is phasing out his duties as Chief Creative Officer at CBS/CBS Studios after two years.

ViacomCBS, like most media companies, has made streaming a priority, pouring resources into it as an investment for the future. The recent corporate realignment put Nevins, who remains Chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks with oversight of BET Networks, at the heart of that push with a leading role at all three of the company’s entertainment-focused SVOD platforms. He oversees Showtime and BET+ in addition to spearheading scripted originals for flagship Paramount+, with Paramount TV Studios President Nicole Clemens as his top lieutenant in her role as President, Paramount+ Original Scripted Series.

Nevins is one of several global content leaders who oversee programming areas at Paramount+ reporting to ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish, alongside Brian Robbins, CEO of Paramount Pictures and President, Kids & Family Entertainment (features, kids and family programming); Chris McCarthy, President, MTV Entertainment Group (unscripted and adult animation); and George Cheeks, President and Chief Executive Officer, CBS (news and sports).

In an interview with Deadline, Nevins lays out his programming strategy for Paramount+ and addresses the internal dynamic among the ViacomCBS studios supplying the streamer: CBS TV Studios, which is behind Alex Kurtzman’s Star Trek franchise as well as Robert and Michelle King’s The Good Fight and newly picked up Happy Face; Paramount TV Studios, which is behind the upcoming series The Offer about the making of The Godfather, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies prequel series as well as several other shows based on Paramount movie titles in development including Fatal Attraction; MTV Studios, which is behind Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan’s upcoming Paramount+ series Mayor of Kingstown and Yellowstone prequel 1883; and BET Studios, which is behind Kenya Barris’ new relationships series for Paramount+.

Nevins also shares his plans for Paramount TV Studios and provides insight into how the recently introduced Paramount+/Showtime bundle is performing, revealing that Showtime had its biggest weekend ever in signups last week driven by Dexter‘s return and the Canelo Alvarez-Caleb Plant fight. He addresses the Dexter revival’s future and the prospects of a Paramount+/Showtime/BET+ bundle, talks about the Fatal Attraction series reboot that is now casting, and names the Paramount+ series he loved as a fan before taking over the service.

DEADLINE: What is your programming strategy for Paramount+? What should we expect, what will set it apart from the other streamers?

NEVINS: You’re going to see quite a lot of stuff rolling out over the next three or four months. We’re finally coming out of our Covid hangover, and you’re seeing the first of the Taylor Sheridan stuff, you’re seeing expansion of Star Trek and adult animation.

I’d point to a few different things that I think will wind up distinguishing Paramount+ over time. Definitely franchise first. We’re building out the Star Trek franchise, we’re building on the strength of franchises that we own. You’ve seen what the Nickelodeon strategy has been, very much about franchises. We are trying to build off what Taylor Sheridan has done; Grease is going to be an important show in the new year; Fatal Attraction is going to be an important show in the new year; and The Offer, which touches the history of Paramount and The Godfather, one of the great franchises in Paramount history, you’ll see that.

We have a pretty clear international rollout strategy. We’re going to be pretty aggressive about making content in Europe, some things that can come back to the U.S., that will be known franchises in the U.S., and some things that are important in Europe. We’re already in pretty much all the English-speaking world of Australia, Canada, but by mid-next year, we’ll be basically across Europe. It’s Paramount+ in the big territories of the UK, Italy, Germany as well as some others, and it’ll be SkyShowtime, which is the joint adventure that we’re doing with Comcast, in the remainder of Europe. Obviously we’re already all across Latin America. We’re in Latin America now, Europe next year, and building from there at a pretty rapid pace.

We want Paramount+ stuff to have a movie feel, to have the sort of actors and stories that’s the best of classic Hollywood, and that means having a popcorn feel in general, playing to the entire country as well as people overseas. I think you’ll see that ethos played out in most of the things that we’re making.

DEADLINE: You greenlighted Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies in July, and Fatal Attraction has been fast-tracked since you and Nicole took over. What in those titles appealed to you and what can you tease about the new take on Fatal Attraction? 

NEVINS: It’s really early to be talking about Fatal Attraction although I will say that there’s a very timeless appeal to the themes of fidelity and infidelity, why good people make very dumb, problematic choices, and just marriage and family against those themes of fidelity and infidelity. Without saying too much, I think the writers have come up with a very smart way to make it very contemporary while also honoring the original.

