Cable network renews show for third season

In HBO’s first major programming move since it changed regimes, the pay net has renewed “Big Love” for a third season.

Net has picked up 12 episodes of the show, in which Bill Paxton and Chloe Sevigny star as members of a polygamous family in Utah. Writing is set to begin next month; lensing is skedded for November.

The renewal, which comes earlier than expected, will ensure the season is completed and ready to air by the time a possible labor stoppage shuts down production in June.

“Love” has seen a dropoff in viewers since it launched in the Sunday night timeslot following “The Sopranos,” when it averaged 4 million viewers in its initial airing. The Monday move has brought initial broadcast numbers of around two million.

But HBO says the network values its original series based on total viewers from six weekly airings, as well as estimates from DVRs and video on demand that indicate the show has a strong following, and a potential weekly viewership around 6 million. “Big Love” also has become the network’s second-highest-rated recent original series among women, behind “The Sopranos.”

The net had originally scheduled “Big Love” for an 8 p.m. Sunday slot leading in to “John From Cincinnati,” but switched the series to Monday night before the season started.

However, HBO will bring the show back to Sunday nights, at least temporarily, when “John From Cincinnati” completes its first season.

HBO has been seeking a drama hit since “The Sopranos” went off the air last month. Surfer-drama “John From Cincinnati” launched to a large-scale marketing campaign last month. Net will unveil “Tell Me You Love Me,” an hourlong relationship drama, in the fall, and unspool the half-hour drama “In Treatment” in early 2008.

Timing — and Tony Soprano’s long shadow — have kept “Big Love” from being shown a lot of love by the media, said exec producer Will Scheffer.

“We were hyper-concerned about moving to Monday night,” said Scheffer, who exec produces with Mark V. Olsen, David Knoller and Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. “We got lost in the expectations of ‘The Sopranos.’ The renewal was a pleasant surprise, though, because we didn’t figure to learn our fate until the end of the summer.”

New CEO Bill Nelson, along with programming topper Richard Plepler and West Coast chief Michael Lombardo, have kept a somewhat low profile at the net until two weeks ago, when Plepler and Lombardo made their press debut at TCA.

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