Earlier this week, news broke that Showtime was developing a Frankenstein drama from John Logan and Sam Mendes. At the Television Critics Association executive session for Showtime, President of Entertainment David Nevins added more famous literary characters to the show, whose title he revealed is “Penny Dreadful.”
“‘Penny Dreadful” unites literature’s most iconic and terrifying figures in turn of the century Victorian London,” said Nevins. “Dracula and Van Helsing, Dorian Gray, Dr. Frankenstein and his creature and maybe even Jack the Ripper, for good measure. [Logan]’s going to write every episode of the series really with the preeminent screenwriters, and he has been obsessed with monsters in literature, I think, since childhood. It’s a show that he’s always wanted to do, and I’ve been sort of wooing him to Showtime for a very long time."
" [Logan] presented this to me, and it’s very realistic," continued Nevins. "It’s very grounded. This is not Bela Lugosi. The characters are all in very human form, all existing around the turn of the century London. And there will be probably one central point-of-view character a little more than others, but I think it’s going to be fairly ensemble. I know that contradicts itself. It’s ultimately ensemble in the way that ‘Downton Abbey’ is an ensemble, and it’s very psychological. I think it’s going to be highly, sort of, erotic. And, it’s my hope and intention that Sam Mendes is going to direct it.”
At the end of the panel, we followed up to ask if other characters were added to “Penny” after it was announced as a Frankenstein series, or if they were there all along. “No, no, no, there’s a lot of secrecy. There remains a lot of secrecy around it. That just wasn’t accurate. It hasn’t changed. It was always an ensemble.”
Nevins remained on stage after the panel for further questions, and addressed comparisons between “Penny Dreadful” and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, the graphic novel series (with a movie adaptation) about literary’s greatest characters teaming up.
“It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. I understand that in logline it sounds like that, but these are real flesh and blood characters who are all at a certain strata of society in that period. They’re definitely not fighting crime, and they’re definitely not united in what they’re doing.”
“Penny Dreadful” will likely shoot in London, related Nevins. With NBC gearing up their own “Dracula” series for the fall, he’s not worried about any comparisons. “It’s an aspect, a character in this," explained Nevins. "It is not the main thrust and it’s this character in a very different world. I don’t know. I haven’t read their script. I know what ours is going to be. I can’t really speak to exactly what they’re attempting. This is so wholly original in its conception of the world and its conception of these characters, there’s no possibility that anybody’s going to be doing anything like it. John Logan is one of the great storytellers in Hollywood.
Expect to see “Penny Dreadful” in 2014, if things move along as quickly as Nevins would like.
Earlier in the day, CBS showed a sizzle reel for “Under the Dome,” a series which originated at Showtime. We asked Nevins why it ultimately wasn’t right for his network.
“I really liked ‘Under the Dome,’ the script. But it always felt fundamentally a little bit not us and probably more network. I tried at one point to sort of push it, but I felt like I was pushing it out of what it was best meant to be. Then when it became clear, I actually helped facilitate getting the script to Nina and I think it’s found a really good home. I think it’s going to be a really good show.”
Some of the violence suggested by the animated storyboards for “Dome” (sliced cows and bloody hammers) might benefit from lenient cable standards, but Nevins felt the rest of the show would thrive on network. “I think it’s going to be better in a broadcast environment than it would in pay cable.”
During the panel, Nevins also addressed questions about future seasons of hit shows “Homeland” and “Dexter.” He would not confirm Damien Lewis’s return for season three of “Homeland.”
“How fun would it be if I gave you any of those spoilers?," asked Nevins. "I think ‘Homeland’ is in a very interesting place. Howard [Gordon], Alex [Gansa] was part of it, made the decision to end this season with a fairly clear setup for Season Three, which is kind of opposite how they ended Season One. They are at a bit of an end of a movement."
"First, Seasons One and Two, I think, were fundamentally about working out the initial fugue, the initial movement of Brody and Carrie, and they came to a rest at the end of Season Two, but with a very clear launch for Season Three," added Nevins. "They are at the very early stages. There’s some things I know. There’s a lot that hasn’t been shared with me yet, and I’m very excited to find out.”
Nevins was also cagey about “Dexter.” He’s moving its eighth season to the summer to premiere this June. Though it was developed as the final season, Nevins would love to see if there is a way to extend it.
“I’m not making any announcements today about when ‘Dexter‘ will end. I think I will clarify before ‘Dexter’ goes on the air for this next season. There’s a clear end game in place. I can’t talk about it just yet. I do think the ending and then the bringing of Deb into Dexter’s private torment, into his turmoil, into his story, is what revitalized the show. The decision of when to end ‘Dexter’ is ultimately a creative decision, and it will be made on creative reasons."
"I say ‘Dexter’ is to Showtime is what Batman is to Warner Bros.," continued Nevins. "It’s a core franchise, and I want to take care of it in a way that is respectful to the franchise, that shows respect to the fans, the care and love that it deserves.”