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Starz CEO Chris Albrecht used his platform Saturday at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour to tout the premium cabler’s ramped up push into original programming. He noted that that process would accelerate once the network’s split from Liberty Media becomes official this month.
Already set to launch three series in 2013 — David S. Goyer‘s Da Vinci’s Demons, limited entry White Queen and Michael Bay’s Black Sails, the former HBO chief spoke candidly with The Hollywood Reporter about the failure of Kelsey Grammer political drama Boss. The critically praised drama, which was renewed for a second season ahead of its premiere, was axed in November after two ratings-challenged seasons. The Lionsgate TV drama’s sophomore season averaged 937,000 viewers when factoring in multiple premiere weekend airings, down from its first-year average of 1.1 million.
The Hollywood Reporter: What went wrong with Boss?
Chris Albrecht: I don’t really think anything went wrong. There was a time when you could keep a show on just because you liked it — I certainly really liked Boss — but it didn’t resonate enough with the two constituents that are important to us: our subscribers and our distributors. I look at it as the pilot process for Starz — since we’re not doing actual pilots — as one season or two seasons of things and we’re going to get behind shows that we really believe in and if they’re not doing the job that we need them to do, then we’ll figure out what the future of them is. It’s a show that deserved to stay on the air and in an environment where money and everything wasn’t an issue, it wasn’t from a creative point of view, I think we were pleased with the show but you have to make choices going forward. There are a lot of changes in Starz this year and we wanted to be able to deploy our resources in places where we thought the return was going to be a little bit more impactful.
THR: Do you regret the early season two pickup?
Albrecht: No. It was a terrific first season. The problem was we couldn’t build it. The problem with the show wasn’t the first season; it ended with Kelsey winning the Globe and the show getting nominated. In any scenario, that should be a second-season pickup. The problem was we didn’t really see a way where the show was going to build. At some point, if an audience isn’t building, it’s going to drop off.
THR: Had Boss earned some awards season recognition for its second season, would things be different?
Albrecht: If the show had gotten recognized at the Emmys, those kinds of things, there’s no one determining factor but all of those things — SAG — start to create a buzz for a show and one of the hardest things to manage in this increasingly competitive and cluttered environment is breaking through and getting attention for your shows. We’re going to put shows on and if we like them, we’ll order them again and we won’t be afraid to take them off if it’s not a perfect world.
THR: Will you be sticking with the early renewal business model for things like Da Vinci’s Demons?
Albrecht: Yes, if we really like the show. We’re already writing a lot of the stuff for season two. If you want to be on a 12-month cycle, you have to keep going; these shows are too hard and too big to wait and do a traditional broadcast network model. There’s a reason why broadcast network shows are broadcast network shows — because they stay on that model. The reason why premium television are the basic tier channels doing the good stuff, they have a little bit of a different formula. I look at the Starz pilot process as one or two seasons and we take it from there, although if we start to apply a lot more of our own cash flow to originals, then maybe we’ll do some pilots. There are some shows that would sure benefit from doing the pilots; there are pilots for a reason.
THR: What’s going on with the Boss movie?
Albrecht: It’s really in the hands of [creator] Farhad Safinia. Somebody has to have a really good idea for it. I think Farhad is still trying to figure out if that’s something he wants to do or not. He’s a successful screenwriter and Kelsey is already talking about a new show [with Martin Lawrence]. We’re certainly open to it but I have no idea what will happen.
THR: Starz was on a possible list of channels to be dropped by Time Warner. Are you concerned about that?
Albrecht: No. We’ve been out of contract with Time Warner for years. We actually are in the midst of the most productive conversations we’ve had with Time Warner in years. We’re in their first-quarter marketing campaign — along with HBO and Showtime — around Spartacus and it’s the first time we’ve been in a marketing campaign with them in years. All of those are really positive signs and there’s a great dialogue going on. For what ever reason, these deals take a long time to get done and there’s a lot of distractions. I am very comfortable in how our business relationship is progressing with Time Warner Cable.
THR: Looking at the Starz brand, are you interested in pushing into comedy given the success HBO has had with Girls?
Albrecht: I’m a giant fan of comedy, I was involved in a lot of it at HBO, whether it was the Comic Reliefs or dozens of specials, Sex and the City, Curb, Entourage. The broadcast networks are doing a pretty good job with comedy right now; Louie on FX is pretty good. We’re not taking comedy pitches but I’d have to come to myself and say, “I understand what Starz should be doing with comedy that is going to be in our universe and something that’s going to be worth putting all of the resources into it.” It’s not just let’s pick a show and do it, you have to have two shows if you’re doing a half-hour to put two things together. How could we distinguish ourselves outside of Big Bang Theory or Modern Family or all the other things that a lot of people are watching and making people laugh? I’m not totally against it but I think we’ve got some things that we’re more focused on right now than that.
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