Showtime is bringing racy Blighty comedy “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” to the States — thanks to an assist from former HBO supremo Chris Albrecht.
In Albrecht’s first big deal since landing at IMG, Showtime has snapped up 20 half-hour episodes of “Call Girl.” Skein, toplined by former “Doctor Who” star Billie Piper, was produced for ITV2 by Tiger Aspect, a leading Brit production company owned by IMG.
Showtime entertainment prexy Bob Greenblatt sees “Call Girl” as a good fit with the cabler’s ever-growing lineup, which includes skeins such as “Dexter,” “Weeds,” “The Tudors” and “Californication.”
“Californication,” which just earned star David Duchovny a Golden Globe nom, is seen as a likely companion to “Call Girl.” However, if the WGA strike drags on, the Blighty series could give Showtime a powerful buzz magnet if the cabler’s regular series remain in limbo.
First eight episodes of “Call Girl” will air this summer. Second season of 12 segs begins lensing in Blighty next year.
Greenblatt said he sees “Call Girl” — which gave ITV2 its best ratings of the year — as a cross between “Sex and the City” and “Californication.”
“It has a great sensibility to it,” he told Daily Variety. “It’s more emotional than you think it’s going to be. It’s sexy and funny, but there’s other stuff going on.”
“Call Girl” has Piper playing a character with dual lives. By day, she’s a legal secretary named Hannah; at night, she morphs into high-class hooker Belle.
Episodes feature explicit sex, though Greenblatt said the show isn’t as graphic as HBO’s “Tell Me You Love Me.”
“Call Girl” is based on the real-life sexploits of a U.K. sex worker who published her diaries in 2005 but has not yet revealed her true identity.
Albrecht brought the show to both HBO and Showtime, but the latter net ultimately ended up making a deal for it.
HBO is moving forward with its own prostitution project, a Darren Star-penned pilot dubbed “Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl” that has been in development for several months.
Greenblatt’s first instinct was to option “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” and adapt it for the States.
“He asked me if I thought there was an American version, and I said, ‘Yeah, this one,'” Albrecht said. “I told him he wasn’t going to be able to make a show better than this (version).”
After watching more episodes, Greenblatt agreed, saying he was particularly captivated by Piper’s Belle.
“We decided to bring it to Showtime as is,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think Showtime auds will be distracted by Brit accents.
“Call Girl” had already been produced for British TV by the time Albrecht arrived at IMG in September. He said that while at HBO, he had long wanted to develop a show set in the world of upscale prostitutes but never stumbled upon the right idea.
“This was exactly what I had always wished we had found,” Albrecht said. “Like ‘Sex and the City,’ it’s got the glitz, but it’s got real emotion, too.” The tone, he said, is realistic. “Instead of comedy, it relies on irony and honesty.”
Exec admits it’s “kind of ironic” that his first big sale at IMG is to his former competitor. “But Bob Greenblatt and I have a long relationship,” he said, pointing to Greenblatt’s role as exec producer of “Six Feet Under,” one of the signature shows during Albrecht’s tenure at HBO.
Greenblatt said he’s always been on good terms with Albrecht, even after he jumped to Showtime.
“I’m glad we’re not on opposite sides any more,” he said.
IMG’s Tiger Aspect produces “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” with Silverapples Media and ARG, while Endeavor helped organize the U.S. sale.