The Paramount Network, a general entertainment channel which will replace Spike in early 2018, just announced its inaugural slate, which includes two new series migrating from TV Land, American Woman and Heathers, and Spike’s Waco miniseries. In an interview with Deadline, Kevin Kay, president of Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT, discusses the programming strategy for the new network, the possibilities of other Viacom scripted series migrating to the Paramount Network — designated as the company’s leading scripted brand — including CMT’s Nashville. Kay addresses the future of the country music drama, Spike’s male-driven Guy’s Choice Awards franchise and Karaoke Showdown. He also talks about TV Land and CMT, labeled “reinforcing brands” in the recent Viacom restructuring, staying in the original scripted business, and shares when the Paramount Network moniker will make its debut. (it’s sooner than you think.)
DEADLINE: What will be Paramount Network’s identity and how will it fit into the portfolio? Is it the FX of the Viacom group?
KAY: I’d like to think about it – there is a little bit of HBO, a little bit of FX. It’s premium, it’s quality. The brand of Paramount Network for TV is about stories worth telling. We live in a world where premium scripted is what the audience wants, we’re in a golden age of storytelling. Paramount represents that. I think that’s the mission, and we’ve got to be in pop culture too. I hate the word zeitgeist but we’ve got to be in the zeitgeist. Some of the projects we announced today feel very much like that to me. I believe that they fulfill that mission and a great way to launch when you get to January.
DEADLINE: Why did you decide to move American Woman and Heathers from TV Land and use them to launch the Paramount Network?
KAY: There is a lot of heart to the storytelling in both of these shows, there is a lot of intelligence to them, there is a lot that is funny about them. American Woman is really a female empowerment story about a woman in the 70s who gets divorced and is raising two girls on her own, the second wave of 70s feminism. And Heathers is a cult classic that is taught in colleges as part of their cinema programs. It’s dark comedy, and I love dark comedy. There has got to be variety when you go into the premium entertainment space. I think you’ve got to give the audience variety, and we also have to reach a broad and gender balanced audiences 18-49. Waco was something we were developing at Spike with Harvey Weinstein and his team that is an incredible story. What’s hotter than the FBI now? It’s the story of what went down in Waco, and it’s the 25th anniversary of Waco in February when we will launch it. It feels again like a story worth telling with a fantastic cast and will probably have a little bit more of a male skew. So I think as we are starting this network, the opportunity to reach the broadest possible audience which is the goal here, with cinematic premium product embodied in these 3 shows.
DEADLINE: Will any other TV Land projects migrate to the Paramount Network?
KAY: The only other one I’d say is First Wives Club, a piece of Paramount IP. It was developed at TV Land, they did a pilot, and they passed on it. We are redeveloping it for Paramount. That’s one piece of development that is coming to the Paramount Network.
DEADLINE: Will CMT’s Nashville move to the Paramount Network and what is the future of the country music drama beyond its current season?
KAY: I believe Nashville has a lot of life in it. I know that Rayna has passed away in a highly rated episode, and then the funeral was even more highly rated. We will see how the audience reacts to Nashville and the next 11 episodes but I believe that there are great fans of the show and it’s got a good future ahead of it, we are encouraged that we can continue to do it. I honestly think it’s a great show, I’ve been a fan of it forever.
Moving Nashville to the Paramount Network? I don’t know.
I think Nashville has done so much great work for CMT, it’s brought so many new viewers there, it’s really been a tremendous boom for that network. Would I run it also on the Paramount Network? Potentially but I don’t think we’re there yet. I think it’s a great show for CMT, which will remain in the original scripted business, and I think it’s done so much heavy lifting for them in helping viewers find not only Nashville and CMT but also find the other shows that are on CMT. I’m inclined to leave it there. I think that’s where it should be and maybe try to support it on Paramount Network with marathons, replays.
DEADLINE: What about Viacom scripted series on other Viacom networks, like VH1’s The Breaks or BET’s Being Mary Jane?
KAY: I can only steal from my own networks. (laughs) I wouldn’t say that there is no possibility that any of these ever going to happen but each network has its own individual personality and needs to have its own individual programming. I think The Breaks and the BET shows are great shows. I’m not sure anyone wants to give those up any time soon, it’s a little easier when I control my world.
DEADLINE: Paramount Network’s inaugural slate features drama/limited and comedy series. Will the network’s scripted slate be balanced between comedy and drama or will you focus primarily on drama?
KAY: (TV Land’s) Keith Cox, he is doing both Paramount and TV Land development. He is great at both, which is awesome. At the end of the day, we are going to make all of those – we are going to make dramas, comedies, and docu series are important too. What we did with The Kalief Browder Story on Spike was a very big departure for Spike, but it lays the ground for what docuseries on the Paramount Network can be, they are important, they are premium and stories worth telling.
DEADLINE: Going forward, how will Paramount Network and TV Land’s comedy brands distinguish themselves? Will Paramount TV be home for high-end, darker comedy and TV Land a place for lower-budget, younger-skewing, lighter comedy?
KAY: Yeah, I think lighter comedy is what TV Land is in the business of. They had Hot in Cleveland for a long time which was really successful, and then when they moved to single-camera. The one that has popped for them in a big way is Younger, and Teachers has shown great growth in its second season. I think that has set the tone. They are comedies with heart, and they are a little bit lighter than what we are going to do on Paramount Network. Paramount is going to do comedies, it’s going to do dramas but there are big scripted hours ahead of us in drama. None of that is going to be on TV Land, they are going to stick to what they do best.
