Nicole Clemens has been an agent, a producer and a creative executive for a major producer and a top network. But in her current role as president of Paramount Television Studios, she sometimes functions as a banker managing a portfolio of investments in TV series that have different underlying business models.
On the latest episode of Variety podcast “Strictly Business,” Clemens discusses the growth of Paramount’s TV production unit and the studio’s approach to managing a roster of series for streaming outlets and basic cable. Of late the studio has taken a few swings on development projects for broadcast networks, including a medical drama prospect at Fox with Melissa Leo on board to star.
“The idea is to have some shows with major upside (potential) so you can hit a home run,” Clemens said. “Our bread and butter is not in broadcast TV.”
The voracious appetite of streaming platforms helped Paramount TV rev up production about six years ago. The studio stopped actively producing for TV when Viacom and CBS were separated in 2006 (the companies were reunited last December), but as the streaming boom hit, it became clear that Paramount couldn’t afford to not be in the TV business.
The so-called cost-plus licensing agreements that Netflix, Amazon and others favor mean that studios know from the start what level of profit will be realized from the show, in all but the rarest cases.
“They’re like the bonds of the portfolio. There’s really no risk but its capped upside. You definitely want them,” Clemens said.
Like every other film and TV production company, Paramount Television Studios has been scrambling in recent weeks to keep as much work going as possible during the pandemic lockdown. Paramount had four series that were on the cusp of debuting when the shutdowns hit in mid-March, including Apple TV Plus’ “Defending Jacob” and “Home Before Dark,” and “When the Streetlights Go On” for Quibi.
The temporary end of production meant hasty shutterings for multiple series and a USA Network pilot that were already shooting or about to begin lensing. The logistical process of getting all of that organized consumed Clemens’ first three weeks of working at home.
“We’d shut down shows before, but we’d never shut down all of our shows in the space of one week,” Clemens said.
Before joining Paramount in September 2018, Clemens served as a manager-producer at Anonymous Content, and as executive VP and head of series development for FX Networks. Before that she logged 16 years as an agent at ICM. At the start of her career, she worked at Spelling Television, learning the craft of storytelling from Aaron Spelling himself.
“We called him ‘The Mister,'” Clemens recalls. At Paramount, she relies on the sum total of her industry experience to help her navigate the changing business landscape.
“This is the job that lets me take a lot of my jobs and roll it all together,” she said.
“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.