As part of MTV Studios, the new division will develop documentary films and specials for third-party streaming services, premium networks and MTV platforms. Under Nevins’ leadership, MTV Documentary Films seeks to embrace a new generation of filmmakers exploring the social, political and cultural trends and stories that resonate with young people.
“MTV has always been at the forefront of youth culture, and the generation that is growing up now will change the world in ways we can’t even imagine,” Nevins said. “I’m excited to join MTV with electrifying stories that explore the crises and commitments that young people face every day.”
“Throughout her stellar career, Sheila has elevated documentaries into one of the most compelling, culturally influential forms of modern storytelling,” said Chris McCarthy, president of MTV. “As we grow and expand MTV, we’re excited for Sheila to bring a new generation of filmmakers to the forefront and continue to extend our creativity and cultural impact.”
Nina L. Diaz, president of entertainment for MTV, added, “What we started two decades ago with MTV News and Docs continues to inspire today. We want to continue to build and shepherd in a new generation of documentary filmmakers and really explore issues that impact young people and youth culture. With Sheila at the helm it takes it to incredible heights and places and partnerships with documentarians and filmmakers on a much bigger scale.”
Diaz said there’s no set number of documentaries Nevins will produce a year. “We’re jumping right in, and it’s going to be about the quality and the topics, and we’ll move on them as we go. We’ll definitely get behind all the films and support them in a big way,” Diaz said.
Nevins reports to Diaz and McCarthy.
During her more than 35-year tenure at HBO, Nevins became known for redefining modern documentary storytelling and shaping the culture. She has produced more than 1,500 documentaries, and her projects have won 28 Academy Awards and 44 Peabody Awards, and Nevins has personally won 34 individual Primetime Emmy Awards, more than any other person. Her projects include the Oscar-winning “Citizenfour,” where she first worked with MTV Communications head Liza Burnett Fefferman, who suggested Nevins to MTV. Nevins stepped down as president of HBO Documentary Films in March 2018, and in the past year has been working as an executive producer on multiple projects for HBO.
She is also the author of The New York Times bestseller “You Don’t Look Your Age…And Other Fairy Tales.”
In a telephone interview, Nevins was asked what type of films she’s interested in producing for MTV and how a younger audience might change her selection process.
“I think it’s time to energize for changing the world a little bit. I think the films that I will focus on are things that will energize the population that may be too laid back. These are not the stars of moving forward, these are regular kids and regular young people, and I would like very much for them to be active when it comes to politics, the environment, jobs, A.I., drugs. I’d like them to feel they can make a difference. I feel that MTV, oddly enough, is the place where they’re going, and I might as well talk to them because they’re there already. I don’t have to seek them out, I just have to lift them up,” Nevins said.
“We’ll be buying, we’ll be making, and we’ll be innovating and energizing new filmmakers. It’s kind of like a little bit of everything that’s very good,” she added.
The 80-year-old Nevins said retirement just wasn’t for her. “I can’t cook, I can’t garden. I can still think very clearly. Docus are part of my DNA, and I can’t let go of them. I read newspapers, and I think of things every single day. When people say, ‘Are you retired?’ I say, ‘What?’ I can’t even spell it. I don’t know why everybody had that perception. I never expected to not keep going until I couldn’t anymore. So far, I can,” Nevins said.
Whether her documentaries for MTV will be more issue-oriented, pop culture-oriented or music-oriented, she replied, “I think more issue-oriented. The issues that face young people and the resolutions that will energize them to move, to think they can make a difference. To understand, that one degree of warming is one degree of spoiling, and possibly annihilation. To understand what extinction means in terms of their futures and the futures of their children. To understand that people are different, to understand inclusion, women’s rights, and certainly, ageism as well,” Nevins said.
Nevins believes she’ll have no trouble distinguishing herself in a crowded documentary field and standing out from the pack. “I’m the oldest. I’m the leader. I’m the one who began the march, and I’m continuing the march. I was there first and I’ll be there last,” she said. She said someone asked if she considers herself a legend, and she replied, “Legends are dead, workers are alive. I don’t want to be a legend. I want to be a worker.”
MTV, a unit of Viacom Inc., is available in 180 countries and reaches 450 million households in nearly 30 different languages across every platform. The cable network has more than 600 million digital views per month across all social platforms, with more than 250 million followers across all social accounts and platforms. MTV is the number-one non-sports cable network in prime with people 18 to 34, up from number five last year.