From strippers to Sept. 11,
HBO's Sheila Nevins tells it like it is

Multichannel News

For Sheila Nevins, it has always been about keeping it real. Home Box Office's executive vice president of original programming has spent the past 23 years developing and producing documentaries for the premium service... Her annual output schedule includes 13 films for the America Undercover franchise, four late-night shows (Real Sex in its various iterations), three specials, and a baker's dozen worth of documentaries for Cinemax under the Reel Life banner.

Right now, she's charged up about a pair of projects centered on the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, an event that initially left Nevins traumatized.

"At first I was locked inside, watching TV," she said. "I felt like an idiot."

Working on the projects has, to some extent, helped Nevins to heal. In Memoriam: 9/11/01 New York City looks at the "macrocosm of the tragedy, the heart of the people and the city, their calm, their panic, their camaraderie, the work of [former New York Mayor] Rudy Giuliani," said Nevins.

By contrast, Telling Nicholas-a look at a Staten Island family that, after 10 days of making excuses, has to tell a boy that his mother won't ever come home again-is the microcosmic view.

"This was something so horrible," said Nevins. "It's dizzying and sadness. Somehow, though, it has made me feel useful about what it is I do as a programmer."

Ironically, Nevins' passion for reality dates back to her days at Yale University's School of Drama, where she received an master's of fine arts degree. "I already do drama, without actors," she said. "I learned early on that working with actors wasn't something I would want to deal with. I couldn't handle the entourages." For Nevins-who began her career with Don Hewitt as a producer for CBS's Who's Who, and as a writer for the Children's Television Workshop-real life offers all the material she needs.

"I do drama docs, not docudramas. There are more than enough intriguing situations in life."

For franchises like America Undercover and Reel Life, Nevins tries to balance "heat with warmth." This approach to subject matter doesn't just span the human condition. It has practical purposes throughout an annual production schedule... Nonetheless, Nevins maintains that quality is more important than Nielsen results...The reality genre's rise on broadcast television has brought more attention to HBO, she says - with mixed emotions. ..

After nearly a quarter of a century on the job - and having amassed a growing collection of Academy Awards, Emmys, Cable Aces and George Foster Peabody Awards - Nevins has no plans to stop anytime soon...Nevins said she's never considered her job to "be work work. What I have been able to do for more than 20 years here, is like a gift."

DIRECTOR'S FILMS: GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: New York, GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: Hollywood, Telling Nicholas, Just, Melvin,
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