Showtime poised to undergo changing of the guard

Nevins near deal to take programming reins from Greenblatt

It’s been an incredible run, but it’s time to find a new mountain to climb. That’s the sentiment behind Robert Greenblatt’s decision to step down from his post as Showtime Networks entertainment prexy after a seven-year run that transformed the CBS-owned pay cabler from an also-ran to a formidable force in original programming, sources close to the situation said.

David Nevins, who announced his departure as prexy of Imagine Television on Thursday, is poised to succeed Greenblatt.

Reps for Showtime declined comment on the transition, first reported Thursday evening on Variety.com. Greenblatt and Nevins also kept mum on the matter.

In many respects, Nevins comes to the job with a resume very similar to Greenblatt’s. Both got their start as network programming execs (Greenblatt in the early days of Fox; Nevins at NBC and then Fox), and then moved into producing before returning to the exec ranks in a top programming job. And like Greenblatt, Nevins is well-known and well-liked in the creative community for having championed distinctive fare ranging from “Arrested Development” to “24” to “Friday Night Lights”

Greenblatt is said to have decided in recent months that it was time to seek a new professional challenge. His most recent two-year employment contract with Showtime is up in mid-July. The exec moonlighted in 2008 and 2009 as the producer of the tuner “9 to 5,” which opened in L.A. prior to a Main Stem run. Now that Showtime has built up a solid foundation of shows, there’s only so many new projects that the pay cabler can field in any given year.

The roster of series Showtime has fielded since Greenblatt took the job in July 2003 has been impressive by any measure: “Weeds,” “Dexter,” “The Tudors,” “The L Word,” “Sleeper Cell,” Penn & Teller’s Bullshit,” “Californication,” “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” “Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union,” “United States of Tara” and “Nurse Jackie,” among them.

New skeins that Greenblatt and his team have in the tarmac for the coming months is “The Big C,” starring Laura Linney as a woman with cancer; “Shameless,” starring William H. Macy as the alcoholic patriarch of a dysfunctional family; and a “Tudors”-like take on the marauding Borgias of Renaissance fame.

On Greenblatt’s watch, Showtime earned its first trip to Emmy’s inner circle with back to back drama series noms for “Dexter” in 2008 and 2009 and a comedy series nod last year for “Weeds.” Toni Collette, star of “United States of Tara,” earned the lead comedy actress trophy at last year’s Emmys.

Greenblatt’s next moves are unclear but it’s expected that he’ll remain a force in TV programming, likely on the executive side. Sources in the know discounted the recent rumors that he was bound for a big gig at NBC or ABC, and speculated that he’ll take his time before his next gig. Before Showtime, he had a six-year production partnership with David Janollari (now a top programming exec at MTV) that yielded the much-lauded HBO skein “Six Feet Under,” among other shows.

Nevins, meanwhile, was also in transition mode this month as he came to the end of his contract with Imagine, where he has been TV topper since 2002.

Imagine TV’s overhead is covered by 20th Century Fox TV, where the shingle has been based for years. After back and forth between Nevins and 20th for weeks, the two sides opted to part ways.

In an interview done well before the news of his move to Showtime emerged, Nevins told Daily Variety he felt that “it was a good time to go out,” said he believed Imagine possessed “an amazing culture that Ron (Howard) and Brian (Grazer) created.”

“I’m really proud of the work we did here,” Nevins said. “We’ve got great shows on the air, and there’s good stuff in the pipeline.”

Imagine TV just saw its signature drama, “24,” retire after eight seasons. The shingle is also behind the NBC dramedy “Parenthood,” which got off to a good start at midseason; Fox’s “Lie to Me”; and upcoming NBC laffer “Friends with Benefits.”

Nevins came to Imagine in 2002 from Fox Broadcasting, where he’d been exec VP. While at Fox, Nevins helped develop “24” (his work on the show as an exec helped him land the Imagine gig), as well as “Boston Public” and “The Bernie Mac Show.” Prior to Fox, he spent seven years at NBC, working his way up to senior veep of primetime series.