Showtime's David Nevins on the effect of awards and the welfare of elves

Showtime's David Nevins on the effect of awards and the welfare of elves
Showtime chief executive David Nevins. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

David Nevins had a role in several television milestones. At NBC, he shepherded the development of the mega-hit drama "ER." At Fox, he gambled on the first real-time series, "24." As the top executive at Imagine Television, he oversaw "Arrested Development" and "Friday Night Lights," two low-rated but acclaimed shows that survived several seasons because of the power of passionate viewers. He joined Showtime as president in 2010, and the first series he picked up, "Homeland," earned the premium cable network its first drama series Emmy. Just weeks before his recent elevation to president and chief executive of the CBS-owned premium cable network, Nevins sat with The Envelope to discuss how he's prepared Showtime for the new TV landscape.

Do awards mean more today because of the new ways shows are consumed by viewers?


Emmys are the ultimate foundation of quality, and quality is more salable than ever before. For those of us in the subscription television business, it's probably the most important thing. It's the way to have people say those guys have the good stuff. The last two years at the Emmys, we've had more series nominations than any other network. Quality is monetize-able and Emmys are a validation of quality.

Showtime will soon have an over-the-top service, in which you won't need cable to watch. Is there any chance having a streaming service is going to change the personality of the channel?

Any change in how your service is distributed is going to have some effect on how we program the service. I think we want to remain premium. We're going to remain in adult, sophisticated storytelling. I don't see that changing any time soon.

The TV business appears to be moving to a time when viewers are going to be more discerning about what cable channels they buy. If people ask you why they should choose Showtime, what would you tell them?

I think our strength is the depth and breadth of our series. We have more series that matter to the sophisticated adult crowd than anybody. We are deep with "Shameless," "Homeland," "Masters of Sex," "The Affair," "House of Lies" and "Ray Donovan." We have more series that matter, and I think that has been borne out at the Emmys. That's going to be our strength moving forward.

"The Affair" is such a quiet show that requires a lot of patience. Were you worried that it would have trouble getting noticed?

There was concern whether it was too small a concept. It turned out not to be the case. It became sticky very quickly. Inside of it, it's explosive and it's dealing with raw human emotion more than giant concepts. It can be equally addictive, but you have to know how to bring people into the tent. Fortunately, smart marketing and position behind "Homeland," it caught on very quickly. It made a mark almost immediately by being counter to the bigger-concept shows that are on cable these days.

How often do people tell you they are uncomfortable watching it with their spouse?

That is always the litmus test. The question is: What is the proper posture to take when you watch it with your spouse? Do you laugh at it? Do you take it seriously? Should you dissect it? Should you criticize it? It leads to some very interesting conversations. The people who are confident in their relationships enjoy watching the show with their spouses.

Describe the phone call to Keebler to inform them one of their elves was going to go on a killing spree on your series "Happyish."

There was no phone call. But Keebler put out a statement that said the elves are alive and well and working in their tree. It was actually very funny. Most brands seem to have adopted [their roles on] "Happyish" with humor and great pride.