Showtime’s President Talks Twin Peaks Revival and ‘Good’ Versus ‘Great’ TV

And why comedy is such a challenge

John Landgraf's provocative remarks that there's "simply too much television" on the air have continued to reverberate through the second half of the Television Critics Association's summer press tour. The latest to weigh in was Showtime Networks president David Nevins, who told reporters on Tuesday, "There may be too much good TV, but there's never enough great TV."

With the explosion of original series, "there's a lot of stupid money going in a lot of different directions," said Nevins. And while Showtime is still in growth mode, "we're expanding at the rate that we think we can do great, meaningful television."

Nevins applauded the move by some cable networks to offer skinnier bundles of programming. "It augurs well for our company because any smaller bundle is going to have to have CBS … and it's going to lower the price point at which Showtime is available. So, we feel like the trends are actually very good for us," he said. 

But as bundles get slimmer, Showtime itself is expanding with the launch of its streaming-only subscription service last month. "Just 30 days ago, we significantly transformed our business," said Nevins. While Showtime's "23 million plus" cable subscribers "has never been higher, there are 12 million broadband-only homes and 80 million multichannel video homes that don't have Showtime. We have a lot of room for expansion within that universe, and the early demand is encouraging."

From Apple TV to Xbox to Hulu, "each of these new partners is a gateway to a different kind of consumer," said Nevins.

Nevins talked about one of Showtime's most anticipated projects, its upcoming revival of Twin Peaks, which is back on track after director David Lynch briefly left the project this spring. Shooting starts in September, "thankfully," said Nevins, adding that he "never had any doubts we were going to get him back." 

"It became clear that it was going to take more than nine episodes, which was the originally planned-for, originally budgeted-for length of the series, so we had to work out the details," he said. "We eventually got through it, and we're looking to be in great shape."

But beyond the start of production next month, Nevins isn't sure how many episodes he'll get to air or when the show will ultimately premiere. "I'm hoping we make 2016; it's not clear. Bottom line is I'll take it when they're ready with it," said Nevins, adding that co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost will shoot the entire series at once and then decide in postproduction what form it will take. "He's directing it as one long movie."

In addition to Twin Peaks, Showtime ordered a pair of pilots: I'm Dying Here, executive produced by Jim Carrey, about "the golden age of comics in L.A." in the '70s, and an untitled, coming-of-age drama, executive produced by Common. The network is also adapting Patti Smith's memoir, Just Kids, as a limited series. 

Showtime is rolling out seven new documentaries, including A Season of Norte Dame Football, a weekly, Hard Knocks-style look behind the scenes of the college football powerhouse. "Nobody has ever had this kind of access before," said Nevins.

While its documentary and drama slate is strong, the network has struggled to launch a new comedy. "Comedy is hard, and the dramas tend to drive the marketplace as part of it. Drama tends to be what travels, so there's incentive to us," said Nevins, who canceled his advertising-themed comedy Happyish last month. He called that show "a risk I would take again."

"It didn't connect, and I think there was something about the show that was sort of hard to take," he said.