Showtime Ending: Why The Paramount + Streaming Merger Is A Mistake

The outlet that unexpectedly crushed the best Emmy race; the home of complicated LGBTQ and feminine storytelling for an intriguing and scintillating moment; the place that today, even in its muted state, plays “Yellowjackets” and “Ziwe”.

For a long time until very recently, Show time seemed to be something less than it once was – perhaps unavoidable, given that “what it once was” was a chain that exceeded the weight so much that it sometimes seemed close to the equal of HBO. And the news that he’s kind of shapeshifting, taking the cumbersome name “Paramount + With Showtime” and see her next highest-profile series, “Three Women,” unload before broadcastingsuggests that even its more mediocre days as a standalone television network will soon be in the rearview mirror.

That’s a shame! Clearly, the current situation, in which countless well-funded outlets offer consumers endless choice, was not meant to last forever. There were bound to be winners and losers, and while details have yet to be ironed out, Showtime’s fate seems pretty clear. But as much as the characters and personalities of industry brands matter, it’s in how they enable the art to be made. And Showtime represented a sequence of American television that would be sad to see die.

Consider what is probably their greatest triumph, “Homeland”. The series, which opened the Best Drama Emmy category for Showtime, has a complicated legacy; it was also undeniably broadcast in the right place. In the 2000s, under Robert Greenblatt, the cabler rose to prominence for shows that centered on the inner lives of women in extraordinary circumstances. The protagonist could be a suburban drug dealer (“Weeds”) or a terminally ill schoolteacher (“The Big C”) or a pill-addicted medical professional (“Nurse Jackie”) or a mother with multiple personalities ( “United States of Tara”). In any case, however, her journey was explored in a way that kept her from being the butt of the joke – indeed, explored with such complexity that Showtime became a magnet for big stars. Claire Danes’ work on “Homeland,” going to extreme places to follow Carrie Mathison’s cycles of meltdown and breakthrough, was right in that tradition. It was a great show. which basically looked like a Showtime show.

There were other Showtime-iness moments to remember: The network was precocious and robust in its support of queer storytelling, like “Queer as Folk” and “The L Word.” Its singles and doubles have had time — some might say too much time — to become what their creators intended, with luxury runs for shows like “Dexter,” “Episodes,” and “Masters of Sex.” (“Shameless” has spent 11 seasons on the channel!) And while I have some criticism of these shows, I can’t imagine HBO playing David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” or “Who Is America?” by Sacha Baron Cohen, two series from the late 2010s that carved out the vision of their creators. More recently, in the now closed David Nevins washe tried to compete late at night with “Ziwe” and with “Desus & Mero”, two entertaining and big-hearted shows, and he found his way back to the Emmys with the “Yellowjackets”.

Showtime’s impulse was less perfectionist than HBO’s: it wanted to take the viewer on a ride, which sometimes meant handing the keys over to a creator, or stretching out a show too long because it was a shame to say goodbye, or do one more show about a woman with a secret. These were quirks the viewer could anticipate, and which reaped dividends, from “Homeland” reviving after any other network could have creatively written it to all those other women-with-secrets shows. . Does anyone know what Paramount+ looks like, what traits govern its decision making, what decisions does it make at all? On the surface, it’s unknowable, the content pit where CBS and MTV and “Star Trek” and the Kings’ shows writing “Good Fight” and now premium content go, as well as some movies. But it’s hard to imagine a “homeland” emerging from this bubbling — indeed, it’s hard to imagine what original programming will come out of it.

No one knows what will happen to the many chains owned by World Paramount – the chaos ahead seems like bad news for the rebranding premium channel, but the present moment is one of uncertainty. Paramount Global, which owns Showtime and Paramount+, is a company (and has changed many times through mergers between Viacom and CBS), and its responsibility lies with its shareholders and not with the idea that having another cable channel premium heavy duty in the mix would be more fun. That is why it should be noted, finally, that moves like this strike this observer not only as bad for art, but also bad for business. For decades viewers have figured out what they get when they go to Showtime; the name means something. “Yellowjackets” took off the way it did in part because Showtime still has strength even after a few leaner years. Throwing out the name or putting it on the sidelines (for now) of a double-barreled name in which the anonymous streamer comes first seems like a mistake. (And, incidentally, as a mistake that FX — whose programming has been largely siloed on Hulu — avoided making, and which HBO is surely watching nervously before anything else in David Zaslav’s vision for his empire. .)

Making Showtime a streaming-focused company, in name and sensibility, would be a good way to ensure that any risky premium Showtime product that comes out next will get lost in the shuffle, just another streaming series in a climate in in which nothing can break through, in which the humanity, personality and serendipity of programming matter less than an algorithm. Say what you will about the decisions that made Showtime’s name and its legacy: They certainly never felt algorithmic — and viewers, who stuck with HBO’s quirkier cousin well into the 2020s, did. got lucky.

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