"It's interesting coming into a network that is healthy," Showtime president David Nevins said at the start of his first press tour executive session. "That's not often how regime change happens in television."
Nevins (a producer with a distinguished track record on shows like "Friday Night Lights" and "Arrested Development") is five months into the job - having replaced Robert Greenblatt, who's expected to take over NBC once the FCC approves the Comcast merger - and oversees a pay cable channel having itself a pretty good run. "Dexter" is still a hit, Showtime got more series Emmy nominations than rival HBO, "Shameless" was the channel's biggest series launch in the last seven years, etc., etc.
So - outside of a few random questions about "The Kennedys," a miniseries that History Channel recently dropped and Nevins declined to pick up - his first exec session was devoted to announcements, other bits of good news for the channel and/or fans of its shows, and questions about Nevins' programming philosophy (most of which led to answers that praised Showtime's current shows):
• "Californication" has been renewed for a fifth season; Nevins called it "a personal favorite of mine since I saw the pilot five years ago." (Alan's note: I've always despised this show - or, at least, despised David Duchovny's character - but I know it has fans, so enjoy.)
• "Nurse Jackie" and "United States of Tara" will premiere their third seasons on Monday, March 28.
• "The Borgias," created by Neil Jordan and starring Oscar winner Jeremy Irons, will debut Sunday, April 3. Nevins suggested it would distinguish itself from "The Tudors" by being "more muscular and more story-driven."
• Since "Friday Night Lights" debuted, Nevins has been inundated with pitches for dramas about professional sports leagues, but he felt fiction couldn't live up to the excitement of reality. So instead, Showtime will partner with Major League Baseball to produce a reality series about the San Francisco Giants as they set about defending their World Series title. A special will air around opening day, with the rest of the series to be aired at a date to be determined.
• I asked Nevins about Showtime's stable of half-hour shows that are classified as comedies but aren't particularly funny, and he said, "I think the distinction between "a half-hour is a comedy and an hour is a drama" are increasingly arbitrary. I think 'Shameless' has a lot of comedy to it. It's an hour." He said he was interested in "hard, funny half-hours" and said that "Episodes" "points in one direction," in that it's from veteran comedy writers whose primary concern is comedy, whereas "'The Big C' and 'Nurse Jackie' have slightly different values. I think the tones of those shows work really well."
• Another critic asked how much longer "Dexter" could run. "I think there's a lot of life left in 'Dexter,'" Nevins said. "'Dexter' was up in numbers, up 11 percent in its fifth season, which defies the ususal physics of television ratings. I think the audience is still coming to it, it's still big. It's not a plot-driven show. It's fundamentally a character-driven show. A lot of what the show has been tracking is the evolution and maturation of Dexter, and he's barely an adolescent in the way I watch the show. We picked it up for one more year and I personally feel there's more life in it than that." (Alan's note: look forward to a whole lt more wheel spinning! Woot!)
• Lisa Kudrow's "Web Therapy" will likely air in either the second quarter of 2011 or the summer, and the channel also has a series in the works with Don Cheadle. He noted that with the market for sophisticated adult film comedies and dramas shrinking rapidly, many great actors were now in play for cable series. "More and more, great filmmakers, great actors, they come to us to do their more interesting stuff."
• He's a fan of Paul Provenza's "Green Room," in which a group of stand-up comedians sit around and shoot the breeze (and/or insult each other), and said that after the first season aired, more high-profile comics were clamoring to appear. One of the six season two episodes will feature Ray Romano, Garry Shandling and Judd Apatow, and Nevins hopes it can be "an evergreen. It's not expensive to make, and I think it will up our (stand-up) comedy cred."
• "The Real L Word" will come back in the summer, retooled. Nevins said he felt it important to protect the network's relationship with the gay and lesbian community, and "I think there's an interesting version of that show we didn't quite get at last year. I think we can make the show feel more Showtime and premium and exclusive." The new season will focus more on Whitney and her friends.
• And on "The Kennedys," Nevins expressed respect for producer Joel Surnow and said "I thought it was well-done," but "it just didn't fundamentally feel us." He said one of his vows when he took the job was to focus on "renewable resources" - i.e., ongoing scripted series that can stick around to provide long-term return on the investment and promotion.
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