Let’s pour one out for Showtime. The 46-year-old pay TV network, home to many great shows and many stinkers, was pretty much murdered this week, the latest casualty of the Great Netflix Correction. And we all kinda shrugged.
Yes, Showtime will live on as essentially a studio servicing the Paramount+ streaming platform and the rebranded linear TV network—dubbed “Paramount+ with Showtime,” a clunky name that will be used by exactly nobody besides cable company salespersons and the media. Paramount Global C.E.O. Bob Bakish is saying this is a rebirth, not a gutting. But that’s spin; this was the guillotine drop that had been feared for months, if not years, by Showtime employees and fans of soapy dramas with nudity in the first 15 minutes. I’m told the accompanying massive layoffs are likely just weeks away. (Paramount declined to comment.)
So, why Showtime and why now? We can talk about creative misfires or strategic errors—and there were many. I’m old enough to remember way back, in 2012, when Showtime was bragging to Bill Carter about its 21 million subscribers, up from 14 million in 2005, and within spitting distance (OK, a loooong spit) from HBO at 28 million. The shows—Homeland, Dexter, Weeds, Nurse Jackie, Shameless—were talked-about and Emmy winning, and the network programmers, Bob Greenblatt and then David Nevins, were considered upper-tier creative executives. “Those were exciting times when only a couple of networks were doing premium comedy and drama,” Greenblatt reminisced in an email to me last night. “You really felt like a show could make a cultural impact.” What a time.