Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh in Waco
When you’re planning to turn a TV network into a marquee destination, it doesn’t hurt to take the name of the movie studio that brought audiences the Godfather trilogy, among other great films.
That’s the thinking behind parent company Viacom’s move to relaunch Spike TV as the Paramount Network. The new network will debut January 18 with a live, hour-long version of the Spike TV hit Lip Sync Battle.
“Paramount represents over 100 years of storytelling,” says Paramount Network president Kevin Kay. “It means premium.”
Premium is a key word in the lexicon of the new enterprise, which began to take shape when Bob Bakish became president and CEO of Viacom in late 2016.
Kay, who had been with Spike TV since 2003 (when it was called TNN) and had worked through several rebrands of the so-called “first men’s network,” was working on yet another company transition. Spike executives were programming Lip Sync Battle and other shows that skewed more evenly among men and women, with the goal of turning the outlet into a general entertainment network. But the progress wasn’t as robust as they’d hoped.
“We knew what was standing in the way,” Kay says. “That was the name: Spike. So, when Bob said he’d really like to use the name Paramount for one of these networks, the logical one was Spike.”
And the rest, as they say, is history — in the making. Paramount will enter the Peak TV landscape with a handful of high-profile new scripted series, as well as the return of Spike’s most-watched nonscripted shows. Along with Lip Sync Battle, Paramount will air new seasons of Ink Master, Bar Rescue and Bellator MMA.
Keith Cox, president of development and production at Paramount Network as well as TV production at Paramount Network as well as TV Land and CMT, believes the new network is well positioned to compete in the scripted field, starting with Waco.
The limited series , based on the 1993 FBI siege of David Koresh’s Branch Davidian sect in Texas, will debut January 24. Michael Shannon and Taylor Kitsch headline a cast that includes John Leguizamo, Rory Culkin and Melissa Benoist of Supergirl.
Waco fits perfectly into the Paramount plan for top-quality general entertainment, Cox maintains. “Everything should feel elevated,” he says. “Across genres, it should feel cinematic, compelling and original.” The creative team behind Waco — brothers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle — initially sold the show to Spike but were excited when they got the news about the rebrand.
“It’s an incredible brand,” says Drew, who wrote the script with John, his fellow executive producer. “And it’s been a great partnership. You never know whether your studio or network partners are going to be making the same show you’re making. From the very beginning, they wanted to make this version.”
Waco is one of six scripted series Kay hopes to air in the coming year. Eventually he’d like to offer eight scripted shows a year, along with nonscripted shows, docuseries and Paramount films.
And the Paramount film library could be the source for future original series. With Paramount Pictures chairman Jim Gianopulos, Kay is looking at properties old and new that might have a character suitable for a spinoff. “It’s a great library — and we own it,” Kay says. “That’s important because we need to control the rights as much as we can.”
But that’s down the road. For now, he’s happy to share the story behind the Paramount Pictures iconic logo, which the new network has tweaked for its own purposes.
“The stars were meant to [represent] the original stars signed to the studio,” he says. “Basically, the studio created the movie star. I like that, be- cause we’re all about stars. We want stars in front of and behind the camera.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, issue No. 10, 2017