Monday, August 13, 2007

Showtime - The New HBO?

A couple of years ago, the most telling promotional tool on the tube was the phrase, "It's not TV; it's HBO."

And with the lineup of shows HBO had, that promotion was pretty accurate. "The Sopranos," "Deadwood," "Rome," "Six Feet Under," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Larry Sanders," "The Wire," et. al. were some of the best offerings anywhere on the dial. Indeed, you look at the anticipation and reaction of the finale to "The Sopranos," and there's no arguing the cultural impact the network has had.

But all those shows, save "Curb" and "The Wire" are gone, and HBO hasn't come up with much in terms of replacement. "Big Love" has gotten some critical praise, but that's about it. Shows like "John From Cincinnati" have been a bust, both in the ratings and among critics.

Meanwhile, Showtime has stepped up and is looking to fill the void of having the best and most original shows on pay-TV.

I recently switched from HBO to Showtime (I'd have both, but The Telegraph doesn't pay me enough to do so) basically because I wanted to catch "Dexter" on reruns, to see if the show was worth the hype.

Good choice on my part. Michael C. Hall may have been the performer most robbed by being left off the Emmy nominees.

I am also hoping to catch "The Tudors" when Showtime decides to rerun it.

Meanwhile, Showtime is airing a lot of its original new stuff, including "Brotherhood," "Weeds" and "Californication." "Weeds" (Showtime, 10 p.m.), which had a strong Emmy presence, begins its third season tonight, followed by "Californication," which follows at 10:30 p.m.

Since I haven't had Showtime in the past, I haven't caught "Weeds" before, though it's enjoyed a lot of commercial and critical success. Meanwhile, the network seems to have high hopes for "Californication," starring David Duchovny as an alcoholic, divorced writer. The network seems to be promoting a lot of sex in the show, for what it's worth.

Not everything Showtime has done of late has turned to gold. I watched the pilot for "Meadowlands," and it was awful. But with its other offerings, and a lack of compelling stuff by HBO, Showtime may soon start becoming the viewers' pay-TV of choice.

R.I.P. MERV GRIFFIN: The TV icon and businessman died Sunday at 82. Though well-known as both a singer and talk show host, Griffin's lasting legacy was the creation of "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!"

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: For those of you who haven't ordered Showtime, there are still options on regular old cable. TNT's strong lineup includes "Heartland" at 8 p.m., followed by "The Closer" and "Saving Grace," which got an order for 15 additional episodes over the weekend.

TV Guide's Matt Roush discusses on his site today how ABC Family is becoming the new CW with shows like "Kyle XY" (ABC Fam., 8 p.m.) and "Greek," so if you like teen-oriented dramas, you may want to check them out.

"My Boys" (TBS, 10 p.m.) is also new, and after three episodes, is as strong as it was at the end of its first season.

Finally, NBC is re-airing the cast's choice for the best of "Heroes," (NBC, 9 p.m.), with each episode hosted by actors from the series. Tonight, Ali Larter and Adrian Pasdar are the hosts.


zodin2008 said...

First, you left off "Entourage", one of the only 3 HBO series my wife & I watch (besides "Big Love" and "Curb"). The show is terrific.

Second, while the first season of "Weeds" was stellar and addictive, the 2nd season was bad enough that we decided not to renew with Showtime. I tried "Dexter" and it was way too gruesome and sadistic to get into. No thanks.

As for Duchovny, good for him on the new series but it's not going to get me into Showtime. My wife and I also tried "The Brotherhood" as an irish version of "The Sopranos" but quit after 2 episodes because it was such a boring, pale comparison (despite having the wonderful Jason Isaacs involved).

I think Showtime is the Stephon Marbury of Television channels--wildly overrated. yes, they seem to have a bigger pool of series than HBO, but nothing compelling enough to pay another $15 on top of my already insane monthly cable bill.

Also, while I really enjoy "Entourage", "Big Love" and "Curb", after the upcoming season of "Curb" airs this fall (like it's last season), I am canceling HBO and will simply wait for future seasons of "Entourage" and "Big Love" on DVD.

Without "The Sopranos" the channel doesn't seem worth paying an extra $15.95 a month for.

zodin2008 said...

Oh, Merv Griffin was 72, not 82.

Phillip Ramati said...

No, Griffin was 82, according to the Associated Press story I'm looking at right now.

I forgot about "Entourage."

Jonathan said...

I'm digging a lot of Showtime's programming for the most part. I agree with Zod that "Weeds" 2nd season wasn't as good as the first, but it was still funny enough to make me give the third season a shot for at least a little while. I just wonder how much story they can get out of this predicament. Some new supporting characters would be a good start since this is explained as being a pretty big development, but the show makes it seem like only 6 people live there. And I'm not sure the prescence of Matthew Modine (Who is a slightly above average actor at best) will make things all that much better.

I love "Dexter," but I come from someone who also reads the books the series has been based on. The first season's main storyline was actually a retelling of the first novel in the series. They obviously padded it with sub-plots to make it work as a series and added some characters. However, judging from what I've heard about the second season they are not following the plot line of the second book for the new season which is fine. I've always thought that would be a great way to do a television series though. If you base it on a series of books why not have each season represent each of the books?

As for "Brotherhood," I quite enjoyed the first season, and felt it was a nice double dip to "The Sopranos." "The Sopranos" will probably be the better show in the end, but that doesn't make "Brotherhood" any less intriguing or exciting.

As for "Californication," I've seen the pilot episode that will air tonight through Netflix. And while there are some amusing moments overall I found Duchovony's character to be such a downtrodded asshole, I find it hard to see how I'm going to care about him and his latenight cable sexcapades for too much longer. The show opens up with Duchovony getting a BJ from a Nun; the lowest common denominator seems to be the show's standpoint right now, and I'm hoping they reach for higher goals down the road. But I definately laughed enough to give it a couple of more episodes before I make my final decision on it.

zodin2008 said...


I generally agree with your Television analysis, but nothing you said has remotely convinced me to sign back up for Showtime.

I agree with something though...their programming does hit the "lowest common denominator".

Edge said...

Yeah Weeds is back on!!!! I love this show. And cannot wait for the new season tonight. I guess I don't look at shows the same way you guys do, if I enjoy watching it, and feel my 30min/hours was not wasted, it was good for me. But I have always loved Weeds, and I though last season was good, maybe the 'newness' of the topic wore off for some. But has keep me wanting more each week. And I did love the Tutors also. Can't wait for it to come back. I am looking forward to giving Californication a try.

zodin2008 said...

No, my wife & I hated the 2nd season of "Weeds" because the writing was way over the top and the characters were completely unlikeable.

It had nothing to do weith the "newness" wearing off.

Phillip Ramati said...

Well, saw "Californication." I'd say it was disappointing, but that implies I had a lot of high hopes for it in the first place. It was exactly what I thought it was going to be, and it won't be joining the ranks of great cable TV.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jonathan, Robert Altman and Stanley Kubrick think Matthew Modine is more than "slightly above average". They should know.

Phillip Ramati said...

Gotta agree with Jonathan here, anon, I've always thought Modine was a mediocre actor at best. He always seems to be reading the lines of the script rather than actually acting them.