It's Showtime for Spielberg pilot

Greenblatt bills DW comedy as 'Weeds' meets 'Sybil'

Showtime has given a pilot order to "The United States of Tara," a single-camera comedy from Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks Television centered on a mother with multiple- personality syndrome.

Showtime Networks president of entertainment Robert Greenblatt made the announcement Saturday during the Television Critics Assn. press tour at the Beverly Hilton.

He said that the half-hour project is a "family comedy with a big twist" and described it as "Weeds" meets "Sybil." He said it will show Tara, a wife and mother, in all her personalities, including an aggressive male biker, a promiscuous teenage girl and a Martha Stewart-like homemaker.

"It balances the real drama and comedy of a family dealing with a parent" with multiple-personality disorder, Greenblatt said. "It will attract an extraordinary actress looking for a tour de force opportunity."

The pilot is set to go into production in the fall. Diablo Cody ("Juno") is writing and producing, with DreamWorks Television's Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank serving as executive producers.

The project was first announced in December (HR 12/14).

Greenblatt and Showtime Networks chairman and CEO Matt Blank also took the stage to field questions from the critics.

Asked what they thought of the controversial ending to HBO's "The Sopranos," in which the screen went black, Blank and Greenblatt said they both thought that their cable had gone out or something had happened to the TV set.

"Personally, I didn't like it, but if you have a creator who, like ('Sopranos' creator) David Chase, is passionate about doing something, it's hard to say no to that person as long as they are doing something in the realm of social acceptability," Greenblatt said. "I would have probably tried to talk him out of it, but I probably would have failed."

Greenblatt said it's not likely that Showtime would "chase" a Mafia-centric project in the vein of "Sopranos."

"I don't think anyone is going to be able to supplant that seminal show," he said.

He admitted that "a lot" of viewers are now up for grabs as a result of the show's departure but that it's a competitive landscape, with more and more cable networks putting on original programming as well as other platforms like the Internet competing for people's attention.

As for the networks Greenblatt considers to be Showtime's competition, "I'm always worried about anybody who's putting on a great show," not only including HBO but also basic cable networks like FX.

"As we've had the type of success we've had over the last year or two, projects are coming to us first that wouldn't have come to us a year or two ago," Blank added.

Regarding Showtime's programming plans in the multiplatform arena, Blank said the main reason for putting shows online is promotional at this point and that subscription VOD is an important part of the business.

"As we move into the streaming world and the download world, we want to be able to provide product the way the subscription consumer wants to get it," he said.

Greenblatt also reiterated remarks that Showtime is out of the original movie business, preferring instead to focus resources on its series. He added that there are talks about "possibly revisiting" "Sleeper Cell" with another installment down the road, though the network has "no holds" on the cast.

Also taking the stage were the cast and creatives behind the comedies "Weeds" and "Californication," which premiere Aug. 13, and the dramas "Dexter" and "Brotherhood," which return Sept. 30. Greenblatt noted that by October, all four series will be in original episodes, an unusual move for a network that usually runs its regular series one at a time.

"That reinforces our brand and how far we've come in the past two years," Greenblatt said.

He added that Showtime is planning a big marketing campaign for "Californication," including partnering with Netflix to make it available to consumers before the show's premiere.

Asked why he chose "Californication" for his return to television in a regular role, David Duchovny said: "I read the script that Tom Kapinos wrote, and I was interested in the idea and the character."

Greenblatt noted that Tracey Ullman's new comedy series, "State of the Union," premieres next year, and that "The Tudors" is in production on Season 2 for a 2008 premiere.