Paramount Network Chief Explains How They Use ‘Setting as a Character’

“Part of what makes ‘Yellowstone’ work is that it’s not a very L.A. or New York-centric show,” Kent Alterman tells TheWrap

Yellowstone season 2
Paramount Network

Kent Alterman’s plan for Paramount Network, which he took over last fall as president, is for it to steer clear of New York or Los Angeles.

In fact, for Paramount Network, the setting is as much a part of the show as any of the actors. “Part of what makes ‘Yellowstone’ work is that it’s not a very L.A. or New York-centric show,” Alterman told TheWrap.

“Setting as a character has been a really valuable piece [for us].”

Alterman pointed out that the network’s first original program, “Waco,” and its first hit, “Yellowstone,” even derive their names from where they take place. “[‘Yellowstone’] is kind of a modern day western that really reflects the middle part of the country,” he said. “It has a very broad appeal, but not broadcast-level quality.”

Last October, Alterman, who was already the head of Comedy Central, took over Paramount Network and TV Land in a company-wide reorganization that saw Viacom reduce its brand groups from five to four. Alterman said they took the first six months to “really take a step back and to formulate” what Paramount Network, launched from the ashes of the former Spike TV in January 2018, was really all about.

“We’re providing content that is an escape, but it’s not empty calories,” he continued. “If you think about the name Paramount network the association that immediately comes to anyone’s mind is movies.”

“Yellowstone” was a much-needed hit for the fledgling network, which was supposed to be Viacom’s answer to competing with top-rated cable networks like USA and TNT. Paramount was supposed to launch with buzzy hits like the Alicia Silverstone-starring “American Woman,” and TV adaptions of “First Wives Club” and “Heathers.”

But neither “American Woman” and “Waco” did much  — “American Woman” was canceled after 1 season — while “First Wives Club” moved over to sister network BET and the less said about “Heathers,” the better. But then “Yellowstone” came along and gave the channel a much-needed boost.

The Kevin Costner-led drama averaged 5.1 million total viewers each week, per Nielsen’s live-plus-seven metric. That made it the second most-watched series on all of cable television, behind only AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

The success of “Yellowstone” — and the struggles with “Heathers” and “First Wives Club” — may be why Paramount isn’t going all-in on mining IP from Paramount Studios’ vast stable of content. Alterman explained it as more of a balancing act, between greenlighting new ideas while looking for chances at studio IP.

“I wouldn’t say it’s one at the expense of the other, we’re really talking about both,” he said. “We have one project with Paramount TV studios that’s original IP and we’re exploring some other ones that are already IP that exists.”

On the horizon, the network has a scripted series from “Younger” creator Darren Star, “Emily in Paris,” that stars Lily Collins as an American from the Midwest who moves to Paris. Paramount is giving the series a global launch across all of its international channels. On Tuesday, the network picked up scripted comedic drama series “68 Whiskey,” from Brian Grazer’s Imagine Television and CBS TV Studios.

Paramount is also developing a crime-anthology series, “Accused” with David Shore, and on Wednesday, it announced a project with “Breaking Bad” alum Michelle MacLaren.

Alterman also explained the decision to keep Darren Star’s “Younger” at TV Land, rather than move it over Paramount. The move to change networks was a decision that was made before he took over.

“We really tried to keep it simple. In some ways it’s no more complicated than that,” he said, pointing out the show had its biggest audience ever for its fifth season. “If it’s not broken why fix it? Why put it on ourselves to try to market to bring a new audience to it at Paramount Network, or even try to convert a TV Land audience to Paramount.”