EXCLUSIVE: Halo‘s long road to the small screen has taken one final turn. Showtime’s anticipated series based on the hugely popular Xbox video game franchise will migrate to Paramount+ and be available exclusively on ViacomCBS’ streamer. The announcement will be made during the ViacomCBS Streaming Event this afternoon.
Produced by Showtime in partnership with 343 Industries and Amblin Television, the series is in production in Budapest and will premiere on Paramount+ in Q1 2022.
Halo reinvented how people think about video games and has grown into a global entertainment phenomenon, having sold more than 81 million copies worldwide. In the television series adaptation, starring Pablo Schreiber, Halo will take place in the universe that first came to be in 2001, dramatizing an epic 26th century conflict between humanity and an alien threat known as the Covenant. The show will weave deeply drawn personal stories with action, adventure and a richly imagined vision of the future.
“It delivers the visceral excitement of playing the game, along with a much deeper emotional experience around the Spartans, human beings who got their humanity chemically and genetically altered,” David Nevins, Chief Creative Officer, CBS & Chairman and CEO, Showtime Networks, said about the series. “The story is about reclaiming what makes them human, and therefore it’s a very powerful story.”
Steven Spielberg, Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey executive produce for Amblin Television alongside Steven Kane, director Otto Bathurst and Toby Leslie for One Big Picture and Kyle Killen and Scott Pennington for Chapter Eleven. Kiki Wolfkill, Frank O’Connor and Bonnie Ross serve as executive producers for 343 Industries.
Halo, which had filmed 55%-60% of its first season when the coronavirus pandemic shut down all production last March, had been floated for months as a possibility for Paramount+ at the ViacomCBS Content Council and in conversations between Nevins and ViacomCBS president and CEO Bob Bakish.
“We were on the hunt for signature shows beyond the Star Trek franchise on CBS All Access and were thinking, what could be a defining series for Paramount+,” Nevins said. Late last fall, the top executives got to see first finished footage from Halo, which put the idea of a move to Paramount+ on an accelerated path. “Halo always fit the bill, but seeing it, we felt it would work,” Nevins said.
He reached out to Showtime’s creative partners on the series, Spielberg and his team at Amblin as well as 343 Industries, the Microsoft-owned video game developer behind the Halo universe. Nevins got them on board with a pitch why Halo would benefit from launching on Paramount+. “It could be a defining show for a newish service that’s got all firepower of an entertainment corporation behind it,” Nevins said.
Halo was originally developed “with an eye toward expanding the palette at Showtime to four-quadrant shows,” Nevins said.
But once ViacomCBS settled on a three-lane streaming strategy — free ad-supported, broad-pay and premium-pay — “we all felt that Halo is a broad-pay show,” Nevins said.
Meanwhile, Showtime will remain “a premium adults programming service” and home of “sophisticated dramas” like Your Honor, Nevins said.
The massive ratings success of the Bryan Cranston-starrer Your Honor has given Showtime a strong momentum, which made the decision to let Halo move to Paramount+ easier. The audience for Your Honor, which debuted in December, has already surpassed 8.1 million viewers across platforms in Showtime’s 27 million-28 million home universe, on pace to become the biggest debut season in the network’s history.
Coming off of that, “you are going to see an infusion of new stuff,” Nevins said. The first wave of high-profile new Showtime series is already coming together, with The Curse comedy starring Emma Stone; The First Lady limited series headlined by Viola Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Gillian Anderson; and Steven Zaillian’s drama Ripley toplined by Andrew Scott.
Showtime will continue to produce Halo for Paramount+, and the network’s creative executive team, led by Gary Levine and Amy Israel, who had been working on the series for years, will continue to oversee it. It is an example of breaking down silos at ViacomCBS, along with Paramount TV Studios producing promising pilot American Gigolo for Showtime.
With multiple content studios within ViacomCBS, “part of my goals and the goals of the Creative Council is to get the right piece of content on the right platform where it will be best monetized,” Nevins said. “I think we are making the smart decisions on what kinds of brands we are trying to build tor consumers rather than internal politics.”
Along with George Cheeks, President and CEO of CBS Entertainment Group, and Julie McNamara, EVP, Development and Programming for Paramount+, Nevins oversees CBS Studios’ pipeline of original content headed to Paramount+.
Halo stars Schreiber as Master Chief Spartan John-117; Natasha McElhone as Dr. Halsey, the brilliant, conflicted and inscrutable creator of the Spartan super soldiers; and Jen Taylor as Cortana, the most advanced AI in human history, and potentially the key to the survival of the human race. Additional stars include Bokeem Woodbine, Shabana Azmi, Natasha Culzac, Olive Gray, Yerin Ha, Bentley Kalu, Kate Kennedy, Charlie Murphy and Danny Sapani.
Amblin Television has worked on Halo for almost a decade. The series was originally announced in 2013 as one of the big series to launch Xbox’s original content effort. It moved to Showtime shortly after Xbox Entertainment Studios was shut down in 2014 and had been in the works at the premium cable network ever since. The adaptation got a green light in June 2018. Following one more bump in the form of a director change several months later, the series got on track and has been moving along, only interrupted by the pandemic. Halo will be distributed globally by CBS Studios International.
Paramount+ is the latest traditional media company-launched streamer to recruit high-profile new scripted series from one of its cable channels among its first offerings. Those include Raised By Wolves, which migrated from TNT to HBO Max, and Brave New World, also produced by Amblin TV, which moved from USA to Peacock.