CBS-Viacom Deal Reunites TV Studio and Paramount Legacy; Here’s What Might Come Next
As CBS and Viacom put the pieces back together again and rejoin after nearly 15 years apart, it also means that the former Paramount TV studio assets will be back in the same family as Paramount’s film studio. But it also raises new questions about the fate of the newer shingle.
When Sumner Redstone reversed course in 2005 and split CBS and Viacom back into two separate companies, Paramount Network Television moved to CBS, which merged it with CBS Productions. First renamed CBS Paramount TV, after three years it shed the “Paramount” name and became just CBS TV Studios — now one of the top suppliers of programming to network, cable and streaming services.
Viacom finally decided to get back into the TV studio business in 2013, launching a new Paramount TV studio — focused mostly on turning Paramount film titles into TV series. (It has since branched into original productions as well.)
Nicole Clemens now runs the boutique operation, which is behind series such as “Jack Ryan” (Amazon Prime Video), “The Alienist” (TNT), “Boomerang” (BET), “13 Reasons Why” (Netflix) and “Catch 22” (Hulu).
But CBS TV Studios, which has been headed up by David Stapf since 2004, easily dwarfs Paramount TV and size and scope. For now, Paramount TV remains a separate entity, with Clemens and the shingle continuing to report to Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos, who in turn reports to ViacomCBS chief Bob Bakish. Whether Paramount TV might eventually become a part of CBS TV Studios — perhaps in a cost-saving measure — or continues to operate in tandem remains to be seen. Viacom’s cable networks have also been growing their in-house production arms, including MTV Studios. (And Comedy Central just recently opened its own in-house production unit.)
There’s plenty of precedent for congloms to house more than one studio: Disney, for example, has ABC Studios, 20th Century Fox TV, Fox 21 and ABC Signature Studios all under its purview. NBCUniversal has both Universal TV and Universal Content Prods. as completely separate units.
“Everybody does it a little differently. I think [CBS chief content officer] David Nevins is in a good spot and he’s a good executive and Bob Bakish will look to Nevins about the organizational structure of television. So much of Viacom is television,” says one industry observer.
“They could for the time being let Paramount TV stay in place, let it grow, and do its thing,” they added. “There are enough buyers out there for both suppliers to exist comfortably. Part of it will be the human dimension of how Nevins and Bakish and [acting CBS CEO] Joe Ianniello stays, and how everyone gets along with each other.”
The irony of putting Viacom and CBS back together isn’t lost on anyone. When the companies were split, most pundits placed their bets on Viacom as the big winner of the two. CBS was considered the “old media” company, which included the broadcast network, radio and TV stations, an outdoor advertising unit, and the publisher Simon & Schuster.
Viacom, on the other hand, was considered the “faster-growing” company, led by cable assets like the MTV Networks and the Paramount film studio. Nearly a decade and a half later, however, that proved to be shortsighted thinking.
What many failed to realize at the time was CBS had actually scooped up perhaps the two biggest prizes: Pay cable outlet Showtime and Paramount TV. Viacom, on the other hand, struggled as its cable networks faced erosion and the movie industry struggled.
In handing the studio to CBS, the split also gave the Eye network ownership to some of the biggest titles in TV history. CBS TV Studios’ library is actually a combination of previously merged entities such as Desilu, CBS Productions, Paramount TV, Viacom Prods., Spelling Television, and even the original in-house productions at NBC and ABC.
The result is an intellectual property goldmine. “CSI,” “NCIS,” “Star Trek,” “The Brady Bunch,” “The Odd Couple,” “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Mork & Mindy,” “Taxi,” “Family Ties,” “Cheers,” “MacGyver,” “Mission Impossible,” “Frasier,” “Deadwood,” “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Honeymooners,” “Rawhide,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Touched by an Angel,” “Blue Bloods,” “The Love Boat,” “Dynasty,” “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “Melrose Place,” “The Fugitive,” “Cannon,” “Bonanza,” “Get Smart,” and “Hogan’s Heroes,” to name several, are in the library.
“They did fantastically well,” said former Paramount TV president Garry Hart, now chair of the Department of Television and Cinema Arts at Cal State Fullerton’s College of Communications. “So much of the content is wonderful. Just look at the ‘NCIS’ history. And getting the rights to ‘Star Trek.’ Huge profits. They did very well with the shows they inherited.”
Not only is that library valuable in an age of streamers looking to bulk up their offerings, but it also provides plenty of fodder for this reboot/remake age. (Many of those titles have already been, or currently are being, remade.)
“In a world where these major streaming services need massive content to compete, that to me is incredibly valuable,” Hart added. “In one scoop you bring in a heck of a lot content. A lot of off network content is what has been driving viewership. The more content you have under your umbrella the better you are.”
In merging CBS TV Studios back with Paramount, the most immediate impact may be in the world of “Star Trek.” As part of the terms of the 2005 corporate separation, “Star Trek” was one of the properties that both the TV studio and film studio still shared. Although born as a TV show, which turned into a successful string of small-screen franchises, the “Star Trek” universe also went on to become a blockbuster film series.
CBS ultimately owns the rights to “Star Trek” (including its lucrative merchandising deals) and licenses the brand to Paramount. That naturally has caused some friction over the years. Meanwhile, the TV series and films are now on different timelines, as J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” movies are considered to be on a different path (nicknamed the “Kelvin timeline”). The merger might allow for timeline split to be resolved, while any other conflicts between the two companies would seemingly go away under one custodian.
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