DEADLINE: Will TV Land stay focused on single-camera comedy, which is more expensive?
KAY: There is no plan to go multi-camera. Keith might surprise me one of these days and tell me he wants to do a multi-camera but he is pretty fixated on single-camera.
DEADLINE: As a flagship Viacom brand, how will the Paramount Network cooperate closer with the movie studio as is the corporate mandate? Will you develop joint movie/TV projects?
KAY: I think right now it’s hard to say for sure. The way I think about it is the partnership between the TV studio, the Paramount movie studio and the Paramount Network is probably in the short-term going to be served best by us thinking how we can support the movie franchise that they have coming up — is there a prequel or a sequel to a franchise movie we might be able to do on the TV side. That’s a conversation about how we can help them successfully launch a movie.
On the Paramount TV studio side, we want to mine the IPs to the extent that we can. Obviously they have to sell to other buyers but we are having great conversations with them right now about what are the IP that Keith and I are interested in, how can we develop that with them, how they can sell to us on cable budgets that make sense for everyone. I think there is a lot of opportunity there.
I think that in the short term. And then if we are so lucky as to develop a series that has the potential to spin off to a movie, great. I don’t think that that’s a Day One goal, Day One goal is program the network as successfully as we can.
DEADLINE: What about Spike’s first original scripted series, the upcoming The Mist? Will it move to the Paramount Network?
KAY: In success, if this season on Spike goes well, we would pick it up for next year, and Season 2 will be on Paramount. I think it looks very good, there is a big marketing campaign that is about to launch around it. We think it’s got a lot of potential, and it might join the Paramount Network.
DEADLINE: Is the previously ordered Red Mars drama series dead?
KAY: Mars is over, not happening.
DEADLINE: With the newly found focus on scripted, will unscripted programming still play a main role or will it just support the scripted slate? How will you define the network’s reality brand as Spike becomes Paramount Network?
KAY: We’re still running a business here, and scripted is very expensive and unscripted has to be a big part of your business. First of all, you can get on the air a lot faster, and second of all, it’s generally less expensive. So we need to have a big unscripted agenda. Lip Sync Battle feels like the perfect fit for Paramount Network. It’s big, it’s glossy, it’s got big stars, I love the show. Ink Master, it’s so cinematic and premium, it’s beautifully done. And Jon Taffer’s Bar Rescue continues to be a ratings juggernaut, we put it against The Walking Dead, and it continued to perform. It would be nuts not to move it over and not have it be part of the Paramount Network.
But then there is a lot of work to be done because I think unscripted is harder now than unscripted because everything has been done, and done, and done, and the audience is weary of the same old storage shows, and auction shows, and duck shows. I think part of the reason Lip Sync struck a chord is because it’s so different, it was a welcome relief, music variety that has been reinvented in a fun way.
It’s on us to rise to the level, how to build off Lip Sync, how do we build off Ink Master. We can’t think small, we have to think big, premium reality, non-scripted ideas, and I think that’s a bigger challenge than finding great scripted.
DEADLINE: What is your target, in terms of a number of scripted and unscripted series on the Paramount Network in the first year?
KAY: I think six scripted for next year and then growing to eight in the second year, and non-scripted probably the same, six. You are looking at a dozen originals. We have original Cops on Saturdays. You will see a lot less Cops repeats in the daytime, which have populated Spike’s schedule, we are going to cut back on that.
DEADLINE: Spike’s longtime head of programming, Sharon Levy, who recently left, had an extensive unscripted background. Are you planning to bring in a senior reality executive under Keith Cox?
KAY: There is no plan to do that right now. I think we have a great team. Keith has a big, long history of everything, from Surreal Life. Unscripted is in his wheelhouse as well, I feel pretty confident about the team.
DEADLINE: What is the future of Karaoke Showdown?
KAY: We don’t know yet. It just ended its run, we need to dig down deep and see what we think of it and the ratings.
DEADLINE: Is male-centric Spike fare going away, like the Guy’s Choice Awards and professional boxing?
KAY: We did the 10th anniversary last year of Guy’s Choice, it was a great show. Ten years of Guy’s Choice is kind of amazing and pretty special and really helped us build the Spike brand. But we reached the point over the last couple of years where we thought because we were evolving Spike into more of a general position and less of a male position, that it didn’t necessarily fit anymore. It was time to retire Guy’s Choice, sadly because we loved it.
So this year we made the decision to go and replace that tentpole with One Night Only, which we had done twice before, we did it with Eddie Murphy, and we did it with Don Rickles, now we have Alec Baldwin. We felt strongly that it is a yearly tentpole for us.
The first time you’ll see Paramount Network will be Paramount Network Presents: One Night Only in July because we think that’s worthy of Paramount.
Boxing is not part of our slate right now, we are really focused on MMA and Bellator, a franchise Viacom owns, and it is experiencing its best ratings yet. We have a lot of confidence in Bellator, that will be on Fridays and Saturday when it makes sense.
We’ve got scripted dramas, non-scripted in a big premium way, we’ve got scripted comedies, we’ve got docuseries, and we’ve got Mixed Martial Arts. If you look around at the broadcast networks, that’s not a bad model to me. On the broadcast networks, you’ve got drama nights, you’ve got comedy nights you’ve got sports nights. You’ve got a lot of variety for different viewers across a very broad audience. I feel that’s where we want to be.