Unlike ABC, CBS and NB—all of which opted against addressing the Television Critics Association winter press tour — Showtime President and CEO David Nevins and President of Programming Gary Levine took the stage in Pasadena, Calif., on Monday.
“We have firmly established our company as not only a premium cable network, but also as a premium OTT service,” opened David Nevins, who announced the pickups of drama The Chi, and sitcom White Famous. “With our subscription model, our ever increasing streaming audience and our strength of schedule, we are uniquely positioned to take advantage of all the trends that are occurring in the media business right now.”
Set in Chicago, The Chi looks beyond the headlines to explore the experiences of the people who call the South Side home. White Famous, based on the personal experiences of co-creator Jamie Foxx, features Saturday Night Live’s Jay Pharoah as an upcoming star who must maintain his credibility as he begins to transition toward becoming “white famous.”
“They are wildly different shows aside from the fact that they both have African-American casts,” said Levine in response to concerns of the ongoing lack of diversity on television. “They both sort of bubbled up separately inside our development process and, like the NFL draft, they were the two best players.”
Citing the “explosion of television choice” as a great thing for Showtime—in opposition to FX president John Landgraf, who will address TV reporters and critics on Thursday—Showtime, like HBO, was not acknowledged by the Hollywood Foreign Press at the 74th Annual Golden Globes on Sunday.
“I think the wave of lots of people making great TV is not going away,” said Nevins, who cited Showtime’s next wave of new product, including upcoming limited series Guerilla, a love story from John Ridley; and drama I’m Dying Up Here, which explores L.A.’s famed ‘70s stand-up comedy scene where the careers of legends such as David Letterman, Jay Leno and Richard Pryor were launched. “The Golden Globes give it and then they fail to give it. But I feel good about what’s coming.”
But what does come to mind, particularly following Meryl Streep’s anti-Donald Trump acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, is recent documentary series The Circus, which showcased the recent presidential election.
“Over a million people were tuning in each week for The Circus, which for a documentary show like that is pretty significant,” said Nevins. “It’s taken the real-time documentary to a new level; what you can do and what you can get on the air in a very short amount of time. And what effect it had on the election, God only knows.”
Most anticipated among the upcoming newbies at Showtime, perhaps, is the revival of classic serialized drama Twin Peaks, which, long delayed, will open with the first of 18 episodes on Sunday, May 21.
“David Lynch is one of the great filmmakers of my lifetime,” said Nevins. “I think the version of Twin Peaks you are going to see is the heroin version this time.”
“I lived through Twin Peaks 1.0 when I was at ABC and it was a tsunami, and that was without social media” added Levine. “So, for us, it is hard to fathom what Twin Peaks in a social media will do.”
The original Twin Peaks, of course, goes down in the record books as one of the fastest falling dramas ever to air in primetime. Tremendous interest in season one in 1990 was offset by a mass exodus in season two due to the confusing subject matter. And the recent revival of Roots on A&E Networks proves not even the biggest hits can stand the test of time. So, the jury will be out this spring.
In other news at Showtime, drama The Affair has been renewed for a fourth season before the third season finale, which airs on Sunday, Jan. 29 at 10 p.m. ET. Billions returns for season two on Feb. 19. And the return of Shameless in October, already confirmed for season eight, had its largest audience to-date despite the increased competition.