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Showtime Looks to Carve Doc Niche

To better promote its documentary programming, Showtime will feature at least one monthly nonfiction movie or special under the new umbrella heading of "Sho Exposure," the network said last week.

The documentaries airing under the new title will include a number of Showtime original programs, including the Oct. 14 premiere of Orson Welles: The One Man Band, although it's unclear exactly when the documentaries will run each month.

In November, the premium network will air James Ellroy's Feast of Death
— which chronicles the writer's obsession with vicious, unsolved homicides — while December's pick, Trust Me, follows the experiences of 32 children at a weeklong interfaith camp.

Sho Exposure will also feature theatrical releases such as Bowling for Columbine
and Step Into Liquid, as well as high-profile acquisitions such as Standing in the Shadows of Motown
and Porn Star: the Legend of Ron Jeremy.

Also included among the documentary offerings is Mayor of the Sunset Strip, which is set for theatrical release in early 2004, and two feature-length documentaries focusing on one individual's transition and surgery in changing from one sex to the other.

Showtime executive vice president of original programming Gary Levine said the network hopes to eventually develop and produce at least half of the monthly Sho Exposure offerings.

The network is pursuing the category due to increased consumer interest in the genre, he added, which he attributed in part to the popularity of reality television.

"It feels to us that the culture is embracing documentaries more now than they ever had before," he said. "These movies are not just good filmmaking, but interesting works that have struck a cord in the pop culture, and our viewing audiences have become more comfortable with nonfiction storytelling through some of the reality television we see."

Rival Home Box Office packages most of its documentaries under the "America Undercover" banner, while its sister service airs such films as part of "Cinemax Reel Life."

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.