Starz wants to be a cable network on the rise. Formerly known as the home of small-scale comedies like "Party Down," the channel is investing in a slate of new original series, with a controversial former HBO executive at the helm. Can it compete with the big daddy of pay cable? Here, five reasons it just might:
1. It's hired HBO's former chief executive
Chris Albrecht, former chief executive and chairman of HBO, has been at the helm of Starz for ten months now. The executive, who was responsible for green-lighting "The Sopranos" and "The Wire," left HBO under a cloud after drunkenly assaulting a girlfriend in Las Vegas in 2007. Now sober, Albrecht has "applied himself to building not just new shows but the Starz brand itself," says Amy Wallace at GQ. The aim? Turning Starz "into the next HBO."
2. It has its own answer to "The Sopranos"...
Observers can't decide whether Starz new series "Magic City" most resembles "Mad Men", "Boardwalk Empire" or
"The Sopranos", but it certainly fits into the prestigious mold of those acclaimed programs. A 1960s-set period drama about a "posh Miami hotel" frequented by mobsters, politicians and entertainers, "'Magic City'... harkens back to that Sopranos-style fare that was Albrecht's trademark at HBO," says Mike Fleming in Deadline Hollywood. A pilot has just been green-lit, and is expected to premiere in 2011.
3. ... and a "Rome"-like period drama
Starz already has the "gory, sexy hit" show "Spartacus" under its belt, but filming is also underway on "Camelot" — a period drama produced by HBO alumnus Anne Thomopoulos that will re-imagine the King Author myth. "Fans of HBO's 'Rome' and epic, lush, well-produced period dramas have a lot to look forward to from Starz," says April MacIntyre in Monsters and Critics.
4. It's also developing an L.A. nightlife comedy, not unlike "Entourage"
Starz will develop a "comic project" following the lives of "several people whose paths cross in Los Angeles", says Nellie Andreeva at Deadline Hollywood. Co-developer Vanessa Reisen is a veteran of cable hits "Californication" and "Weeds"
5. A distribution deal with Netflix could help
Starz is on the verge of renewing its deal with Netflix to exclusively stream Disney and Sony movies — which the cable channel licenses — as well as its original content. As Netflix grows, this could be Starz' ticket to a wider audience. But the streaming video service may be reluctant to pay up. Netflix got Starz' content for a bargain basement price in 2008, and re-upping the deal could cost the company "upwards of $250 million."