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Paramount Network President Kevin Kay Explains Decision to Pilfer Shows From TV Land

”American Woman“ and ”Heathers“ were both in the pipeline at TV Land before Viacom restructuring

Paramount Network just unveiled its launch programming lineup, which includes two shows originally slated for TV Land.

The decision to move “American Woman” and “Heathers” over from TV Land was an easy one, according to Kevin Kay, president of Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT. Kay, who previously oversaw Spike, and assumed control of the other two networks last month, said the decision to reduce the amount of programming on TV Land will ultimately strengthen the Viacom network.

“The way they were doing business, they were launching eight shows a year,” Kay said in an interview with TheWrap. “And the 10-o’clock shows got a lot of marketing behind them, but they didn’t have enough marketing to extend to the 10:30 shows. And nobody ever saw them.”

So “American Woman,” starring Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari, as well as the upcoming “Heathers” series adaptation, will instead become two of the first scripted series to premiere on Paramount Network in early 2018. The third will be the Michael Shannon “Waco” miniseries that had already been in the works at Spike.

Those three new shows will premiere alongside returning unscripted fare, including a fourth season of “Lip Sync Battle,” as well as “Ink Master” and “Bar Rescue.” If that feels like a diverse mix of programming, Kay says that’s the point. The network is targeting an audience “as broad as it could possibly be.”

“Premium storytelling is what Paramount Network needs to be about, and that’s what these three shows felt like to me,” Kay said. “And then it’s up to us to figure out what comes next.”

Read the full interview below:

TheWrap: What were you looking for when you were choosing shows that would launch with Paramount Network?
Kay: As we evolved, we made the decision to rebrand Spike to Paramount Network, we looked around at what was in house and what we could do in the timeframe that we have. We brought Keith Cox over, he’s running development and production at TV Land, and some of what was in Keith’s arsenal was “American Woman” and “Heathers.” Paramount stands for quality, it’s cinematic, it has gravity. It’s those things that we wanted. So we looked at development at TV Land and some other places, and the two things that popped out at us were “American Woman” and “Heathers.” Because it felt like they were premium products with great pedigree.

The thing about the Paramount Network is you want it to embody the quality of what Paramount is. You’re going to have to set a high bar, and I think these shows set the tone. “Waco” was something that we had in development at Spike. That combination of programming is one that is going to appeal to a little bit older women and men. “Heathers,” which I think has a younger appeal, a dark comedy appeal, and “Waco,” which just feels like an epic miniseries and will probably appeal a little bit more to men — it just felt like a good place to start. Premium storytelling is what Paramount Network needs to be about, and that’s what these three shows felt like to me. And then it’s up to us to figure out what comes next.

Who do you see as your target audience? Because I don’t think that’s immediately apparent from these three shows, which are all quite different.
It’s as broad as it could possibly be. It’s 18-49, it’s gender-balanced. If I had to pick an age, I would probably say late-30’s to early-40’s. You can’t make every show the same, so I think as a programming strategy, here’s three kind of different shows that are kind of linked by their fascination with pop culture in different ways. They’re kind of zeitgeist-y, which I think is where you need to be nowadays, and they’re quality. They’re well-made. We’re trying to reach the broadest possible audience, and I don’t think you want everything to be the same. We just need to put on great TV shows and make the audience come to us.

What are some of the advantages or challenges of targeting a broader audience as opposed to a smaller subset of viewers?
I think it’s all advantages. Viacom has done a great job through the years of creating brands that target specific audiences — MTV, Comedy Central, Logo. You have all of these very specific, targeted networks. What we wanted in the portfolio was a brand that was more general. Clients were looking for a place to get a bigger, broader audience. That’s part of the thinking here. I think the opportunity here is tremendous. I don’t have to think about just men anymore. We had moved away specifically from that at Spike, that’s where “Lip Sync Battle” and “Ink Master” came in. The one thing that was preventing us from getting there was the name Spike. The one thing getting in the way of women watching, in larger numbers, was the name Spike. They just thought it was a network for men, we did too good of a job branding the network. For me, the switch to Paramount — a brand that has no negativity associated with it at all — gives us the opportunity to make whatever we want.

When you were looking at existing Spike programming, how did you go about deciding what to carry over ?
That’s a good question. It’s the one that keeps me up at night. You know, “Lip Sync Battle” for sure. It’s a premium product with great talent, they continue to surprise us with the creativity and production value they bring to that show. “Ink Master,” for sure, it continues to grow. The ninth season was higher-rated than the eighth season. And then “Bar Rescue,” I think that John Tapper is a guy that people just love. It’s a workhorse for us on Sunday nights against any competition. I think those are the three shows that come over. What we have to do [in the future] is find a way to build other non-scripted products that feels as big as “Lip Sync Battle” and lives up to the quality purpose of Paramount Network.

With “American Woman” and “Heathers” moving over from TV Land, what does this mean for the future of that network?
TV Land has a great brand. “Younger” is a really special, magical show, and “Teachers” is a great show, and they’re launching “Nobodies” [on Thursday, March 29]. The way they were doing business, they were launching eight shows a year. And the 10-o’clock shows got a lot of marketing behind them, but they didn’t have enough marketing to extend to the 10:30 shows. And nobody ever saw them. So what we’ve done is make a very conscious decision to do four shows a year, and market those shows. I think we’ll have a lot more success for the network. I think that’s a much smarter strategy.

Was it ever on the table that those other established shows would move over from TV Land as well?
There was conversation around it, but “Younger” is a giant hit on TV Land, and “Teachers” is just starting to come into itself. And I think they’re core to TV Land. We’re not trying to strip mine TV Land’s business, I want it to be as vibrant as it’s ever been. We very consciously decided not to move those shows, but when we launch Paramount Network, I think it’s possible that you’ll see repeats of those shows to support them on TV Land.

What does the rest of your year look like? What is the plan of action leading up to the launch of Paramount Network in 2018?
It involves very little sleep. I think we’ll be doing a lot of research. There’s a lot of pipeline for Paramount Network, but I think between now and January what we need to focus on besides the programming are the schedule, as well as the brand positioning and creative filter. At this point in time, it’s incumbent on us to send a message to the creative community about exactly what we’re looking for. Right now, we’ve been able to look around our own house and find some things in development, but now we’re going out to the community and we need some really clear language about that. And we have some brand work to do. Paramount is a movie brand, and there’s a lot of work and thinking to be done to figure out how that translates to television.