In his review of Rob, Todd VanDerWeff says something: “Everybody’s trying to figure out the way to do these vaguely politically incorrect shows where the characters talk about race and culture and so on frankly and honestly. Everybody’s chasing that whole envelope-pushing thing that cable does so well because they vaguely sense that this is something network could do well, too.” In that case, they might well look to David Nevins and to Showtime for tips on how to do those things right without being obvious, or without making a hash of things trying to represent the full range of a debate.
At his executive session yesterday, one of my fellow critics asked if he thought House of Lies glorified the 1 percent and the people who produce their wealth at a time of rising anger against them. “House of Lies is all about excess and confronting the contradictions of it and the hypocrisies of it. I think House of Lies is an incredibly timely show,” he said. “We’re not really about taking the sanctimonious, obvious route to confront those issues of income disparity. But I think it’s got very interesting things to say about how business is run.” He trusts his audience to see something on screen and to interrogate it, rather than to simply accept that because it’s on screen, it must be good.
When I asked him about whether, given the nice ratings for Homeland and House of Lies, he thought there was an unmet appetite for shows that took on the issues of the day, he agreed heartily:
Relevance is a big deal for us. I want to do shows that resonate in the wider culture. I think theere’s a huge opportunity to challenge the world that we live in. Relevance, timeliness, is, I think, one of the things that can define Showtime…I feel like that’s a big part of what happened with Homeland. I got to Showtime the summer of 2010. My first day was in August. And that script showed up. I’d had conversations with Howard [Gordon] and Alex [Gansa] back when I was a producer. They gave me the script within my first week there…we started talking about what the pay cable version of that would be. I realized we didn’t have a show that played in the fall with Dexter, and a year from then, the fall of 2011 would be the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and her was a script that if we were smart about it, was going to resonate with a lot of the things that were going to be occupying journalists and pundits. It’s rare that something lines up like that…In a similar way, House of Lies, some of it is by coincidence but some fo it is by design.
The political cycle moves much faster than the television development process, so Showtime would have be unusually good at forecasting to have shows land in the same way that Homeland and House of Lies have. But I appreciate hearing anyone say that trying is worthwhile.