Showtime Execs Aim to Balance Expansion With "Boutique" Mentality

Jana Winograde and Gary Levine-Publicity-Split-H 2019
Courtesy of Showtime

In a play to distinguish his network from its competitors, Showtime president of entertainment Gary Levine began his Friday session at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour with a subtle jab at them — appearing onstage at the Beverly Hilton before a sign that read “Showtime Maxi+ Plus.”

No, there won’t be a big-tent OTT platform with Showtime’s name — at least not yet — but there will be more programming. Levine and fellow entertainment president Jana Winograde touted plans for a 30 percent increase in original programming. That will include a boost in both scripted and unscripted programming.

“It’s hard to say when too much is too much,” said Levine. “As long as we can continue to engage our audience, we believe in our ability to compete … but we’re still a small boutique operation. We’ll never change that.”

Showtime, with such heavy-hitters as Homeland (now returning in 2020), Billions and Shameless, doesn’t scream “boutique” — but, by today’s ever-shifting standards in the content race, perhaps it is. New projects touted Friday included the revival of The L Word, the second season of Jim Carrey vehicle Kidding and the upcoming Kirsten Dunst vehicle On Becoming a God in Central Florida. The latter, a surprise acquisition after it failed to move forward at YouTube Red, is set to bow Aug. 25.

Buying projects that don’t go forward at other outlets, like On Becoming a God, is not off the table at Showtime. But Winograde and Levine were quick to clarify that they’re not in the business of show-saving. Other outlets' canceled series have no place on the network. “We like our original series,” said Levine. “We just don’t have an ego about whether or not they come out of our offices.”

Much was said of Showtime’s efforts to highlight new voices, which naturally led to mentions of SMILF’s cancellation after allegations of misconduct against star and creator Frankie Shaw and the handling of allegations of misconduct against former The Chi star Jason Mitchell.

“There is a learning curve,” offered Levine. “One could play it safe, but then you’re never going to get the new voices and we’re so proud of cultivating. We’re all trying to figure this out as an industry and put the right support systems in place. … Bottom line, that series [SMILF] is no longer on our air and Jason is no longer part of our show [The Chi].”

And, because there was never a chance of the Q&A ending without some mention of Shameless star William H. Macy’s ties to the college admissions scandal, Levine offered a quick update on Felicity Huffman’s husband.

“Bill was just really happy to come back to work,” he said. “That’s what we’ve focused on.”