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Cinemax Hopes for 'Knick' Knack

Steven Soderbergh medical series The Knick could do more than teach viewers about hospital life before antibiotics. It could finally put all those "Skin-emax" jokes to rest.

The imaginatively shot historical drama, which stars Clive Owen as a brilliant-but-flawed surgeon at New York's Knickerbocker Hospital in 1900, kicked off its 10-episode debut season on Aug. 8. A second season has been ordered, with the target of airing in the same window next year. Early reaction by critics and press offers hope it might put Cinemax on the prestige content map, as Mad Men did for AMC or Homeland did for Showtime.

"When Steven Soderbergh says he wants to direct 10 episodes of a series for your network, that's a transformative moment," says Cinemax president Kary Antholis. "It tells the creative community that Cinematic is where to take sophisticated, cinematic genre material."

At a bit more than 14 million subscribers, according to SNL Kagan, Cinemax is less than half the size of big sister HBO, at more than 29 million. But it has shown more dramatic growth of late, gaining 16% since 2009 as originals such as Banshee and Strike Back have reached air.

Executive producer Gregory Jacobs, who has collaborated with Soderbergh on 20-plus projects, noted the filmmaker recruited many of his Behind the Candelabra crew members for his series TV debut. Early on, though, he expressed a clear preference for Cinemax, rather than HBO, as TheKnick's home.

"It felt like a place that was emerging," Jacobs said. "We knew there would be room there for us.”