I could say similarly about Grease. It is a franchise that has really transcended generations. I have watched it many times –and it was even a little older than I am — my wife has watched it many times, but my daughter has also watched it many times. The basis of the outsiders in high school who have a certain cool versus the insiders; who’s inside and who’s outside, and what the different groups are are. There’s good underlying teenage politics in the show that’s really relevant to today, and by focusing on this girl gang of the Pink Ladies, it’s got all sorts of contemporary relevance. In the same way that M*A*S*H* did Korea for Vietnam, this does a period for today’s race, gender, class politics from high school in a really smart way. That’s why I really love the script. And it’s got a lot of really fun music and dance.

DEADLINE: When you looked at the slate after you took over scripted programming for Paramount+, was there any reassessment, refocusing, shifting direction, maybe releasing some of the development?

NEVINS: There’s always a little bit of a process to that, but we’re in expansion mode, and we’re just about ramping up the development slate. It’s not like there were 70 things on the development slate that I had to sort through, throw out 40 of the 70 and bring in a lot more. We’re still in that transition. It’s a new service that is expanding rapidly, and as a company we’re trying to invest rapidly. So, I would say it’s more a process of expansion and focusing than it is about throwing things out, and you’ve got to go with what you’re good at. What are the strengths we have? Certainly one of the strengths we have are our deep library in years of rich IP, talented producers like Robert and Michelle King, Alex Kurtzman, Taylor Sheridan, trying to bring in new people like Kenya Barris and Rashida Jones.

The Kings always have interesting stuff. They had a pretty important show for Showtime in Your Honor, and then they were already in development on this very interesting show [for Paramount+], which is based on the daughter of a real serial killer, the Happy Face Killer, and her experience of coming to grips with her father and what her father had done as an adult as she becomes an adult and as she becomes kind of re-entwined with her father. It was a really interesting story; it was pre-existing in the development, but I jumped in and Nicole did, we gave it some shape and direction, and we got it to a place where we’re really excited about it. I think it is a great, really interesting character exploration against a backdrop of a real true crime.

DEADLINE: On Your Honor, do we have a good idea yet what the second season will be about?

NEVINS: No, it’s evolving. I have some thoughts, but I don’t know whether the writers will stay with them or not. We’ve had conversations. So, I’ve got no particular tidbits to give there.

DEADLINE: You mentioned Nicole Clemens. Can you give us an idea how the current setup works, with the two of you overseeing both scripted series for Paramount+ and one of the studios that supplies it, Paramount TV Studios? What is the dynamic between that and CBS Studios, which was the main supplier to Paramount+ predecessor CBS All Access?

DEADLINE: I think my attitude — and I think Bob’s attitude — is that we have a lot of creative resources in this company, and there are different pods of creativity. There’s actually a number of semi-distinct studios that have shared international distribution and shared certain resources, you’ve got different groups of creative people. There’s Paramount Television, there’s CBS Studios, there’s BET Studios, there’s MTV Studios, and there’s Showtime. We don’t call it Showtime Studios, but a lot of the Showtime shows are basically produced in-house. I think it’s useful to have different groups with different leaders with different tastes feeding in. Obviously I work really well with [CBS Studios President] David Stapf, and his whole team. That will continue. They just got their next green light for Happy Face.

Nicole has her studio and they have slightly different profile where they’re doing different things, some of which outside, but more and more is going to be significantly focused on our own platforms, whether it’s Showtime or BET or Paramount+. And similarly Chris McCarthy has got his studio, and they’re focused on supplying. So, it’s a pretty healthy ecosystem of multiple creative pods aimed at different platforms — at pretty much one platform around the world with a couple of different brands in the U.S.

DEADLINE: So Paramount Television Studios will continue to produce for outside streamers in the new alignment while ramping up its efforts within the ViacomCBS ecosystem?

NEVINS: It will continue to sell outside. I would say the primary focus, particularly on the titles that we own, will be our own platforms, but I wouldn’t say that’s going to be an absolute. They’ve got great stuff coming at Apple and Amazon and Netflix. The Offer I think is going to be the first big thing that Paramount TV Studios has put on Paramount+. And then there’s going to be more rolling out thereafter.

DEADLINE: The inaugural Paramount TV Studios slate for Paramount+ announced in February consisted entirely of series based on Paramount movie titles, including Grease, Fatal Attraction, Love Story and Flashdance. Will that be the main focus, or will the studio balance that with original concepts?

