Showtime Goes All In on Titty-Crazed Sunday-Night Lineup

Guess who’s coming back? Showtime’s House of Lies, Californication, and Shameless all got re-upped for another season today. Congratulations, Showtime’s House of Lies, Californication, and Shameless! The New York Times reports:

“House of Lies,” which stars Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell as ruthless management consultants, drew more than 1 million viewers for its Jan. 8 debut, surpassing the premiere episode of Showtime’s acclaimed new drama “Homeland.” Meanwhile, Sunday’s most recent broadcast of “Shameless,” which stars Emmy Rossum and William H. Macy as members of a deeply dysfunctional working-class Chicago family, drew 1.4 million viewers, topping the highly promoted premiere of rival HBO’s new series “Luck.” Ratings for “Californication,” which stars David Duchovny as a promiscuous novelist, are also up 10 percent over its previous season, Showtime said.”

That dig at HBO’s ratings is even more spot-on when you consider that, in December, the network had to pull the plug on three of its own dramedies — How to Make It in America, Hung, and Bored to Death — owing to flagging ratings. If you’re matching up HBO’s three against Showtime’s three in critical acclaim, the veteran would probably come out on top. (This is arguable, of course, but with House of Lies not quite being rapturously received, and Bored to Death a darling of the printed/published-on-a-website word, I’m giving HBO the edge.) But as my old friend Joey Rats used to say (he’s a bookie. Good dude), it’s a numbers game out there.

Once, in the age-old battle of HBO vs. Showtime, suggesting that the reckless upstart may yet overcome its swaggering foe would have gotten you laughed right out of the room. But now that Showtime’s Homeland nabbed that Golden Globe for Best Drama (rightly, as it ruled), the old order is getting shaken up. In fact, earlier this week (before the renewal news) the Times had already pointed out the increasingly competitive battle between the two. As world-champion TV-industry reporter Bill Carter explains, HBO’s subscriber base has been sitting steady at roughly 28 million for a while, while Showtime has been ramping up to 22 million (they were only at 13 million five years ago).

But! According to super-agent Ari Emanuel, even though “Homeland has helped them … there are two iconic brands in cable: ESPN and HBO.” Maybe if Showtime added an operatically potty-mouthed, BlackBerry-hurling consultant character named Ari to House of Lies, they’d get a more positive sound bite from Emanuel.

Filed Under: HBO, Showtime, Television

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Amos Barshad has written for New York Magazine, Spin, GQ, XXL, and the Arkansas Times. He is a staff writer for Grantland.

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