Showtime's New Chief Has Emmy Envy
Greenblatt will push originals 'that stand for something'
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/18/2004 7:00:00 PM
Showtime's new-ish entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt wants a drama that wins an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe Award. It's that simple. If other cable networks, like HBO, FX and USA Network, can do it, why not Showtime?
That's Greenblatt's challenge now. A veteran producer and programmer who joined Showtime last July, he is tasked with reinvigorating and reinventing the premium service's original programming. Showtime created successful niche-oriented dramas like Queer as Folk and Soul Food, but it has also been a factory for so-so dramas and movies.
"The better the shows," he observes, "the better the image." A few good programs can change perceptions.
Former co-chief of Greenblatt Janollari Productions and an eight-year Fox Broadcasting veteran, Greenblatt had a hand in drama hits Six Feet Under, The X-Files and The Sopranos. At Showtime, "I want to come up with some shows that everybody wants to watch," he says. "I want to try some things that aren't immediately conceptually pigeon-holed."
The problem with niche shows, Greenblatt says, is some that viewers dismiss them prematurely. "They say, 'It is not for me, and I won't check it out.'"
Take black dramas. Showtime's Soul Food has had a good five-season run and is being syndicated on BET. But, he says, "a black show is a very hard thing to get a wider audience to come to. That's why the [broadcast] networks are afraid to even try."
He promises Showtime will still play in niche drama, like new series The L Word, about young lesbians in Los Angeles. But his first project, Huff, slated for summer, is designed to be more inclusive.
Huff stars Hank Azaria as a troubled psychologist, with Oliver Platt playing his best friend and Blythe Danner as his mother. TV critics—often a hostile crowd—reacted warmly to news of the pickup at the Television Critics Association gathering earlier this month.
His plans aren't all high-brow and dramatic. Showtime has signed on to air Britney Spears concert live March 28. "I believe some carefully chosen, high-profile events can compliment our schedule," he explains.
Greenblatt and Showtime Chairman Matt Blank preach a quality-over-quantity mantra for original programming. Part of that means making fewer original movies. Showtime used to be a made-for-TV machine, churning out dozens each year. Now Showtime will make about six movies per year "that stand for something," Greenblatt says.
Plans also call for adding several new shows. (Soul Food starts its final season Feb. 26, and Queer as Folk, in its fourth season, may be approaching its twilight.) Greenblatt recently renewed freshman drama Dead Like Me and decided to pick up filmmaker R.J. Cutler's ambitious political reality series, American Candidate, after two other networks passed.
Says Greenblatt, "We have to take risks. We have to challenge the audience."
Perhaps most important, Showtime needs a hit. That, Greenblatt says, requires patience. He points to HBO's programming history. Before its current mega-hits, he says, HBO was best-known for shows like The Larry Sanders Show and Arli$$. "Pretty good shows, but they didn't have anything distinctive."
Then came shows like The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Six Feet Under (which he executive-produced). Says Greenblatt, "You get the show, and everybody goes 'wow.'"
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