NEVIND: There’s going to be original stuff. There’s definitely going to be originals as well.

DEADLINE: How are you and Nicole making pickup decisions when you might be partial to projects developed by the studio you oversee?

NEVINS: I don’t look at it that way. We buy from outside studios too, I want stuff from Warner Bros and Sony as well. It’s about getting the best content on the platform that is going to drive business. There is no difference if it’s from Paramount Television or CBS Studios, and I will also happily take stuff from Sony, Warner Bros or Lionsgate.

DEADLINE: Paramount TV Studio’s head of PR recently left. Will there be any further executive changes, staff reductions or additions at the studio as it joins your portfolio?

NEVINS: No, it’s pretty stable. It’s a tight group, not really planning any other changes. Their communications person left, a business affairs person left, but I think it’s pretty set there. Nicole is a really strong leader with good people under her. Nicole and I work really well together, that’s jelling well, and that was I think part of why Bob made this move because it was already starting to work really well at Paramount+. She’s got a good team led by Jenna Santoianni, and they punch above their weight, they’re really good.

DEADLINE: Are you considering promoting somebody as a strong No. 2 to Nicole Clemens in light of her dual role at the studio and Paramount+?

NEVINS: I don’t know, I would point to Jenna Santoianni as the sort of strong number two, and I think there’s a lot of respect there. It’s really good.

DEADLINE: ViacomCBS in September announced the Paramount+/Showtime bundle. How has it been doing?

NEVINS: The bundle between Showtime and Paramount+ is right there on the buy page and has been doing very well because I think Mayor of Kingstown, in addition to being good for Paramount+, is also going to be good for Showtime because it’s going to drive subscriptions to Showtime. When you get a positive ecosystem, a lot of people are going to sign up for the bundle. So, you watch Mayor of Kingstown on Paramount+, but it is going to drive subscribers to Showtime. Likewise, because some people will be going to go through the Paramount+ buy to get Dexter, I think Dexter will drive subscribers to Paramount+.

The bundle has been doing quite well for us, and I think more and more people buy it together, the same way that I’m a subscriber to the Disney bundle because I like both ESPN+ for soccer and Hulu and Disney+, and it’s a good deal to buy the three of them together. Similarly, we’re developing our own bundles and I think there’s a real consumer demand for it. So, once you’ve watched Mayor of Kingstown, then you can go over to Showtime and watch Dexter or vice versa.

DEADLINE: You also oversee the BET+, because you oversee BET Networks, so you are in charge of original programming for three different ViacomCBS streamers…

NEVINS: Yeah, and they each have their own kind of creative heads. I would say Nicole Clemens is really on the line at Paramount+, and Gary Levine and Jana Winograde are really on the line at Showtime, and Scott Mills is really on the line at BET+, but we’re also trying to create a kind of healthy ecosystem. So, for example, we’re trying to be smart about deploying our resources. The Game was this seminal Black comedy that really blew up when it was on BET. We’re going to make new episodes of the The Game, it’s going to be on Paramount+, and I think it’s going to draw Black subscribers to Paramount+. We’re simultaneously looking to give BET+ shows a run on Paramount+ so they can get a little bit more exposure and bring some of those audiences back from BET+.

DEADLINE: Is there a three-way bundle of Paramount+, Showtime and BET+ in the cards?

NEVINS: It’s not available yet, but I think it’s likely at some point in the future.

DEADLINE: With viewers migrating seamlessly between platforms within the bundle, is the exact service a series is on going to matter that much in the future? Will there be even a reason for shows to move, like Halo, and Man Who Fell to Earth, which hopped from Showtime to Paramount+ and vice versa?

NEVINS: I think there’s value in having some separation of brands. If you’ve got kids and you’re signing up for your kids, you want Paramount+. You don’t need Showtime. But if you are looking for pure play, I want Black-centered programming, it’s helpful to have the pure play of BET+, but it also combines well because there are Black households that want to watch BET and Showtime or watch BET and Paramount+. So I think the brands are of value, but we have to make sure they speak well to each other. And they combine well with each other.

DEADLINE: How are the decisions made what brand a show should go to, especially those based on a big ViacomCBS franchise titles? WarnerMedia is reviving HBO’s Sex and the City but the follow-up is not on HBO, it’s for HBO Max. Meanwhile, the Dexter revival stayed on Showtime instead of going to Paramount+.

