Showtime embarks on pilot push

Green light for 'Side Effects' as net nears capacity

Showtime became an unlikely supplier of strike content when CBS picked up "Dexter" during the heart of the labor stoppage.

With the strike over, CBS still will forge ahead with that series — even as Showtime lines up its next round of pilots.

The pay network said Wednesday that it has greenlighted to pilot the Tim Robbins-penned pharmaceutical drama "Possible Side Effects," with Robbins set to direct and casting set to begin shortly. The network also has attached feature director Craig Gillespie ("Lars and the Real Girl") to direct the pilot for "The United States of Tara," the Diablo Cody-penned half-hour about a woman with multiple-personality disorder, and is aiming to shoot in the spring.

"Now that the strike is over, we're in the process of making pilots that we could move on quickly," programming chief Robert Greenblatt said.

Speaking during a joint appearance with Showtime business topper Matt Blank, Greenblatt said that one of the pilots could turn into an on-air series before year's end and possibly as early as the summer. A deal for another pilot, set and shot in New York, also was close to being sealed, Greenblatt said.

But executives also said that with so many returning shows and at least one of the new round of pilots likely to go to series, the pace of development might slow down.

"We're getting there," Greenblatt said when asked whether the network was near its ceiling. The executive said that Showtime considered whether to bring back or shelve the political drama "Brotherhood," which would have opened up a slot, before opting to renew it. The net has been in a robust development and production period on originals during the past few years. "The L Word" is the only current show that began before Greenblatt arrived nearly five years ago.

CBS is set to debut "Dexter" on Sunday as the series begins its first season on the broadcast net. Many episodes will clock in at an unusually long 50 minutes, Greenblatt said, with only small trims made to the Michael C. Hall serial-killer drama. The show was an easier fit for broadcast than some might have expected, Greenblatt added, because it often cuts away without showing the full effects of a kill.

Sources also said that Showtime and CBS during the strike had informal discussions about airing several other of the pay net's series on the broadcast net, including "Weeds" and "The Tudors." With broadcast development soon to be returned to its normal pace, it's less likely CBS will dip into the Showtime well.

"Side Effects" will examine a family that runs a pharmacy company and the various hurdles they must navigate. Greenblatt compared it to HBO's "Six Feet Under." As for "Tara," which stars Toni Collette and is based on an idea by Steven Spielberg, Greenblatt said that Cody, despite her burgeoning feature career, would continue to be involved should the project go to series.

Blank also told reporters that the company was in no rush to renew output deals; he said that acquired movies were not regarded as a primary driver of subscriptions and that the prices probably would need to come down before serious negotiations could take place.

The current deals, with the likes of Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM, are set to expire in the 2010-11 period.

Showtime also has lined up its spring and summer sked, setting "Tudors" as a lead-in for the new variety show "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union" on March 30 and packaging "Weeds" and the recent British acquisition "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" for June 16. Ullman's show was completed before the writers strike, execs said.

But the returning David Duchovny dramedy "Californication" likely won't debut until after the Summer Olympics in August.

"Call Girl," which stars Billie Piper as a professional escort, was brought to Showtime by former HBO topper Chris Albrecht, now an exec at IMG, which owns "Call Girl" production company Tiger Aspect. The sale reversed the order of past pay projects like "Six Feet Under," which Greenblatt sold to Albrecht when Greenblatt was a producer.

Execs also said Wednesday that Blank and Albrecht will share the stage at a spring media screening of "Call Girl," which would mark Albrecht's first public appearance since leaving HBO in May. "Chris knows premium television as well as anyone," Greenblatt said.