Welcome back to our look at the Edinburgh TV Festival with this post focusing on three sessions involving chats with the heads of three of America’s top cable networks. We’ll cover the highlights of every session as the three men gave us insight into what they felt makes their networks unique and some of the success and failures they’ve experienced during their respective tenure.
David Nevins (Showtime)
Showtime’s David Nevins started his chat by saying that the common DNA of the shows on his network where that they did something that nobody else was doing. He added that he tries to find that small sliver of narrative idea that isn’t being done elsewhere but ultimately he wants his TV to have the right balance of relevance and entertainment value.
He feels that the programmes being made for Showtime all have something about the world we live in. He specifically cited Homeland which says something about America’s difficult place in the 21st century world and upcoming drama Billions which looks at the complicated relationship with the super-wealthy. He added that, even though it’s set in the past, Masters of Sex still has a lot to say about sexuality and gender in the modern world.
He previewed and aired a trailer for the upcoming series of Homeland that is fundamentally set in Europe and starts with an Edward Snowdon-type leak that damages relations between America and Germany. Additionally it also looks at Isis and the complicated relationship between Russia and the rest of Europe.
A trailer aired for upcoming drama Billions which explores the world of finance and stars Paul Giamatti and Damien Lewis. Nevins originally didn’t want to make a show set in the finance industry but he was won round by the script and sees it more as a programme about 21st century masculinity.
He voiced his regret over the way he had to cancel comedy drama series Happyish; a show that had a tortured creative process and was originally going to star Philip Seymour Hoffman. Despite Nevins feeling that individual elements of Happyish really worked he felt that ultimately they didn’t all come together.
He mentioned how different The Affair was from programmes the high concept ideas that Showtime had been used to in the past. But even though the subject matter of two people conducting a relationship that broke up too marriages wasn’t terribly novel the way the narrative played out was quite unique. Additionally he said that season two of The Affair would be even more original as we see things from the point-of-view of the characters played by Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson and events are told both in the present and future tense.
He discussed the controversial ending of Dexter and how he felt that the show had a pretty interesting resolution. Similarly he felt that Nurse Jackie had a satisfyingly appropriate if unexpected ending.
Finally he teased the new series of Twin Peaks and described the series as a whole as satisfying. He added that fans of the original run will have their questions answered and said that the series will have a definitive ending.
John Landgraf (FX)
The head of FX addressed the recent comments he’d made claiming that there was too much TV. He clarified this by saying that watching TV had become a chore for consumers in the U.S. and it was almost a laborious task to pay attention to all the great TV shows. He added that he feels there should be at least 100 less scripted TV shows in production and he’d rather live in a world where 300 shows were being produced rather than 500.
When talking about failure he discussed the fact that he was the man who developed the Breaking Bad script but ultimately turned it down. This was partly due to the fact that at the time there were another three shows on the network that had male antiheroes and partly because he wanted to work with Glen Close on the other show they were developing at the same time; legal drama Damages. He now describes this as probably the most colossally stupid decision he’s made as he was involved in the development of a probably one of the greatest dramas of all time.
He discussed how much of a risk it was developing Fargo as he didn’t want to be the man who made a crappy TV series based on a much-loved movie. However he ultimately made a judgement on how much he loved the script and he was glad that following his cut paid off in this case.
He talked about how It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia was the show that surprised him the most as it came from an unknown creator in Rob Mcelhenney who kept his job as a waiter until the beginning of season two as he didn’t feel the show would take off. Although it initially wasn’t a hit with critics and audiences it has now found its feet and will soon be the second longest running live action sitcom of all time.
He recalls working with Louis CK on Louie and how he originally didn’t want any notes on the script and was willing to work with a smaller budget as a result. However he eventually realised that getting the notes from John and his team helped the creative process as a whole.
Finally he previewed two of FX’s upcoming shows that he felt would be big hits. The first was American Crime Story, which he described as a smart satire focusing on the trial of OJ Simpson. Meanwhile the other is an odd comedy called Baskets starring Zach Galifianakis as a man whose dream in life is to become a Rodeo Clown.
Michael Ellenberg (HBO)
HBO’s executive vice-president of programming talked in depth about what his network was looking for and his simple answer was great things. He liked any show that you could reduce to a one-liner and used the example of True Detective saying it was essentially about a mass murder in the south. Additionally he said that HBO were always on the outlook for genres they hadn’t worked on up to that point.
When asked what shows he felt defined HBO he cited The Wire has it had a specific impact on him. At the time he was working as a film producer and what blew him away was that the multi-season structure of the show is something that he could never do in cinema. He felt in terms of its themes The Wire was ahead of its time and had an endless group of characters that you fell in love with.
He previewed upcoming drama Vinyl which is set in the A&R department of a record label during the 1970s. He said he initially struggled with putting a musical drama on the screen but felt it worked due to the fact that it features a lot of songs that people love. Vinyl is also the second collaboration between HBO and Martin Scorsese following the successful Boardwalk Empire.
The second show that Michael previewed was sci-fi drama Westworld which was very loosely based on the film of the same name. Where the TV show differs is that it looks at things from the point of view of the robots in the Western themed theme park as they begin to develop consciousness.
There was also talk of some of the big names that were coming to HBO in the near future with director Steve McQueen developing a six-part series for the network whilst Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon were also working on a one-year series based on the Big Little Lies series of books.
When asked about Game of Thrones, Michael said that he didn’t know how phenomenal it would become because a big fantasy show of that nature had never been attempted before. However he also felt that the show is mainly about the characters and about the themes of politics, family and loyalty.
When questioned about the use of British actors in the show he felt that it added a consistent language to the show and also allowed him to dip into a great pool of acting talent.
Finally he confirmed that Jon Snow is absolutely dead.