11:43am PT by Lesley Goldberg
Starz Boss Chris Albrecht on Binge Watching and That HBO "Feud"
Starz CEO Chris Albrecht used his time at the Television Critics Association summer press tour to tout the premium cable network's expanded reach toward underserved demographics, entry into the binge watching business and resolve a flap with HBO programming president Michael Lombardo.
Here are the highlights of his 15-minute time in front of critics:
We're No. 2
Albrecht took the stage to declare his network the No. 2 most-subscribed premium cable network after Starz recently surpassed Showtime in the subscribers. The outspoken executive reiterated that his network was on track for an impressive 75-80 hours of original scripted programming all year and would continue focusing on underserved communities. He touted The White Queen and Outlander as hits among female viewers while Power — "the most-watched show in Starz history" — ranks as the No. 3 most-watched scripted series among African-American viewers. "It has the highest concentration of African-American viewers out of any premium cable network in almost a decade," he said of the 50 Cent-produced series, which has already been renewed for a third season in 2016.
Entering the Binge Biz
Hot off announcing that all episodes of the third and final season of Da Vinci's Demons and limited series Flesh and Bone would be released on Starz Play and Starz On Demand when they debut on air, Albrecht noted that the decision was borne out of a crowded fourth quarter.
"The fourth-quarter is so heavy this year so rather than tease it out, we're just going to drop them," he said. We made decision to turn Flesh and Bone into limited series for a lot of reasons but the first eight episodes are so satisfying as standalone story. Reaching out to female audience, this is a great show for that. … It's fun to run a premium network and do different things with programing [and] this is an experiment for us."
Helping factor into the decision was the long wait he stressed fans of Da Vinci's Demons had already endured — the second season finale aired May 31, 2014 — and the executive saw the all-at-once as a reward for the show's dedicated viewers.
As for if other series — i.e. fan favorite Outlander — could bow all at once, Albrecht downplayed the idea and cited the intense production and scope of the series doesn't lend itself to the binging model and to do so would ultimately delay the return of the beloved series.
About That HBO "Feud"
A day after HBO programming president Lombardo took a shot at Starz after a critic brought up a Starz mailer that described Ballers' reviews as "mediocre," and claimed that "many critics … said that [Starz series] Survivor’s Remorse was funnier, better written and an overall better show," Albrecht cleared the air.
"I saw some of this nonsense and first of all, I have nothing but respect and admiration for Michael Lombardo — he and I shared some great memories over a lot of really good years [when Albrecht was at HBO]. And shame on whomever framed this question yesterday," the executive said of the flap, encouraging critics to play nice with the Survivor's Remorse cast during their time at TCA later Friday. "I have never seen [HBO's] Ballers but I assume it's good because HBO picked it up for a second season and why would they do that if it wasn't good? We're very proud of Survivor's Remorse and one of our people was out there pitching the show maybe a little bit too ardently and pointing to comparable reviews of the shows … I remember when no one cared about what anybody wrote about television and those of us at HBO used it and now, God help us. But there is no feud."
American Gods Update
Albrecht also updated critics on the status of the long-in-the-works Neil Gaiman/Bryan Fuller drama American Gods, which scored a series pickup at Starz after being previously developed at HBO. He said casting for the lead role of Shadow has begun and called the scripts "terrific." "I don't know that I've sat in a room with anyone who has more of an impressive take on what they're about to do," Albrecht said of Fuller and EP Michael Green's pitch. While critics are still fuming about NBC's decision to cancel Fuller's Hannibal, Albrecht noted "We're sad for Hannibal but Starz gets the benefit of that decision."
Eyes on Cuba
After announcing that Starz is teaming with Antonio Banderas to develop (and star in) detective drama Havana Quartet — based on the book series by Cuban author Leonardo Padura — Albrecht said he's hopeful that the series can shoot in Cuba. "That will be a trick to accomplish. I can't promise we'll get it done but … we may have a real shot," he said.