Showtime Doesn’t !Huff About Renewing New Series

Showtime surprised the cast of its yet-to-debut dramedy series !Huff by announcing before television critics Wednesday that the premium network has taken the unprecedented step of ordering a second season of the series before it ever hits the air.

The series stars Hank Azaria (Tuesdays with Morrie) as a psychiatrist who calls his career into question after the suicide of a patient. It’s scheduled to debut on the network Nov. 7.

Showtime’s entertainment president, Robert Greenblatt, told critics in Los Angeles the decision had just been made and the network hadn’t even had time to tell the cast. Executives explained that after viewing the quality of the first five hours of the show, they made the decision to order 13 episodes for a second season.

Cast members seemed stunned, then broke out laughing when series regular Paget Brewster, a veteran of several failed series, shouted out, “I’m no longer a show killer!”

Also renewed are Emmy Award-nominated Penn & Teller: Bullshit! and late-night series Family Business, about a family that makes a living in the porn industry.

Greenblatt also announced that Showtime has contracted with writer/director John Ridley to develop a single-camera half-hour comedy series based on the Barbershop films.

And the network bought a pitch by actress Kirstie Alley, a semi-autobiographical comedy called Fat Actress.The initial order for that series is for six episodes.

Six other pilots are in development, including Weeds,with Emmy-nominated Mary Louise Parker as a suburban housewife who sells pot to make ends meet; Hate, about the New York Police Department’s hate-crimes unit; The Cell, which depicts the activities of an undercover officer in a domestic terrorist cell; an untitled drama by director Phillip Noyce (Rabbit Proof Fence); Pryor Offenses,starring comic Eddie Griffin in a series on the life of Richard Pryor; and romantic comedy What’s Not to Love.

Demonstrating a slightly different strategy, Showtime will produce a live Broadway show, Laugh Whore, starring Mario Cantone (Sex and the City). The stage show will be telecast on Showtime in 2005, Greenblatt said.