Starz is gearing up to take on Home Box Office and Showtime with scripted series.
The Liberty Media-owned pay TV service is betting that its two new original scripted series, titled Hollywood Residential and Head Case, will bring the same critical and viewer buzz to Wednesday nights on Starz that such originals as The Sopranos and Dexter have achieved for HBO and Showtime, respectively.
“We've seen what series have done for other networks, and we think it will be a very positive impact for us,” said Starz executive vice president of programming Stephan Shelanski. “This is a new element for us — in addition to the dependability of our great movies, we'll have some funny and great series to add to it.”
JAN. 23 DEBUT
The two primetime series, both set for a Jan. 23 debut, are the first to air on the 16 million-subscriber premium network, known primarily for airing theatrical films like The Da Vinci Code from such studios as The Walt Disney Co. and Sony Pictures.
Hollywood Residential, which will air at 10:30 p.m., stars Adam Paul as an out-of-work actor who lands a job on a struggling home-improvement cable network “fixing” the homes of Hollywood celebrities. Airing half an hour earlier, Head Case — which ran as short comedy vignettes on the network this past April — stars comedian Alexandra Wentworth as a judgmental therapist to Hollywood's celebrity elite.
Both shows will feature cameos by various movie actors and actresses, which Shelanski said will provide opportunities for the network to develop tie-ins with its movie titles. For example, the network will create a Jamie Kennedy-themed evening around the comedy actor's appearance on Hollywood Residential. Also to air are several of Kennedy's films, including the mockumentary Farce of the Penguins.
“There's a great tie-in between the series and our movie inventory,” Shelanski added.
Starz hopes both series will be able to match the 0.9 primetime household rating the network posted in November — the most recent rating numbers for the network — although Starz will be patient and give the series time to find its audience.
“Because we're not ad-supported, we can build and nurture an audience over time,” he said
Just as important for Shelanski are the critical reception and the amount of buzz the shows generate with viewers. The critical acclaim and press coverage generated by HBO's The Sopranos and Showtime's Dexter brought greater exposure to both networks — something that has thus far eluded Starz.
Executives from HBO and Showtime would not comment on Starz's new original scripted strategy.
STILL ABOUT MOVIES
Even if Hollywood Residential or Head Case becomes as successful as other premium original-series efforts, Shelanski said the network will not abandon its strategic devotion to the delivery of popular movies.
“We're so heavily invested into movies, and all of our research shows that movies are the No. 1 driver for pay TV, despite the success of everything from sports to original series to specials to documentaries [on HBO and Showtime],” he said. “What we're trying to establish are series that work well with the movies — it's more of a movie-watching experience, even though they're scripted series.”