Showtime’s laughing

Pay net preps 2 'grown-up' sitcoms

Showtime, which has scored with weekly hourlong series like “The Outer Limits” and “Stargate: SG1,” will shift over to half-hour shows, commissioning two sitcoms to premiere this July: “Rude Awakening,” starring Sherilyn Fenn and Lynn Redgrave, and “Linc’s,” with Pam Grier.

“We’re looking for one or both of these comedies to become a signature show for Showtime,” said Mark Zakarin, Showtime’s executive VP of original programming. He cites “The Larry Sanders Show” on HBO as a model for “the kind of sophisticated, intelligent, grown-up series” that both of Showtime’s shows will aspire to.

“Awakening,” created and written by Claudia Lonow (“Knots Landing”) for Mandalay TV and Columbia TriStar TV Distribution, stars Fenn as “a woman who’s fighting alcohol addiction,” said Zakarin. “She’s struggling with maturity, and sleeps around.” She’s also quick with a wise crack. As Zakarin put it, “We’re trying to capture how a real-life, angst-ridden woman talks and acts.”

Not for network

“This is not the kind of series you’ll see on broadcast-network TV,” said Scott Sanders, president of Mandalay TV. Sanders said the producers are shooting “Awakening” in two versions: no-holds-barred for Showtime, and an edited edition (minus nudity and four-letter words) for TV syndication after the sitcom’s run on Showtime.

Sanders and Zakarin declined to talk about dollar figures, but sources say “Awakenings,” based in Los Angeles, will cost about $460,000 a half-hour, compared to the $700,000 average for sitcoms in broadcast-network primetime. Showtime’s license fee will cover about 75% of the production cost, and CTTD will get the rest of the money from foreign sale and from sale in domestic aftermarkets, post-Showtime.

“Linc’s,” which will feature mostly black actors, is set in a Washington, D.C., bar that pulls in a cross section of people, from political operatives to regular working stiffs. The cast will spout opinions ranging across the political spectrum.

The executives producers are Tim Reid and Susan Fales-Hill, and Debbie Allen will direct the first episode. The production company is Reid’s New Millennium Studios in Petersburg, Va. Zakarin says Showtime is helping Reid to get a distributor to sell the series abroad.