Matthew Blank gives good news at TCA

The broader TV biz may be reeling from audience fragmentation and an awful advertising market, but business is humming along nicely in the subscriber-based pay TV world of Showtime.

Speaking to TV journos at the Television Critics Assn. confab at the Universal Hilton on Wednesday, Showtime CEO Matthew Blank said that the CBS-owned cabler was up 1 million subscribers at the end of 2008 from a year earlier, bringing its total sub base to 16.5 million households.

“And it was another record year in terms of revenue and financials,” Blank added, while also touting a 500% uptick in traffic for the network’s broadband channel, Sho.com.

“Showtime continues to thrive despite some very difficult conditions out there,” he noted.

Also on hand Wednesday, Showtime entertainment prexy Bob Greenblatt said his network had reached parity with rival HBO in terms of the quality and quantity of its original series. On Monday, he noted, Showtime launches its Toni Collette starrer “United States of Tara” on the same night it premieres the final season of “The L Word” and season two of “Secret Diary of a Call Girl.”

“The playing field is a lot more even,” he said. “When I came here six years ago, that wasn’t the case.”

Asked about an “L Word” spinoff that’s currently in development at Showtime, Greenblatt said a pilot has been shot but not completed.

Should the Ilene Chaiken-produced project be greenlit, the spinoff would revolve around Leisha Hailey’s Alice character and her stay at a women’s prison. Famke Janssen and Melissa Leo would topline what would be almost an entirely new cast.

“The L Word” was “predominantly lesbian characters. In this new show, there will be a few lesbians in that group, but it isn’t the exact makeup of what ‘The L Word’ was,” Greenblatt said, noting that the tone of such an incarceration-themed drama would be dark, but not as dark as, say, HBO’s prison-based “Oz.”

Also asked about the fate of original series “Brotherhood,” Greenblatt was noncommittal. “It’s a show that we love, and we’re just trying to figure out what the future might be. We have a finite number of slots for shows, and we’re in that difficult place of trying to make that decision.”

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