From "Waco" to "Yellowstone," the Paramount Network arrives


A new name popped up in TV listings Thursday (Jan. 18), leaving viewers with a question: What is the Paramount Network, anyway?

Well, it's a little like Spike (which it replaces, after Spike replaced The Nashville Network and The National Network) and a little like Paramount Pictures, its owner. Its image may be clearer when the "Waco" mini-series starts Wednesday (Jan. 24); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

The name “Paramount
Pictures” represents a century of Hollywood history.

And the name
“Paramount Network”? It represents a week of viewer confusion.

Eventually, the
images might start to merge. That could be when the network wraps its
six-week “Waco” mini-series ... or when it debuts a “Heathers”
series March 7 ... or when it launches Kevin Costner's “Yellowstone”
series this summer.

Those point to a
goal. Kevin Kay, the network president, calls for shows that are
“cinematic in scope.”

In short, he wants
ones that are kind of like Paramount movies. That's a stretch for a
network that has previously been know as The Nashville Network, The
National Network and Spike.

Spike's image was
clear, Kay said. Its audience was “sometimes 70, 80-percent male in
prime time.” But it was owned by Viacom, which also has Paramount
Pictures; now comes the makeover.

The new name brings
lots of memories. Paramount is the studio of “Gump,” “Grease”
and “Godfather,” of the “Star Trek” and Indiana Jones films,
plus “Titanic,” “Top Gun,” “Airplane” and more. The
network doesn't particularly have access to any of those, but it does
have the tradition.

Among the major
studios, Paramount is the second-oldest – it's 102, Universal is
104 – and the only one still based in Hollywood. Costner remembers
making “The Untouchables” there and feels movie tradition is
important. “I like our history,” he said. “It's flawed and it's
great and it's a lot of things, but we're all standing on the
shoulders of people.”

The flaws have been
obvious lately. (“Waco” and “Yellowstone” were co-productions
with Harvey Weinstein's company, which is being extricated from both
shows.) So have the strengths; the new network will have:

-- Some reality
shows -- “Lip Sync Battle,” “Bar Rescue,” “Ink Masters”
-- carried over from Spike.

-- Comedies. Coming
are “American Woman,” an Alicia Silverstone show based on Kyle
Richards' eccentric childhood, and possibly an adaptation of “First
Wives Club.” First is “Heathers,” adapted by Jason Micallef,
who watched the 1989 movie on homevideo – often. “'Heathers' was
my 'Star Wars' .... I loved that it was a dark-but-funny view on
humanity.”

-- Documentaries.
Keith Cox, the network production chief, said that includes films on
Trayvon Martin and, April 2, on Martin Luther King, “told through
the prism of Dr. King's most iconic speeches.”

-- Movies and
reruns, a key for most cable networks.

-- Dramas, which is
where Paramount may finally seem like Paramount. That could peak in
June with “Yellowstone,” which has Costner owning a mega-ranch
near the national park.

Fresh from
triumphing with the low-budget “Wind River,” writer-director
Taylor Sheridan found several networks interested. He said he chose
Paramount because it offered “complete creative freedom ... almost
too much of it. I told them my vision, I told them how I wanted to
make it, and they agreed.”

Before that, there's
“Waco,” sprawling over six Wednesdays, with Taylor Kitsch as
David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian complex. Producers leaned
heavily on David Thibodeau and Gary Noesner, who wrote books about
the 1993 siege.

Thibodeau – one of
only nine people to survive the compound fire – speaks well of
Koresh. “He was always a reasonable individual the entire time that
I (knew) him. I think what happened was the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) messed up horribly on the first
day. And then the FBI came in and the miscommunication was so
profound.”

Noesner, the
government negotiator, tried to bridge the gap. “I couldn't get
David Koresh and my on-scene commander to act reasonable at the same
time,” he said.

The final
confrontation was giant in scale and impact ... something that may
define a new cable network that bears an old studio's name.

-- “Waco,” 10
p.m. Wednesdays, Paramount; six weeks, beginning Jan. 24