Network announces two new scripted shows

Showtime is in discussions to renew its theatrical-output deals with Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate, but the prices those studios charge for pics are going to have to be reduced. That’s the message delivered by Matt Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks, at a New York press breakfast to boast about Showtime’s lineup of successful original series.

“I’m feeling no pressure right now” to renew movie deals, Blank said. “Our movie deals will run through the end of 2010.

“Over the last 25 years,” Blank continued, “the value of movies on pay TV has decreased” because they’re “getting a lot more exposure” before the pictures become available to Showtime.

As Blank put it: “With DVD use and various electronic downloads, nobody identifies theatrical movies with a specific network any more.”

What’s now driving the Showtime brand, he said, are scripted original series.

Robert Greenblatt, president of entertainment for Showtime Networks, also at the breakfast, touted such returning scripted series as “The L Word,” going into its fifth season; “Weeds,” to begin its fourth season June 16; “Dexter” and “Brotherhood,” each renewed for a third season; and “The Tudors,” whose second season kicks off March 30.

Showtime also announced schedule dates for two new half-hour scripted comedy series: “Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union” premieres March 30, behind “The Tudors,” and the British series “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” joins “Weeds” in a one-hour block in June.

Ullman is co-exec producer with Allan McKeown of her show, which has a five-episode commitment. Showtime bought the U.S. pay-TV rights to “Call Girl” from IMG’s new entertainment division headed by former HBO topper Chris Albrecht.

Greenblatt said Albrecht brought “Call Girl” to his attention, and Showtime bought not only the eight episodes produced for the first season but the 12 that will soon start production in England for the second season.

Showtime has committed to two pilots for proposed series, Greenblatt said. “The United States of Tara,” a half-hour from Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks, stars Toni Collette as a wife and mother of two children, who has to cope with a multiple-personality disorder. “Possible Side Effects,” an in-house Showtime production, deals with a dysfunctional family that runs a pharmaceutical company. Tim Robbins is the writer-director.

In his intro to the press briefing, Blank said Showtime is coming off its best year ever, adding 1.3-million new subscribers to swell its total to 16 million, and piling up “record revenue and record cash flow” in 2007.

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