Apr 16, 2009

Shame!

United States of Tara

Showtime: Epic Development FAIL

The news last week that Showtime has decided not to greenlight any of its four pilots to series has left plenty of folks around Hollywood wondering just what’s going on at the premium cable network that’s Not HBO, But Not TV.

First thought: Showtime’s decision not to move forward demonstrates why its business model works so well.

After all, unlike broadcasters (and half the basic cable networks these days), Showtime doesn’t have some quota to fill. There’s no rule that says it has to add a new series every four to six months. There won’t be giant gaps in its schedule because these four projects turned out not to be up to snuff.

What’s more, Showtime already is pretty jam-packed with buzzworthy originals, from “The Tudors” and “Weeds” to the network’s latest hype generator, “The United States of Tara.” And while I haven’t seen “Nurse Jackie” yet, the five-minute sizzle reel I saw back in January convinced me Showtime probably has another home run on its hands.

I obviously haven’t watched the four prototypes Showtime rejected. But if executives there honestly didn’t feel any of the shows were gotta-see TV, then they made the right call. As embarrassing as it is to have an entire class of pilots collapse, it’s a lot cheaper than greenlighting a clunker just to try to mask the scent of failure.

Of course, this is not to say Showtime’s development fail doesn’t carry some serious downside.

The Hollywood Reporter implied that some industry types are wondering whether Showtime’s nixing of its Tim Robbins drama “Possible Side Effects” was somehow dictated by higher-ups at CBS Corp. (read: Leslie Moonves).

The show revolves around the prescription drug business, and Moonves sells a lot of Viagra and Advair on the mothership. Draw your own connection, THR dared readers (possibly channeling the voices of Robbins’ agents).

I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest this is what happened. And if it did, I don’t really care: CBS Corp. is a publicly traded company, not a national trust. Moonves damn well better be looking after the interests of his shareholders, not Robbins’ political agenda.

Still, reporters hate to admit that TV is a business, so if there is any truth to the CBS-killed-”Side Effects” scenario, we’re in for days/weeks/months of navel-gazing about the matter. That’s reason enough to hope it’s not true.

Then there’s the other negative aspect of the Showtime development meltdown. Specifically, that Showtime’s development … melted down.

Let’s face it, going 0-for-4 is never a good thing (unless you’re playing Russian roulette). Even if you blame all four failures on the creators of the pilots, somebody decided to get into business with these people.

And timing-wise, Showtime is about to see its supply of new feature films sharply curtailed. This really isn’t the best time to let your development slate collapse.

Finally, as much as I admire Showtime boss Bob Greenblatt, it’s probably worth noting that he’s been a bit distracted recently. In addition to working nine to five at Showtime, he’s been spending a big chunk of his time launching “9 to 5: The Musical” on Broadway.

The good news: “9 to 5” opens April 30, which means Greenblatt soon will be able to fully devote himself to Showtime again. (Well, except maybe for June 7, when he’s hoping to be collecting a Tony Award.)

  • Posted April 16 at 3:21 PM

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