- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

It’s (free) Showtime

Showtime is offering a free preview Sept. 28 through Oct. 1, in a bid to boost its subscriber base.

According to the New York Post, the premium cable channel has already narrowed the gap between it and main rival HBO in terms of programming buzz. Now it’s trying to do the same with the numbers.

The CBS-owned pay television network has enlisted the nation’s largest cable and satellite operators to offer a preview weekend that will make Showtime available in 54 million homes, its largest audience ever. To sweeten the deal, many providers, including Comcast and DirecTV, are offering Showtime for a special rate of $6.95 for the first three months instead of the standard monthly rate of $10 to $12.

Despite critical acclaim for such shows as “Weeds” and “Dexter,” the buzz on the network’s programming has not yet translated into bringing the channel’s subscriber count within striking distance of HBO.

At the end of the second quarter, HBO had 28.8 million subscribers, about a million more than it did in 2005. Showtime at the end of the second quarter had 14.4 million subscribers, 650,000 more than it had in 2005.

Still, HBO hasn’t been able to replicate the ratings success of such shows as “The Sopranos,” “Six Feet Under” and “Sex and the City,” and many of its newer series aren’t finding audiences.

As a result, Showtime is rolling out new episodes of its biggest series in a bid to get subscribers to switch to its service.

The second-season premieres of “Dexter” and “Brotherhood” will air Sept. 30, and new episodes of “Weeds” and “Californication” will air the following night on Oct. 1.

In addition to the free preview of the channel, DirecTV, Comcast and other providers will also feature either online or on-demand access to Showtime’s programming.

HBO’s ‘Garden’ party

HBO Films has greenlighted “Grey Gardens,” a movie starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange that’s based on the 1975 documentary about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ eccentric cousin and aunt, notes the Hollywood Reporter.

The movie is based on the documentary by Albert and David Maysles. It follows the relationship between the mother-daughter duo of “Big Edie” (Miss Lange) and “Little Edie” Beale (Miss Barrymore), who spent most of their lives in a decaying mansion on New York’s Long Island.

The project was originally announced as a feature film in early 2006, although HBO Films was not involved at the time.

Compiled by Kelly Jane Torrance and Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff, Web and wire reports.

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