Offsay: 'We've Been Liberated'

Having firmed up an expanded series lineup for 2003 that explores new genres, Showtime Networks Inc. president of programming Jerry Offsay plans to follow an aggressive tack into 2004 and beyond.

With both new and returning shows, Showtime's game plan currently calls for fresh series fare every month this year, except November and May, which will feature a number of original films.

During its traditional late-fall order period, Showtime gave the green light to five pilots —The Lifestyle, Paradise, Huff, Going to College
and The Game
— that could become series next year.

Offsay and crew want to review more projects in the months ahead.

"Over the next six months, we expect to see a half-dozen presentations in the scripted, improv and reality genres," he said.

Last year, Offsay said, the network made the commitment to open its doors to series projects beyond dramas and comedies. To that end, the network bowed the magazine show Penn & Teller Bullshit
on Jan. 24, and has Family
Business, a reality series about the adult film industry, set for February.

Laffapalooza, a stand-up comedy search with Jamie Foxx, will bow in late-night this spring, while Out of Order, a limited series, and Free for All, the channel's first entry into scripted animation, are on tap for June and July, respectively.

"We're much more flexible as we get into these other forms. We've been liberated," Offsay said. "We used to say, 'Gee, that's great, but it's not for us. Why don't you call Comedy Central or MTV?' Now, if it's good, it's good for us."

Also on Showtime's menu are new-season episodes of Queer as Folk
(March), Soul Food
(April), Street Time
(August), Jeremiah
(September) and The Chris Isaak Show

Two new series —Dead Like Me
and Earthlings
— are scheduled to bow in July and December.

The network, which cut Resurrection Blvd.
after three seasons, has still not made a final call on last year's freshman sci-fi show Odyssey 5.

"Talks continue with Sony. The ratings were good, but they didn't explode, pun intended. It's not 100 percent, but it's not looking good," said Offsay.

More music

After a five-year hiatus from live music, the network will host a Jay-Z hip-hop concert on Feb. 22 at 9 p.m (EST). That precedes the Mike Tyson-Clifford Etienne heavyweight boxing match and the premiere of Family Business.

Offsay said Showtime wants to tune in on music. "We've identified about 12 artists we'd like to be in business with, and we're in conversations with some of them. We'd probably like to do three or four shows a year."

Those acts span musical genres and include other hip-hop performers, said Offsay.

"There is an opportunity to tap a big audience with Jay-Z," he said. "He has mainstream appeal. And Showtime is strong with African-Americans. They represent a significant portion of our subscriber base and Soul Food
is our co-highest-rated series [along with Queer as Folk.]"