NEVINS: Showtime is a vital part of the streaming strategy; it’s still one of the key drivers of our growth and one of the key drivers in our international rollout. Dexter will be on Paramount+ around the world, but in the U.S. it’s already driving subs for Showtime because so many people are trying to catch up on old episodes. It should lead to a really good November, December, January on Showtime. Dexter is a franchise that has lasted past its airing. It was a big driver on Netflix, a lot of new people found it on Netflix, and I think they’re going to come back to Showtime to watch the new version, which I think is super satisfying.

DEADLINE: Is Dexter: New Blood a one-off? Are you swearing that this is it, or could there be another installment beyond those episodes?

DEADLINE: Well, no, I don’t swear at all. I don’t swear off anything. You’ve been asking me for years what’s the story with Dexter? I went from “I don’t know, nothing’s happening” to “Never say never” to “Stay tuned” to “I got something I like, now I got to get Michael (C. Hall) to like it, too.”

The other thing that Dexter is doing for us, the combination of the Canelo Álvarez fight on Saturday and the Dexter premiere on Sunday means that this was our biggest weekend ever in signups, and then the week after, Dexter provides a lead-in for Yellowjackets, which is a show that is getting a lot of buzz. It’s very different, but it has certain genre elements of Dexter and the combination of horror, violence and suspense, but with a lot of comedy; it’s kind of crazy in, I think, a very fun way. So, that sort of horror and comedy or suspense and comedy that is rarely well done that Dexter has, Yellowjackets has, and I think Dexter’s going to be very helpful to Yellowjackets. It’s already generating a lot of buzz on its own.

DEADLINE: Did you have a favorite show on Paramount+, a show, which you liked as a viewer before you took over the platform as an executive?

NEVINS: I was very taken with Picard. I thought there was something really satisfying about watching that actor [Patrick Stewart] come back and play that iconic character late in life. That was a show that I really, really enjoyed, but I’m really excited about Mayor of Kingstown, and I’m really excited about where Grease is going. So, I have pretty wide tastes. The other show that I think is going to knock people’s socks off is The Offer. I’ve now seen like four episodes of that, and it’s totally a kick. It’s fun and poppy, it has that sort of popcorn feel and some really surprising performances. Matthew Goode and Juno Temple and Miles Teller are really fun, and it is an inside Hollywood story, but it feels like a great escapists drama.

DEADLINE: What is your plan for the Star Trek universe? Is the current expansion plan ambitious enough, or have you made any suggestions about growing it even further?

NEVINS: I’ve been involved with Star Trek now for the last couple of years because I was overseeing CBS Studios for a while. So, I’ve been pretty deeply involved with David Stapf and Alex Kurtzman in it. You’ve seen this expand into animation with Lower Decks, and then computer-generated animation with Prodigy, and then Strange New Worlds will be on the air next spring. Strange New Worlds is a return to Star Trek as adventure film, just sort of space exploration; it has a lot of the values in the original Star Trek, and I think that’s going to be really fun. Each new Star Trek has taken it to another level and has a different tone, but in a way, that’s been, I think, really satisfying.

DEADLINE: Is there a title in the combined library of Paramount and CBS Studios that has not been mined yet and you would love to tackle?

NEVINS: Oh, there’s a lot, but I know it’s now all in my sandbox. So, we can do what we want to do. Until I get a script that I like, I don’t like talking about it, but yeah, there are definitely things that have not been mentioned that I’m very excited about. That I think could be really fun.

DEADLINE: One final, more personal question. This past weekend marked 20 years since the premiere of 24, a show that has been important for you as you oversaw most of its run at Imagine Television and then your relationship with its creative auspices led to Homeland, which became one of your first homegrown hits at Showtime. What are your thoughts on the anniversary?

NEVINS: On 24, which is a show that is very close to my heart, the other relationship that I’m going back to is Kiefer [Sutherland]. We’re about to go into production on a new show with Kiefer for Paramount+. It’s being done by [John] Requa and [Glenn] Ficarra, who are really good writers. It has a serialized, you’ve got to sit on the edge of your seat kind of feeling. It’s very different from 24, but it has some of the elements that you loved about 24, like I got to know what happens next, and what you think you’re seeing, there’s lots of twists and turns that will work very well.

24 has also yielded that, being highly serialized, I want to know what’s going to happen next. The episodes tend to end with very satisfying twists, and there was a sort of urgency to it that. It informed a lot about I think about the best of narrative television.

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