Magazine article Variety

Hbo's Keeper of the Heat

Magazine article Variety

Hbo's Keeper of the Heat

Article excerpt

DIALOGUE: SHEILA NEVINS

Doc topper measures a story's temperature

HBO's Sheila Nevins has been president of documentary and family programming at the network for more than three decades. She recently spoke with Christy Grosz about the state of documentaries, what she looks for in a compelling story and the one thing she learned from "60 Minutes" producer Don Hewitt that still informs her job every day.

CG: Bos reality television made it harder to be provocative, or are you not as concerned with that these days?

SN: It's harder to be fresh, but it's not harder to be provocative, because if you can't provoke someone's attention, you shouldn't be making this thing in the first place.

CG: You spent an early pan of your career working with Don Hewitt before he launched "60 Minutes, " Is there anything you learned from that experience in terms of investigative journalism that has stayed with you?

SN: I only worked there for a very small period of time. I was a little bit fearful of giants like Mike (Wallace) and Don, but I would listen very hard because I thought maybe they had a magic bullet that I could take with me to my next job. They used to talk about stories being sexy. Once I walked by, and I heard Don saying about (Henry) Kissinger, "Isn't he sexy? This is a sexy piece." He meant heated, hot, now, attractive. If it walks into a television set, everybody will look at it. Sometimes I'll look at a film that has nothing to do with anything sexy, but it's got heat behind it.

CG: Where do you usuauyfind the stories that you want to tell?

SN: Conversations, cafeterias, in the middle of a pedicure, reading newspapers - I'm always looking for stories, but mostly they come from experience, ordinary experience, oddly. If you're looking for a special kind of story, the way you get it has to be somewhat surprising. It's very odd how ideas come. They come because that's what people are talking about. Then the day it's on the nightly news, and it's still in your gut, you can't stop thinking about, then you talk to your colleagues and see if there's a story to tell.

CG: Have the kinds of stories that interest you changed over the years?

SN: As the competitive landscape changes, and there are more docus out there, it's less whimsical and more pointed. …

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