Showtime takes its commitment to topnotch family fare seriously.
“I think we’re trying to tell stories others can’t or won’t tell that are perhaps not traditional family programming but when handled appropriately have tremendous resonance with children and older folks,” says Ann Foley, executive vice president, East Coast programming, for Showtime Networks. “Kids have often been used as comic foils or props. In these movies, the kids and their voices are central.”
Fare such as “Run the Wild Fields,” “A Storm in Summer,” “The Sandy Bottom Orchestra,” “Mermaid,” “Finding Buck McHenry” and “In His Father’s Shoes” have turned the feevee net into a Daytime Emmy powerhouse.
Showtime had 19 noms and won six statues this year, with eight of the 11 shows it aired last year getting at least one nom. Two of Showtime’s four nominations for outstanding children’s special, “Run the Wild Fields” and “A Storm in Summer,” shared this year’s honor; the cabler’s shows have taken home the award four straight years. HBO earned the only other nom in the category.
“We have an embarrassment of riches in terms of cast, … people of extraordinary talent and high profile,” Foley says. “They come here because no one else is doing (such shows).”
Bradley Wigor, producer-director of “Sandy Bottom Orchestra,” agrees, saying Showtime has become dominant in this programming area because broadcast networks are uninterested in serious family fare.
“They have abdicated their responsibility. And Showtime and HBO have stepped into the breach,” he says.
Paul Kaufman, writer-director of “Run the Wild Fields,” says he first optioned the script nine years ago and found no studios willing to finance it, even with names like Keifer Sutherland and then Richard Benjamin interested in directing.
“The studios felt there wasn’t an audience for it,” he says.
It wasn’t until Jerry Offsay, Showtime exec in charge of original programming, took an interest that the project began to roll.
“Jerry is not just someone who runs a network. In addition to that he reads every script,” Kaufman says. “That’s very rare. It just means that he cares about everything that happens.”
Wigor says the network’s acceptance of diversity makes it unique. He pitched “Sandy Bottom,” based on the young-adults book by Garrison Keillor and Jenny Lind Nillson, 38 times and Showtime greenlit it the day before the option was to expire.
“Here’s this story we had about not fitting in, about not finding a place, on 37 companies’ schedules and it finally finds a home at Showtime, where they value incredible diversity,” he says. “I think it’s interesting that Showtime has room for Garrison Keillor and our point of view, and ‘Queer as Folk’ and its point of view.
Foley says challenging material such as “A Storm in Summer,” a remake of a 1970 Rod Serling telepic about a cranky old man who befriends an African-American boy, is exactly what the network seeks.
“Talented people have brought their gifts to an audience that no one else is addressing. And they’ve brought them with the passion of personal commitment,” Foley says. “It’s not a category you work in for money or glory, but a place where you bring a story that no one else will tell.”