|From strippers to Sept.
HBO's Sheila Nevins tells it like it is
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
"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."