TCA: Showtime Execs Say Original Programming Is ‘The Thing’

Pay-TV network slots series contenders; Greenblatt predicts broadcasters will give back time

Following what Showtime Chairman-CEO Matt Blank says was a “terrific” 2008, with record revenue and financial performance, the network’s executives are focused on rolling out and slotting new original series, they told critics at the Television Critics Association press tour Wednesday afternoon.

Next Sunday, Jan. 18 will mark a milestone for original series on the network, with its three premieres that night, Blank says: The final season premiere of The L-Word; the second season of Secret Diary of a Call Girl; and the series premiere of United States of Tara, starring Toni Collette. The network also will premiere Nurse Betty, starring The Sopranos Edie Falco, this spring.

Blank says that while theatricals will continue to be important to the network’s lineup, they have become commoditized with all the places consumers can see movies. “It’s much easier for people to associate Showtime with Dexter or United States of Tara,” he says, indicating that as far as the brand focus, “series is what distinguishes us.”

Showtime Entertainment President Bob Greenblatt is considering the future of three-year-old Brotherhood and the recently-piloted spin-off of The L-Word (See related story: TCA: Showtime’s Bob Greenblatt Reveals Details on ‘L Word’ Spin-off) among the other original series mix. He is also working on more This American Life.

While Greenblatt expects Showtime’s original production in primetime to continue to expand, the network can only accommodate so much. “The slots have grown but there are still a limited number of shows,” Greenblatt says. “There’s always a fight of what we’ve got on the air vs. what’s waiting in the wings.”

“We’re living through an evolution where original programming is the thing,” Greenblatt says, pointing out the continued emphasis at Showtime and HBO on originals, along with a more recent ramp ups at other cable outlets such as Starz and an unprecedented amount of original series on TNT. “[Mad Men’s home network] AMC is now on the map because of original programming. That’s the trend and ironically the broadcast networks are delivering less of that.”

Greenblatt in fact predicted that at least one of the broadcast networks in the next few years will give hours back to their affiliates. “And I don’t mean Fox or The CW,” he says.

So which networks will be first to do so, a critic asks?

“I don’t think Fox will, they are at that threshold,” he says, saying he shouldn’t speculate now, then answers: “I doubt it will be CBS, so of the remaining two, you pick.”