CBS & Paramount+ plan ‘Fire Country’ spin-offs as group “doubles down” on franchises

Fire Country

Paramount+ and CBS are exploring a raft of spin-offs for Fire Country as the company “doubles down” on franchises and “rationalises” its spending.

Fire Country debuted on CBS last year and became a hit for the network, with creators Max Thieriot, Tony Phelan and Joan Rater working on expanding the universe, according to George Cheeks, president & CEO at CBS, chief content officer news & sports at Paramount+ and CBS Entertainment.

Cheeks, speaking at the Banff World Media Festival, said he wanted to “expand universes” and pointed to shows such as NCIS – which has numerous iterations including a recent Sydney-based show – but also create new franchises.

Fire Country completely lends itself to new worlds, we’re really doubling down on that focus but it doesn’t have to be known IP.”

Cheeks said the decision to spin out additional versions “became very clear” soon after the show aired, “and I said to [the creators] we’ve done the back nine, now let’s go do some more. And true to form, they’ve done that.”

George Cheeks

The exec did not spell out specifics on how the new shows would be spun out or when – “probably not next year, just when they’re ready” – but said they could work for CBS or Paramount+, or both.

“And I don’t want to give the wrong notion – we’re 100% franchise focused but we don’t just want to do known IP,” he added.

Spending ‘rationalisation’

Cheeks – who joined Paramount from NBCUniversal in 2020 – admitted that Paramount has been focused on costs and said the streaming correction of a year ago continues to have a considerable effect.

“The streaming model has evolved and we have to recognise it poses serious challenges for our creative partners too. Media companies in general are facing significant challenges, a year ago it was… profits be damned and then all of a sudden it’s about profitability.

“We need to take a step back and rationalise our spends, peak TV has definitely peaked and it has forced streamers to [reconsider] whether it is really sacrosanct that we have to see everything on a platform.”

More flexibility could result in better deals for producers, he added, pointing to more residuals for writers if “we’re not locking shows down.”

During a conversation in which Cheeks mentioned spending “rationalisation” several times, the exec admitted the pilot process – which CBS continues to use in parts – remained mired in efficiencies and that he was approaching the process “surgically”.

He also confirmed Stephen Colbert had extended his deal on The Late Show for a further three years and added that mass appeal remained the key metric for CBS success, although competition from streamers has risen as they look for broader programming.

“Streamers had been saying they only want to do edgy, anti-hero shows. Now, I’m getting calls from them asking if there are any pilots that we don’t want, can we take a look. When you create shows with that mass appeal, it is those hits that drive a service.”

On the writers strike, Cheeks admitted that the situation is “existential for all of us”, adding that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) – which represents the studios and streamers such as Netflix – includes a wide range of companies that had differing priorities.

He added that there are “challening issues”, adding: “We’re not all [thinking] in exactly the same way.”

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