The hit Showtime series, “Homeland,” returns this Sunday. It’s the fifth season for the show, which stars Claire Danes as a trouble-seeking CIA agent who also happens to be bi-polar.
Five years is an eternity for a TV show in this day and age, when broadcast and cable networks and streaming services are all vying for viewers. One cable executive even recently said that there’s simply too much content being made today.
So that made us want to embark on a series of conversations with TV executives to talk about the state of the industry. We start today with David Nevins. He’s the president of Showtime Networks, the premium cable channel that is owned by the CBS Corporation.
When The Frame's host, John Horn, joined Nevins at his office, he asked about Showtime's involvement in the resurrection of "Twin Peaks," the shows he wishes he had bought, and the network's efforts to improve diversity — both behind and in front of the camera.
What is Showtime working on these days?
Right now in production we have "The Affair" in and around New York, "Homeland" is in Germany, "Shameless" is in L.A., "Penny Dreadful" in London, "A Season with Notre Dame" in South Bend and following the team [around the country], "Billions" is in production in and around New York, and a little show called "Twin Peaks" is somewhere up in the state of Washington.
You can't tell me where?
We're trying to keep it quiet.
Is that an actual concern, that people will go visit the set?
It's been a concern and it has been happening, so we have security measures in place now.
"Twin Peaks" has been on-again, off-again. What was the genesis of its relaunch, and how much work did it take to get everyone on board?
In the original "Twin Peaks," there's the line from the Red Room: "I'll see you in 25 years." It's 25 years later now, so I was aware of that and had been pursuing David Lynch and Mark Frost to bring the show back.
They eventually came into this very office for a meeting, and I think they were trying to judge whether I was a worthy partner. The story I was told is that David Lynch liked the paintings on the walls in here and said, "I think I can work with these guys."
One of these paintings is of a bookcase that's about to tumble onto a small child.
Is it falling on the little girl? Or is the little girl kicking it over? That's the question, you can read it either way. But then it was just a question of making David feel comfortable, that he was going to have the control and the resources that he needed to make this show and do more of what is, in my opinion, one of the great works of television in history.
Recently, a report from the Producers Guild of America looked at the audience for shows created by and for women. How would you rank Showtime in terms of casting women in parts that are not necessarily female, and putting women in creative positions behind the camera?
In terms of women behind the camera, we're doing very well — we're pretty close to 50/50 on the gender split in terms of creators and show-runners. "Shameless" was created by a man but is now run by Nancy Pimental, "Masters of Sex" was created by Michelle Ashford and has an entirely female producing team.
"Ray Donovan" was created by a woman, "The Affair" was created and run by a woman, and we need to be a gender-balanced network. I always say that premium television costs extra, so you don't want either half of the household asking about paying that money every month. On the gender front, I think we're doing fairly well, and we have a history of strong female characters.
Let's talk about racial diversity. You've said that you and other networks need to do better. [Showtime has] Don Cheadle on "House of Lies" [but] it's hard for me to think of a long list of people of color who have prominent acting parts on Showtime series.
Yeah, it's something we're working on. We have a history over the years of doing well with non-white audiences, with African-American audiences, with Latino audiences. Right now, we're a little under-represented.
I'm making a pilot right now that I have high hopes for, about growing up on the South side of Chicago, with an entirely African-American cast and African-American people behind the camera. And the Latino audience is a huge opportunity that we're not doing what we could be doing, but that's a pretty big target.
I'm curious if you can think of a recent example of a show that you just didn't see coming together and that Showtime passed on, only for that show to end up going to another network.
I was very jealous of the first season of "True Detective."
Not so much season two?
Not so much. But I actually did try to buy that show. "Transparent" is a show that I love and I wish we had it.
Did you have a shot to get it?
I didn't personally have a shot at it. But it had been presented in an early form to the network, and it's one that I regret because it's a wonderful show and I think it'd do really well here.