Ditching Spike in Favor of Kevin Costner and Some Mean Teens


Still, the Spike moniker (and lots of showings of “Cops”) kept the network from truly being seen as a general-audience destination. Cue the name change. The reinvention also fit it in with the corporate decision under a new chief executive to focus on six of Viacom’s bigger brands (BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., and now Paramount), at the expense of its smaller ones (TV Land, CMT, VH1 and Logo).

Paramount Network, which bills itself as “television’s destination for premium entertainment and storytelling,” will showcase original programming (about a third of the schedule), supplemented by TV series and feature films culled from the Viacom and Paramount vaults (“Pitch Perfect,” “The Devil Wears Prada”). There will also be many fewer showings of “Cops.”

The network was set to begin its new life with a live episode of “Lip Sync Battle” on Thursday, Jan. 18, followed on Wednesday, Jan. 24, with its first big offering, “Waco,” a mini-series about the botched siege of the Branch Davidian compound in 1993. The show epitomizes the network’s chase for the cinematic, with grand vistas; a fully reconstructed Texas compound; and name actors, including Taylor Kitsch (“Friday Night Lights”) as David Koresh, and Mr. Shannon as the F.B.I. hostage negotiator tasked with bringing him in.

Inhabiting the role of that embattled cult leader, accused pedophile and wannabe rocker took its toll, Mr. Kitsch admitted. “It took two months to come out of it,” he said. “That, and counseling.”

Waco – Official Trailer 2 (2018) Michael Shannon, Melissa Benoist TV Series HD Video by FilmTrailerZone

Later this year comes “Yellowstone,” created and directed by Taylor Sheridan (“Hell or High Water”) and starring Mr. Costner, who did not come cheap. The network is paying him half a million dollars an episode. “To get Kevin to agree to do multiple seasons of a TV series,” Mr. Kay said, “you have to pay him what he’s worth.”


In “Waco,” a Paramount Network mini-series, Taylor Kitsch plays David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians. Credit Lewis Jacobs/Paramount Network

The new name of the network probably helped lure Mr. Costner, too. “I’m not sure if he shows up for Spike,” Mr. Kay said.

(Both “Waco” and “Yellowstone” were high-profile entries from the Weinstein Company. But since the raft of allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein, all traces of the Weinstein name have been scrubbed from the credits, though the company still has a financial stake in the shows.)

One of the biggest departures for former Spike lovers will be “Heathers,” which veers wildly from the original. In the new series, Ms. Doherty’s character, Heather Duke, is a gay male, while Heather NcNamara is now African-American. And the leader of the crew, Heather Chandler, is no longer a svelte blonde but a brunette self-described “plus-sized girl.”

“It was so nice to read a character who’s described as a big girl, someone who would be the teased, bullied person in the original movie,” said the new alpha bully, Melanie Field, a veteran of Broadway musicals (“Evita,” “Phantom of the Opera”). “And then to see her in a position of power, to see her saying, ‘This is who I am, I’m going to claim my power,’ I just found it really liberating and exciting.”

Despite the changes, there will still be frequent nods to the 1989 movie for the fiercely loyal “superfans” of the original, said Jason Micallef, the series creator and showrunner.

“It’s not like we taped over the original,” he said.

To ensure Paramount Network had a decent stable of original shows in its first months, Viacom also transferred some properties from TV Land. “Nobodies,” a comedy produced by Melissa McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, about the hangers-on of the show-business world, begins its second season in the spring. And both “Heathers” and “American Woman,” a forthcoming comedy starring Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari set amid the sexual revolution of the 1970s, were originally slated for TV Land.


The 1989 movie “Heathers” (starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater) gave the teen comedy a very dark and violent makeover. Credit New World Pictures

Paramount Network is also holding on to Spike favorites like “Ink Master” and “Bar Rescue,” as well as “Lip Sync Battle,” that dying network’s biggest ratings hit.

Further down the line, the screenwriter Tracy Oliver (“Girls Trip”) and the producer Karen Rosenfelt (“The Devil Wears Prada”) are working together on a serial version of the 1996 film “The First Wives Club,” while David Shore (“The Good Doctor”) is developing an adaptation of “Accused,” the award-winning BBC series.

Despite the eclectic mix of programming and some substantial budgets, Paramount Network’s reliance on advertising has kept them out of the game on some coveted projects, like an untitled Reese Witherspoon-Jennifer Aniston TV series that was recently purchased by Apple.

“I went in hard,” Mr. Cox said, “but we were told no matter what, the two of them didn’t want to be anywhere with commercials.”

But what Mr. Cox and other executives say they can offer the creators of TV shows is a lot more attention and care than, say, Netflix. The hope is to form a stable of show creators who will return for future projects and to secure those elusive hits that can define a network.

“You know, Netflix, they drop a show a week — Naomi Watts had a show,” he said, referring to “Gypsy, “and I was thinking, oh my God, if I had Naomi Watts, that would be huge for us. For them, it came and went. Poof, gone.” (Netflix canceled the series six weeks after its premiere.)

“We’re going to curate our shows like a museum,” Mr. Cox added. “We are going to pick really beautiful pieces, but we’re not going to just pile all kinds of stuff in here.”

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