A focus on mysteries, thrillers and dramas about dysfunctional families

President of development and production Keith Cox
Territory reach US
Content breakdown 10% acquisitions; 90% originals
2018 originals Yellowstone; Waco; Heathers; American Woman

Just three months out of the gate, Viacom-owned Paramount Network is joining the ranks of US drama power players with a slate of talent-led premium series.

The channel rebranded from Spike TV in January, with a focus on high-end drama and entertainment – arguably two of the most challenging genres to get right.

Keith Cox, president of development and production for Paramount Network and its fellow Viacom channel TV Land, says top agents, talent and creators are increasingly bringing their content to the channel because “they have seen us putting our money where our mouth is”.

Ultimately, most US cable networks are “all hearing the same pitches”, says Cox. For a network to distinguish its brand, it comes down to “how dark you want to go”.

“There is a spectrum on the darkness of a show, and how much warmth it has in it. You want to be as broad as possible to get both men and women, but you also need it to have a strong point of view,” he says.

“The biggest key is our shows have to feel cable in tone, and there is a difference between US cable and broadcast drama. We also want to make sure our slate is diverse, with many different types of show.”

Programming priorities

The network’s “three drama building blocks” for 2018 are the Taylor Kitsch-fronted six-parter Waco; Kevin Costner-starring Yellowstone, which is written by Hell Or High Water’s Taylor Sheridan; and 10-part black comedy Heathers, reimagining the 1980s film.

Yellowstone was initially being co-produced with The Weinstein Company but Cox says that Paramount has “taken over the show”, which it is now producing solely with Sheridan, following The Weinstein Company’s bankruptcy.

The channel is “buying pretty aggressively” for 2019 and 2020, with a focus on mysteries, thrillers and dramas about dysfunctional families.

Paramount is also looking to buy half-hour shows, though Cox notes that they “need to be a bit more dramatic” in tone, in the vein of shows such as HBO’s Girls or FX’s Atlanta.

“It is very tricky these days to get comedies to land like dramas, but our half-hours need to have dramatic elements. These tend to work nicely with our dramas and feel semi-similar even though they have lighter moments.”

Cox says the network’s “foundation” will comprise six scripted shows, as well as big tentpole events, such as the celebrity music and entertainment special Rock The Troops and comedy event One Night Only. Unscripted shows include Lip Sync Battle, and Cox is looking for something similar in tone.

“The minute I got here, I said we needed a show that isn’t necessarily a companion [to Lip Sync Battle] but embodies the same feeling – something that is fun, fuzzy and sexy, with a celebrity element that does well on digital,” he explains.

Paramount recently attended a creative exchange in Miami for channels owned by Viacom International Media Networks, including Channel 5 and Argentina’s Telefe.

“We are all kicking around ideas,” says Cox. “There is a lot of sharing back and forth, and we are going project by project to see what content across the network could be right for us.”

Paramount is expected to launch in the UK as a movie-led, free-to-air channel overseen by C5 director of programmes Ben Frow and MTV and Comedy Central UK managing director Jill Offman, who was recently handed control of the Paramount Channel internationally.

Cox says Paramount Network US could “absolutely” share some of its originals with its UK sister channel, but notes that he will be “monitoring the friends and family discounts”. “You have to sell where you can make the most money,” he says.

”We have assets that are extremely valuable, and we want to get the most out of them.”

Cox is also keen on scripted formats, having recently linked up with Sony Pictures Television for a US version of BBC1 drama Accused that will be produced by House producer David Shore.

The channel has also greenlit Spanish scripted format I Know Who You Are, which originally aired on Telecinco. Paramount is developing the show with CBS Productions.

Reflecting on Viacom’s rumoured merger with CBS, Cox says that such a deal would be a “plus” for Paramount and, more broadly, Viacom.

“CBS has Showtime, which is commercial- free, and the broadcaster CBS, while Viacom channels are ad-supported, so I don’t think we’d all be running into each other,” he notes. “We are both powerful and would have more assets to play with, such as [SVoD platform] CBS All Access.”