TCA: Showtime orders Spielberg's 'Tara'

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 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 various personalities, including an aggressive male biker or promiscuous teenage girl or 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 project has been in the works for several months (HR 12/14). 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.

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 suddenly went black, Blank and Greenblatt said they both thought that 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, who 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 coming to an end but that it's a very 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 purposes at this point and that subscription video-on-demand 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 previous remarks that Showtime is out of the original movie business, preferring instead to focus resources on its series. He added that there 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 dramas "Dexter" and "Brotherhood," which return Sept. 30. Greenblatt noted that come 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," partnering up with Netflix to make it available to consumers before the show's premiere.

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

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

Earlier in the day, GSN president and CEO Rich Cronin, who last week said he was going to be leaving the network at month's end, was asked if he had any regrets during his six years at GSN.

"We would have loved to have a 'South Park,' but those are kind of rare," he said, before expressing his confidence in the GSN team and its future.

During Sundance Channel's session, the network said it has ordered second seasons of the series "Big Ideas for a Small Planet" for an April premiere as well as interstitial series "Eco-Biz" and "Ecoists." In addition, the network has acquired U.S. rights to the second season of the BBC series "It's Not Easy Being Green."

In addition, the third season of talk show "Iconoclasts" kicks off at 10 p.m. Oct. 25 with the pairing of Sean Penn and author-adventurer Jon Krakauer. Other pairings will include Madeleine Albright and Ashley Judd; Mike Myers and Deepak Chopra; and Alicia Keys and Ruby Dee.