Showtime at TCA press tour: Reinvention, with accolades

Damian Lewis and Claire Danes star in "Homeland."

Showtime is having a “transformative” year, the network’s President of Entertainment, David Nevins, told reporters gathered at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Monday. As the channel prepares to say goodbye to “Weeds,” the edgy sitcom that put Showtime on the map for scripted programming on Sept. 16, it has also borne the gripping political drama “Homeland,” which, in its first season, won two TCA awards (for Outstanding New Program and Individual Achievement in Drama, given to star Claire Danes), has been nominated for several Emmys, and touched off a national pop culture conversation.

Who is watching Showtime today? Well, even President Obama is a “Homeland” fan. Star Damian Lewis told critics he was invited to a state dinner when British Prime Minister David Cameron was visiting the White House, and, surprised that he was even on the president’s radar, asked Obama when the leader of the free world managed to find any downtime to watch TV.

“He said, ‘Saturday afternoons, Michelle and the two girls, they go play tennis,” Lewis relayed. “‘I go into the Oval Office. I pretend I’m going to work, and I switch on ‘Homeland.’”

Showing a continued commitment to storytelling in all Showtime series, Nevins announced that comedy “The Big C,” starring Laura Linney as Cathy, a woman coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis, will conclude as a limited-run series of four one-hour episodes.

“From its inception, the show has been unique in its premise and its tone, and I’m excited that we’ve come up with a unique and form-breaking way to bring conclusion to Cathy’s story,” Nevins said. “It’s very important, I think, with a premium network … to plan [show endings] and do it the right way. I think we have a contract with our audience [to tell the whole story].

“Dexter” is another Showtime series that had been given an end date to conclude the journey of its protagonist — this one, a serial killer anti-hero — as star Michael C. Hall has signed on through eight seasons. But Nevins referred to Season 7, premiering Sept. 30, as a “game-changing year,” hinting that it’s possible the show has creatively reinvented itself in a way that could warrant more seasons.

“I think everything has gotten rewired this year in a very interesting way,” Nevins said. “Given that [Dexter's sister] Deb has to deal with who her brother is, everything changes. What I’ve said before is likely two years [before ending], but … I think plans can always change.”

Some other, definite Showtime announcements made by Nevins:

The network will premiere a number of documentaries next year under the new banner “Closeup.” The first film, “The World According to Dick Cheney,” by R.J. Cutler, takes an unprecedented look at the former vice president. Director Antoine Fuqua examines the life and career of rap legend Suge Knight. “Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic” is directed by Emmy-winner Marina Zenovich. And Brett Ratner will direct a documentary on music mogul Tommy Mottola.

Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States,” a 10-part series narrated by Stone himself, premieres Nov. 12.

The intimate interview series “Inside Comedy” returns this fall with 10 episodes, featuring host David Steinberg sitting down with comedians Ben Stiller, Tina Fey, Judd Apatow, Carol Burnett, Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, Albert Brooks, and a number of other funny people yet to be confirmed.

On Aug. 25, the comedy special “Larry Wilmore’s Race, Religion and Sex” will air and serve as a springboard for a potential series starring the “senior black correspondent” from “The Daily Show.”

Nevins also showed new clips from two series that will premiere on Showtime in 2013: “Masters of Sex,” starring Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as human sexuality pioneers William Masters and Virginia Johnson (the clip featured gorgeous period sets and costumes and lots of sex), and “Ray Donovan,” starring Liev Schreiber as a fixer for the screw-ups of Los Angeles power players. Ray, however, has some heavy problems of his own — namely his fresh-out-of-jail dad. The clips set expectations high, but Showtime, celebrating one of its most successful years ever, is aware of that.


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