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Is Showtime The New HBO?

Is Showtime The New HBO?

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This isn’t a new proposition, but its one that’s quickly gaining relevance. HBO, a network I dare not criticize because of the literally thousands of hours of quality original programming its given me, has officially hit a commercial, if not critical slump. Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm are aging, and their last seasons were below par. Big Love, their new tent pole, is no The Sorpanos. Flight of the Conchords is officially my favourite HBO series, but I question how far the premise can go. And, sure, Tell Me You Love Me and In Treatment are great, innovative series, but I doubt they’ll ever catch on, even with some sort of The Wire-esque following.

Showtime, on the other hand, has got some serious goods right now: British import Diary of Call Girl is fantastic, and kudos for not Americanizing it and just airing the original form (a la Extras, and not unlike Showtime’s own Queer as Folk… learning lessons, we are). Weeds is down but certainly not out. Dexter, This American Life, Californication, The Tudors, Brotherhood, The L Word, Tracey Ullman… its an impressive slate. To be sure, its a pale comparison to HBO’s heyday, but the horizon is looking better and better for Showtime.

In the past week, Showtime announced two very promising new developments: a Matthew Perry starring dark comedy and George Clooney produced dark comedy. This comes after news of yet another dark comedy, The United States of Tara, which boasts some of the best joint pedigree to ever grace a pilot: Toni Collette, Steven Spielberg and Diablo Cody.

The overdose on dark comedy is not as bad an idea as you’d might think. Its branding the network to a genre that has produced some of the best cable series (even The Sopranos or The Wire occasionally dip their tone in that direction), and its done them right so far. Its certainly better than HBO’s bizarre new genre of choice: the shrink narrative, the focus of both In Treatment and Tell Me You Love Me, and as we all know, a central theme in their dearly departed big gun.

The two freshly announced series both look promising (though their very, very similar names but prove way to cute for a programming block). Clooney’s series, The Fall of Bob, will follow the lead character, Bob, who jumps from a building and then narrates his life as it flashes before him. Im sure whoever is cast as Bob could be a deal breaker, but Im guessing Clooney’s cred might get someone impressive. Perry will star in his series (and exec produce and write), The End of Steve. Co-created by Rescue Me/Larry Sanders vet Peter Tolan, Perry will star as “s a local afternoon talk show host whose smooth, cheery on-screen demeanor contrasts with his bitter off-camera personality and his chaotic personal life, which includes a tentative romance with a co-worker.” Larry Sanders in the Afternoon? Fine by me.

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