Showtime ‘Firing on All Cylinders,’ Blank Says

Feb 13, 2008  •  Post A Comment

With the writers strike over, Showtime is gearing up to produce pilots of new series and new episodes of its returning shows.
At a state-of-the-network breakfast Wednesday in New York, Showtime CEO Matt Blank said the premium channel was “firing on all cylinders.”
In the past year it has added 1.3 million subscribers, raising its total to 15.6 million, and rang up record revenues and cash flow, he said.
Also, Showtime’s original programs are winning awards and buzz.
“We’re no longer second-best to anybody,” said Mr. Blank, a reference to its premium-cable rival HBO.
Showtime is part of CBS Corp. And on Sunday Showtime’s top-rated “Dexter” will begin a run on CBS, making it available to a much wider audience.
With CBS providing high-profile promotion during the NFL playoffs and the Grammy Awards, the exposure is “a tremendous win for us,” Mr. Blank said.
Mr. Blank said Showtime’s upcoming schedule was not affected by the writers’ strike.
The network on March 30 plans to launch season two of “The Tudors” and premiere Tracey Ullman’s new sketch comedy show “State of the Union.”
On June 16, Showtime will launch a one-hour comedy block comprised of the fourth season of “Weeds” and the debut of British import “Secret Diary of a Call Girl.”
“Weeds” is returning early thanks to an interim agreement between producer “Lionsgate” and the WGA. It also will avoid the crush of the Olympics on NBC.
“Call Girl” was brought to Showtime by former HBO CEO Chris Albrecht, now with IMG.
“Chris knows premium TV as well as anybody,” Mr. Blank said.
Also returning in a few months is the television version of “This American Life.”
In one segment of that show, Johnny Depp will read the diary of a young man who suffered a paralyzing head injury and communicates by blinking. He dreams of getting his voice back and sounding like the actor.
Also returning are “Dexter,” “Californication” and “The Brotherhood.”
While the returning shows represent an “embarrassment of riches,” Showtime is also in the process of developing new ones.
Bob Greenblatt, president of Showtime Entertainment, said that finding room for new shows was challenging in terms of scheduling, promotion and financing.
The network is working on pilots for “United States of Terror” and “Possible Side Effects.”
“Terror,” from Steven Spielberg, stars Toni Collette as a mother with multiple personality disorder. It was created by Diablo Cody, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of “Juno.”
“Side Effects,” a show about a family-run pharmaceutical company created by Tim Robbins, is being cast.
As original series become a more important part of Showtime’s strategy, movies are becoming less so. The network does not plan to make its own movies or miniseries and wants to reduce what it pays studios for theatrical films.
Mr. Blank said with films available to consumers on DVD as well as through video-on-demand and download services, the value of movies to premium networks is declining, a fact that “has to be reflected” in their cost.
Consumers identify the premium networks by the original series rather than by the theatrical movies they show, he added.



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