Bob Greenblatt’s been keeping busy, mostly with old projects, mixing in some new stuff of his own.
“The last five months have really been about focusing on existing properties,” the Showtime Entertainment president said during a recent phone interview, discussing his first nine months on the job.
The former producer — his Greenblatt Janollari Studio created Home Box Office’s Six Feet Under — also is a former executive vice president of primetime at the Fox broadcast network. The inherited projects were from predecessor Jerry Offsay.
Early on, Greenblatt enjoyed an “unexpected uplift” from the controversial miniseries The Reagans, a castoff from sister Viacom Inc. network CBS last November. Keeping the buzz going, one of his first major calls was approving a second season of lesbian drama The L Word, after just two installments in January — Showtime’s quickest series pickup ever.
“It really was a no-brainer. It was embraced by the critical community, the reviews all talked about 'letting the Emmy nominations begin,’ that this was 'a cultural revolution’ and that 'there was nothing else like it on TV.’ It’s a strong show and one that is only getting better.”
Production on the second season will begin in June. The series returns next January.
Thereafter, Greenblatt was occupied by “getting writers and the electronic media to take a second look” at Queer as Folk, now in its fourth season. “We succeeded in those attempts, and we’re very happy where we’re at with the show,” he said. The drama has been renewed for a fifth season, scheduled for next spring.
The premium service also drew attention with a Britney Spears concert performance in March.
“Whatever you think of her, she’s a media darling. ET [Entertainment Tonight] and Entertainment Weekly all wanted a piece of her. Everybody’s curious about her,” said Greenblatt, noting that events will continue to sprinkle Showtime’s lineup.
“People want great films, great series and expect top specials from comedy and music as well. That’s what they expect from us,” he said.
'COOL MUSIC SPECIALS’
While Greenblatt said Showtime is looking at “a couple of really cool music specials in the market,” its comedic lineup has already taken shape.
A stand-up performance by George Lopez, recently taped at Long Beach Auditorium, will bow over Memorial Day weekend, while the “it boy of the moment,” Dave Chappelle (Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show), will hit the screen in late summer or early fall. Norman Rockwell is Bleeding, from Chris Titus, is also in Showtime’s house.
“Showtime used to do so many stand-up specials that it killed the golden goose,” Greenblatt said. “We’ll look to do a handful each year with a George Lopez, a Dave Chappelle and a Chris Titus.”
Showtime will continue its move away from telepics, scaling back its original-movies output from as many as 20 or more per year to six to eight annually.
He’s so far commissioned a pair of films, divergent in style and subject matter: Our Fathers, about the Catholic Church’s pedophilia problems in Boston; and Reefer Madness, a musical adapted from the hit stage musical based loosely on the old marijuana exploitation film.
“They are indicative of the variety of films we’ll look to do,” he said, calling Our Fathers “a subject that ABC, USA or NBC wouldn’t tackle. But it will be crafted in a classy, moving, non-exploitative way. You won’t see any abuse on the screen.”
As for the musical: “It’s not Cinderella, it’s not Annie. On the surface, Reefer Madness, is fun, racy, but it also works on a different level, clever and quirky. It’s just as valid to this kind of picture sometimes. It’s not always going to be about issues-oriented films.”
As the movie roster is reduced, Showtime will cut back on a favored and acclaimed format: “Pictures For All Ages,” which has received more daytime Emmy nominations the past six years than any cable network, including 11 for 2004.
“In some ways, All Ages was a luxury of sorts, with four or five making it through to the 15 or 20 films that aired. I’m not closed to that.
“When you’re doing six, seven or eight films a year, maybe one of those will get through,” said Greenblatt. “This is not to say that some older viewers don’t watch these films, but we don’t have a young audience, so it’s not that useful to cultivate that audience.”
For the same reason, Greenblatt said viewers won’t likely see a return of Freshman Diaries, the reality series that tracked student lives at the University of Texas at Austin.
“We hope it receives Emmy nominations and we’re obviously working with [the show’s creator] R.J. Cutler on American Candidate [a 10-episode summer reality series in which a dozen people will stake out their claim to be a presidential candidate]. But I don’t know if there’s another incarnation. We considered another group of students at another school. But it’s hard to get that younger audience; I don’t know if that’s a perfect track for us.”
Greenblatt’s overall series game plan calls for launching six or seven per year. “HBO does eight or nine, while FX does a couple and USA does three. It’s a heavy diet.” One that will be fed by a development pipeline currently filled with “dozens of scripted and reality shows we’re working on for ’05.”
He’s pleased with what’s coming up in the months ahead — notably the second season of the quirky dramedy Dead Like Me, starring Ellen Muth, as a “reaper” killed by a toilet seat from the Mir spacecraft and now fated to help transport the dead into the afterlife.
“This is a show we love and we’re really going to step things up, production-wise. Last year, the creator left after three or four or episodes, so it was a little tumultuous,” he said. “This year, it will also be little richer, a little darker as we deal with more of the emotional issues.”
Dead Like Me’s second season will debut July 25.
Greenblatt is also quite jazzed about the first series commissioned on his watch: Huff, which trails a psychiatrist, played by Hank Azaria, undergoing a midlife crisis.
“Huff is just a pleasure. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Six Feet Under [HBO’s funereal family series, for which he served as executive producer at Greenblatt-Janollari] in terms of quality. This is going to be the next great scripted drama for the service,” he said.
The pilot has been completed and “we’re just starting to shoot the episodes,” he said. He “hopes the writers won’t go out on strike.”
Greenblatt said Lara Flynn Boyle is coming on board for a three-episode arc and other actors and directors want to step in for guest slots. “That speaks to the quality of the program,” he said.
The 13-episode first season is slated to debut this November.
Looking at other series, Greenblatt offered these observations:
- Penn & Teller: Bullshit: “It started as a little late-night show, but it’s much more sophisticated than people think. It won a Writers Guild Award. There are six more new episodes set for fall, and we’ll see what happens after that.”
- Family Business: The late-night show follows a real-life family who trade in the adult film industry. “They’re a really compelling family. Seymour Butts is a really popular character for us. I can see a lot more adventures about the family.”
- The Chris Isaak Show, which has completed its third and final season: “It’s a show that wasn’t given enough credit. It was very clever and comedic. Hopefully, we’ll have more shows in this vein in the future.”
- Soul Food, which concludes its fifth and final season May 26: “It’s a popular show, with a very large following. Creatively, I think we’re going out on a high point. We’re working on some things, not the same kind of show, but something that will appeal to that ethnic audience and hopefully crossover to the general market.”