As Viacom prepares to morph Spike TV into the Paramount Network, it may now face a Weinstein problem.
Paramount Network, which officially debuts on January 18, is being repositioned as Viacom’s basic cable destination for premium content, on par with networks like FX and AMC. As part of that transformation, it’s leaning heavily on the Weinstein Company’s TV label to help sell the idea of being a new home for upscale fare.
But the “Weinstein” brand now takes on a new meaning — and much more baggage — following the highly publicized sexual harassment allegations against company founder Harvey Weinstein.
Weinstein’s actions toward women have been an open secret in Hollywood, yet the producer has remained a force in the business. While the Weinstein Co. has seen its stature in features diminish, it has recently bulked up on the TV side.
For a long time, Weinstein TV was mostly known for “Project Runway,” and the nasty legal battle that came when Weinstein attempted to move the show from NBCUniversal’s Bravo to Lifetime in 2008. (As part of a settlement, Weinstein eventually paid NBCU a fee to move the show.)
But Weinstein TV is now embracing the era of peak TV by producing for multiple outlets, including “War & Peace” on Lifetime, A&E and History; MTV’s “Scream”; Amazon’s “Julian Fellowes’ Doctor Thorne”; History’s “Six” and Spike TV’s “The Mist.” The production company is also behind two upcoming Amazon projects: the David O. Russell series starring Robert DeNiro and Julianne Moore, and Matthew Weiner’s “The Romanoffs.”
“Six” was a success, and “Scream” is being rebooted in Season 3, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Weinstein TV’s scripted output: “The Mist” was recently canceled after one season, and the expensive “Marco Polo” received a rare Neflix cancellation after two seasons.
Next up, Weinstein TV will play a huge role in the launch of Paramount Network. Although the new channel is debuting with a special episode of “Lip Sync Battle,” that’s a pre-existing Spike property making the transition. Paramount Network’s real rebrand takes place later in January with the six-part limited series “Waco,” from Weinstein Television.
The series, which stars Michael Shannon, Taylor Kitsch, John Leguizamo, Rory Culkin, Melissa Benoist, and Camryn Manheim, tells the story of the real-life 1993 standoff between cult leader David Koresh and the FBI and ATF.
Later in 2018, Paramount Network will premiere its first scripted series specifically greenlit for the new channel, “Yellowstone,” from Weinstein TV and starring Kevin Costner as the nation’s largest ranch owner. The 10-episode series is written and directed by Taylor Sheridan (“Hell or High Water”).
Paramount Network is clearly relying on the Weinstein name to help brand itself as an upscale destination inspired by the cinema. In announcing “Waco” and “Yellowstone,” the Weinstein auspices were front and center. And according to Variety, Harvey Weinstein has been heavily involved as an executive producer on the projects, just as he was on Spike TV’s recent docuseries “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” and the upcoming one based partly on his attorney Lisa Bloom’s book, “Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It.”
Reps for Spike TV/Paramount Network declined comment for this story. Clearly “Waco” and “Yellowstone” are much larger projects than just Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Company, and will continue as planned. But this week’s news puts Paramount in an awkward situation, and may force it to rethink how much to stress those projects’ Weinstein auspices. (It’s unlikely, for example, that Harvey Weinstein will now take part in any press tour for the two, despite his involvement.)
This isn’t the first time Viacom has run into a stumbling block while re-launching the channel, which has undergone several metamorphoses over the years. When Viacom switched TNN to Spike TV in 2003, filmmaker Spike Lee sued — claiming the company stole his name. (The suit was later settled out of court.) Now, ironically, Viacom is changing the name again in order to attract more female viewers, as the “Spike TV” brand was seen as too male-oriented.
Others now perhaps in a tough spot include former “Today Show” and MSNBC anchor Tamron Hall, who is developing a daytime talk show for Weinstein TV. Meanwhile, as Amazon Prime looks to find more hits in the vein of “Game of Thrones,” it was already relying on the drawing power of names like Russell and Weiner, and might find even less reason now to tout those show’s Weinstein auspices. (It’s also unclear how involved Harvey Weinstein has been involved in either show, although it’s reportedly been less than the Paramount Network projects.)
Meanwhile, the Weinstein Company says it has more than 60 projects in development, including “Elvis,” the first-ever scripted series to shoot at Graceland, and Stephen King’s “The Breathing Method,” with Blumhouse.
Here’s one project Weinstein probably wishes he didn’t have his name on: As part of its production deal with American Media Inc., Weinstein Co. produced a special for Investigation Discovery on the sexual assault charges against Bill Cosby, which aired in June.
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