Nearly six months after assuming the head programming role at Showtime Networks Inc., Robert Greenblatt is beginning to put his stamp both on the premium service's lineup as well as its executive ranks.
Greenblatt, the former vice president of primetime programming at Fox and most recently a principal in The Greenblatt Janollari Studio (Home Box Office's Six Feet Under), last week announced the first original show under his reign, Huff, a dramatic series starring Hank Azaria as a psychiatrist with a complicated family life, slated to debut in late summer.
Greenblatt, who succeeded Jerry Offsay as Showtime's top programming executive, has also given the green light to the acquisition of the much-traveled, R.J. Cutler-produced reality show American Candidate.
Candidate, which will allow viewers to back a "presidential candidate" from a diverse list of political unknowns, was dropped by FX last year.
"What we want to do is have a simulated campaign that runs simultaneous with what's really going on," Greenblatt said at the recent Television Critics Association Tour in Hollywood.
"If that person who becomes the American candidate decides they want to join in the race and sort of be a write-in candidate, nothing would make us happier," the programmer said.
Greenblatt said Showtime will place more emphasis on series productions and concentrate on "a half-a-dozen movies that say something to the public."
Still in limbo, though, is a much-discussed project from filmmaker Spike Lee. Greenblatt said the network is in negotiations with Lee to turn the project into a six-hour miniseries.
The network is also searching for another African-American-based series to replace the departing five-year skein Soul Food, according to series' producer Tracey Edmonds.
Showtime is also making some subtle on-air changes as it seeks to better define its profile within the cable and entertainment communities.
Greenblatt said the network's "No Limits" tagline is quietly being phased out for something that "will suit the programming as it changes," although he would not be more specific.
He noted that the tagline was representative of shows such as the cutting-edge series Queer As Folk, but said it's increasingly become harder to live up to the motto, particularly as the network moves toward producing dramatic fare like Huff, which may not prove to be that controversial.
"The truth is we have no limits in a lot of respects on our network," Greenblatt said. "But once it was sort of defined by something that pushed the envelope so far, I think it was hard to keep coming up with things like that."
That doesn't mean the network won't continue to take on engaging projects.
"We have to stand out. We have to take risks. We have to challenge the audience. Not only do they expect it from us, they demand it," Greenblatt said.
Indeed, Showtime bowed its lesbian-centered series, The L Word on Jan. 18.
On the executive front, Greenblatt last week announced the transfer of the network's foreign and domestic programming distribution duties to network executive vice president of program acquisitions Matthew Duda from executive vice president of programming Peter Keramidas, who will resign Feb. 1 "to pursue other opportunities."
Along with taking over the responsibility of the company's foreign and domestic distribution activities in television and home video, the 20-year network veteran Duda will be involved in the theatrical distribution of Showtime Independent Films, a recently announced program of lower-budget movies intended primarily for theatrical exhibition.
"Matthew Duda is one of Showtime's most important assets and he is uniquely suited to supervise the distribution aspects of the company," Greenblatt said in a statement. "The division will release theatrically the dramatic film The Mudge Boy in April."