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Showtime’s David Nevins Talks ‘Twin Peaks,’ Patti Smith Series, Documentary Push

After some behind-the-scenes drama, Showtime’s “Twin Peaks” sequel is heading into production next month with director-exec producer David Lynch tackling the project as one long movie that will be sliced into a still-undetermined number of episodes.

Showtime initially announced “Twin Peaks” as a nine-episode order. After some wrangling in the spring over the budget — during which Lynch briefly dropped out of the project — the sides came to terms, and now all systems are go for Lynch to direct the entire series. Production begins next month, mostly in the Washington state area.

“I expect (the series) be more than nine (episodes),” Nevins said Tuesday during his presentation at the Television Critics Assn. press tour at the Beverly Hilton. “It’s open ended. I know what his shooting schedule is, and then I’m going to let him cut into it however many episodes it feels best at.”

The premiere date is also still to be determined. It could be as late as 2017, Nevins acknowledged. “I want it as badly and as soon as the biggest fans in the world,” he said. “I’m hoping sooner rather than later.”

Nevins also announced fourth-season pickups for dramas “Ray Donovan” and “Masters of Sex,” which are now in the midst of their third seasons.  

Another high-profile project in the works at Showtime is a limited series based on “Just Kids,” musician Patti Smith’s memoir of coming of age as an artist in 1970s New York City. “Penny Dreadful” creator John Logan is working on the adaptation with Smith. The series will revolve around Smith and her friendship with famed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe at a fertile moment in New York’s artistic scene.

Smith happened to be a “Penny Dreadful” fan, and the chance for her to work with Logan helped Showtime land the sought-after rights to her bestselling memoir.

Nevins made a point of showcasing Showtime’s growing slate of documentaries and the initiative that started this year to give some titles theatrical runs under the Showtime Documentary Films banner. Those titles include “Listen to Me Marlon,” a documentary built around audio recordings of Brando’s private musings that the legendary actor made over the years. “Prophet’s Prey,” about fundamentalist polygamist Warren Jeffs, will also get a theatrical release.

Other upcoming docs include a probing look at the CIA, “The Spymasters,” narrated by “Homeland’s” Mandy Patinkin; “I Am Giant,” a study of New York Giants star Victor Cruz; “American Dream/American Knightmare,” about embattled rap mogul Suge Knight; and “Electric Church: Jimi Hendrix.”

“The documentary forum as it’s being told now by filmmakers is much, much more engaging as a rule than it was ten years ago,” Nevins said. “For the right price point, you can make something really interesting with filmmakers doing really cutting-edge work.”

He added that Showtime’s documentaries have performed well on the company’s nascent over the top streaming service, which launched last month. The availability of Showtime as a digital-only option has “significantly transformed our business,” he said, citing the “opportunity to become a more responsive consumer-focused company.”

Nevins was, of course, asked the question that has been a theme of the summer TCA sessions: How networks are grappling with the overabundance of competition from the boom in original series programming on TV and digital outlets.

“There’s never enough great TV,” he said. “We’re trying hard to make great TV.” He acknowledged that “there’s a lot of stupid money going in a lot of different directions. You hear about (projects landing) two-season commitments off of pitches.”

Showtime is focused on growing its slate of originals, but only “at a rate that we feel we can do great, meaningful television.”

As for the marketplace gyrations in the pay-TV arena, Nevins said the emerging era of “skinny bundles” and over-the-top services are tailor-made for Showtime. “To the extent that there are different kinds of bundles and different providers, it augers well for our company” by making it more affordable for consumers to access subscription TV services.

Among other topics raised during the session:

  • Showtime has ordered a pilot for an untitled drama about a young African-American man growing up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago. Lena Waithe (“Dear White People”) and Common are exec producing, with Clark Johnson on board to direct.
  • “Homeland’s” upcoming fifth season will take the show into new territories and a focus on new security threats, including Russia and ISIS. Because the season is set in Berlin, it’s natural to ask “what’s Putin up to? That’s a tricky relationship there,” he said.
  • Docu series “A Season With Notre Dame Football,” premiering Sept. 8, will follow the storied college team through an entire season.
  • Comedy remains hard, Nevins acknowledged. “Happyish” did not live to see a second season, and comedy pilot “Roadies” has undergone recasting. Nevins noted that Seth Rogen is in talks to develop a project for Showtime but he would not elaborate. “There hasn’t been a comedy that has defined a network for a while,” he said, noting the broader struggle for comedy series to break through in the same way that drama series resonate.

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