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November 23, 2014

Five Reasons Why 2011 Could Be the Year of Showtime

by Laura Prudom, posted Jan 7th 2011 4:00PM
William H. MacyOnce upon a time, premium cable was kind of a one-trick pony. HBO was the go-to channel for original, risk-taking programming without the strictures and irritating commercial interruptions of broadcast network TV, and other pay-cable networks just couldn't rival HBO's subscriber base, impressive production budgets or awards season glory.

Thankfully, this is no longer the case, with both basic cable networks (like AMC and FX) and smaller, edgier premium channels (like Showtime and Starz) having stolen the spotlight from their pay-cable granddaddy over the past few years.

This Sunday, Showtime is debuting two of its most buzzworthy new series -- Matt LeBlanc's triumphant return to TV, the single-camera comedy 'Episodes,' and dysfunctional family drama 'Shameless,' starring William H. Macy. And, to sweeten the deal, the network is offering a free preview weekend from Jan. 7 through Jan. 10, so that 60 million homes will have the opportunity to get hooked on the new shows without subscribing. Three excellent reasons to predict that 2011 might be Showtime's strongest year yet; join us after the jump for more!

Michael C. Hall1. Free Preview Weekend
OK, we'll admit that it's a little sneaky, inviting people to get addicted to a spate of critically acclaimed new and returning shows (the fourth season of David Duchovny's raunchy 'Californication' also returns Sunday night) and then cruelly snatching them away, but it's savvy marketing and nothing that other premium networks haven't pulled on viewers before. And trust me, you will get hooked.

In addition to the three high profile premieres on what Showtime is calling its "BIGGEST. SUNDAY. EVER." it's also hoping to lure viewers with the premium cable debut of 'The Twilight Saga: New Moon' on Saturday (no comment), and the chance to catch up with past seasons from the channel's other popular series: 'The Big C,' 'Dexter,' 'Nurse Jackie,' 'United States of Tara,' 'Weeds' and 'Californication,' just to show you what you're missing. So if you've had a hankering to hop on the 'Dexter' bandwagon but haven't had the chance to catch up, this weekend may be just the opportunity you were looking for. Did I mention that it's free? (I'm cheap, all right?) Check out more details on the weekend here.

2. 'Shameless'
Remaking a hit UK show for a US audience is always a risky venture -- sometimes it pays off, like 'The Office,' and more often, it doesn't (there are too many failures to name; don't even get us started on 'Coupling,' 'Fawlty Towers' or 'Spaced'). But when the original creators are involved, the scripts are sharp and the cast is as obscenely talented as William H. Macy, Emmy Rossum et al., you occasionally get a show like 'Shameless,' a remake that takes the solid foundations laid down by the original series and builds on them to create something stronger and more compelling than what came before it. After watching the pilot, I had no hesitation naming 'Shameless' the best new drama series of the 2010-2011 season, and I can't wait to see how it progresses.



3. 'Episodes'
Many have already seen the irony in pairing 'Shameless' with 'Episodes' on Sunday nights; one Matt LeBlancseries is a American remake of a popular British show, and the other is a series that deals with the trials and tribulations of an American network attempting to remake a popular British show, much to the chagrin of its creators. Being an English transplant to L.A., the show certainly rang true for me on a number of levels, but I suspect that 'Episodes' will be a harder sell for US audiences, especially those expecting Matt LeBlanc's latest project to boast the wall-to-wall funny we got from 'Friends'. Instead, the series fits comfortably within the niche carved out by Showtime's other half-hour dramadies such as 'United States of Tara,' 'The Big C' and 'Californication', with less laugh-out-loud humor and more of a dry (and sometimes dark), underlying wit. Could "Matt LeBlanc" be Matt LeBlanc's greatest role yet? Definitely maybe. (And if you like the look of the hilarious Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan, I urge you to check out their last collaboration, the genius British medical comedy 'Green Wing,' available on Hulu.)

4. 'The Borgias'
During last summer's Television Critics Association press tour, Showtime's presentation stood out to me amongst all the other networks because of their 2011 trifecta of 'Shameless,' 'Episodes' and 'The Borgias,' the latest historical drama from 'The Tudors' creator Michael Hirst and Oscar-winning director Neil Jordan. It won't premiere until later in the year, but the series, which focuses on the scandalous exploits of the bloodthirsty Borgia family (led by Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI), promises all the betrayal, sex and literal backstabbing that you'd expect from a clan that was said to be the basis for 'The Godfather's' Corleone family. Check out a preview below.


5. Girl Power
It's not as if Showtime has appeared out of nowhere to try and claim HBO's throne -- the network has spent many seasons steadily strengthening its slate, from some of its earliest Laura Linneytriumphs like the barrier-breaking 'Queer as Folk' to the aforementioned 'Tudors' and 'Dexter'. But while other cable networks have built their success on the womanizing alcoholics of 'Mad Men' or the testosterone-laden bikers in 'Sons of Anarchy,' Showtime has recently found a great deal of acclaim with a number of shows that center around smart, subversive female characters.

Whether it's drug-peddling Mary-Louise Parker in 'Weeds,' pill-popping Edie Falco in 'Nurse Jackie' or the phenomenal Toni Collette juggling a number of roles (even while playing one character) in 'United States of Tara,' Showtime has succeeded where many major networks have failed in creating multiple shows that offer new and unpredictible dimensions for strong, capable women. Last year the network added Laura Linney to that list as cancer sufferer Cathy Jamison in 'The Big C', while Emmy Rossum's Fiona looks set to continue the trend in 'Shameless' this season.


2011 already looks to be one of the strongest schedules for cable yet, with high profile historical epics (such as Starz's 'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' and 'Camelot,' and HBO's long-awaited 'Game of Thones') presenting heavy competition, but one only needed to be seated in Ballroom 20 at last year's crowded San Diego Comic-Con to see just how much power and fan enthusiasm Showtime has already secured. If the network can keep up the momentum it has been gaining over the past few seasons, I have no doubt that 2011 could be Showtime's year to shine.


Will you be watching Showtime's free preview weekend? What do you think of their upcoming series? Share your thoughts and predictions in the comments below.

Follow Laura on Twitter: @LauinLA.

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Richard_Head

I was going to watch those premieres Sunday night but now I'm just going to wait until they re-air later in the week since its a free preview weekend. Everytime the premium movie channels has a free weekend they have crawlers every 15 minutes telling me how to subscribe to a channel that I already have.

January 07 2011 at 9:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Stephen - NYC

I won't be watching since I no longer have satellite tv. But even when I did I canceled SHO since they started slicing and dicing the credits of the movies and then plastering the screen with their SHO logo. It's a premium channel, so it means no commercials and no editing of content. Slicing the screen at the end to push the credits down and putting your logo on the screen during the movie constitutes editing. Directv wouldn't get them to stop, so I canceled them (as I did with Starz when they decided to slap their inane channel names on the screen - 'Black Starz' come on, get real).

January 07 2011 at 5:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Stephen - NYC's comment
Jon Carpenter

HAHA, that is one of the stupidest reasons I have ever heard to cancel a channel.

January 07 2011 at 6:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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