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Showtime's Top-Notch Tudors

Here’s when I know a show is good: I receive the screeners and promptly sit down and watch all of the episodes in one sitting. The last time I did this was last summer with AMC’s Mad Men, literally watching seven episodes in a row and then wishing I had more. Last night, after opening the network’s exquisite and perhaps overly elaborate press kit, I watched four episodes of Showtime’s The Tudors back to back.

The Tudors is an elaborate period drama, the likes of which we rarely get to see on television. It recounts the historical tale that we all mostly know: that of how the voracious ambitions and appetites of King Henry VIII changed the course of history. But with the seductive Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the title role; a stunning cast that includes Peter O’Toole, Jeremy Northam and James Frain; and flawless production design; the series manages to feel both appropriately historical and glamorously modern.  

                The show’s second season premieres on Showtime on Sunday, March 30, at 9 p.m., and had a shot at getting on CBS when it looked like the strike might wipe out this entire season, but now you either need to sign up for Showtime, get the DVD, download episodes on iTunes or become a TV reporter so they send you a few episodes for free.

       I’m a little disappointed the show isn’t getting a run on CBS because I think it could do well there and so many more people would get a chance to see it. It wouldn’t be that hard to edit down for broadcast. It’s racy, yes, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the sex on Sex and the City or Tell Me You Love Me, and there’s no language issues to worry about. Still, it’s a showcase property for Showtime so I get why they want to keep it exclusive.

                I don’t subscribe to Showtime so I don’t watch as many of the shows as I should, but I have to hand it to Robert Greenblatt. A few years back, I went to the season premiere of Queer as Folk, and while people loved that show, I was unimpressed. It seemed amateurish and up against HBO’s powerhouses, it didn’t have a chance.

                Fast forward and Showtime has a slate of formidable shows: besides The Tudors, there’s Dexter – which is getting a 12-episode run on CBS starting this Sunday at 10 p.m.; and Weeds, starring Emmy winner Mary-Louise Parker. OK, David Duchovny’s Californication was an oversexed dud, but you can’t win ‘em all.

                Greenblatt – who brought Six Feet Under to HBO – has accomplished his mission: he turned the tables on HBO. Now the big-buzz programming is on Showtime.