Starz CEO Chris Albrecht gave a virtual third-season pickup to Black Sails, his swashbuckling pirate adventure series/Treasure Island prequel from Michael Bay, when he addressed the press this afternoon at the TCA Summer TV Press Tour. “I looked at the final episode [of Season 2] the other day, and when I finished it … I thought to myself, ‘I need to find out what happens next.’” But he quickly added, “That’s certainly not an official announcement,” noting the press has taken jabs at his network for picking up shows early.
Participating recently in a panel with FX Networks CEO John Landgraf and Showtime chief David Nevins, Albrecht said he listened to the two men discuss how a series does not find its audience until its third season in this market. “I’m actually doing this wrong,” Albrecht said he concluded. “If we like the first season should we pick up the next two. … I’m actually beginning to think that, in this world of increased competition, I should worry less about what other people think and more about our belief in … people doing the show. Like I said, when I looked at the end of the second season, I wanted to know what happens next. So I’m optimistic.”
Asked about the state of his network, Albrecht said: “I’m at a little bit of a loss to understand why really good shows we put on haven’t created more buzz with you. … We’ve been thinking about, talking marketing-wise, spending more money on a series’ second season than less money — which is the way networks historically think. Maybe we need to lean into these things we believe in, in a big way.”
As usual, Albrecht began his Q&A with his semi-annual State Of The Network overview, laying out his programming plans for the next year. In 2014, the premium cable network will offer more than 55 hours of originals. He announced that Starz will make the first episode of its new series Outlander available in its entirety for free to viewers beginning August 2, ahead of the series’ worldwide premiere on August 9 at 9 PM. The episode will be available on multiple TV and online platforms nationwide. The first eight episodes will air over eight consecutive Saturdays through September 27; the second half of the 16-episode order is scheduled to continue in early ’15. Starz estimates about 79 million multichannel video households will have access to the premiere episode via additional linear, on-demand and/or online sampling opportunities on select cable, satellite and telco affiliates in the United States as well as online through select websites including Starz.com/Outlander, the Starz Outlander Twitter page, the Starz YouTube page, etc.
Adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s international best-selling books and executive produced by Ronald D. Moore, Outlander follows the story of Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), a married combat nurse who is mysteriously swept back in time from 1945 to 1743, where she is forced to marry a young Scottish warrior — leaving her married in two different centuries.
Book franchises like Outlander make excellent TV series, he noted, because they are presold to rabid fans. If those fans get behind it, and subscribers do too, it can run for years on the network. In the case of Outlander, the fans “are so revved up” about the series. And, “the amount of press we got off the announcement of American Gods is very good news.”
Starz announced earlier this month it will develop an adaptation of FremantleMedia North America’s Neil Gaiman urban fantasy novel American Gods. Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller and The River and Heroes executive producer Michael Green will write the pilot and showrun the series. The 2001 novel, which has been translated into more than 30 languages, centers on a looming war between the traditional gods of biblical and mythological roots, and an upstart pantheon of gods who stand for society’s fixation with money, technology, media, celebrity and drugs. The story’s main character, Shadow Moon, is an ex-con who becomes bodyguard and traveling partner to Mr. Wednesday, a con man and older god. They set on a cross-country mission to gather forces in preparation to battle the new deities.
A big fan of book adaptations, Albrecht added, “I’m the guy who called Universal and said, ‘I’ll give you three years of on-the-air series, let’s do 50 Shades of Grey as a series.” That didn’t happen, he said, because “movie people think things are movies,” and authors, until recently, thought movies have been the jewel in the crown.” But he added, “What I see you people writing is that seems to be changing.”
Last fall, Albrecht walked CNBC’s David Faber through his strategy to replace some of his Hollywood movies with original shows. “We have really just now decided to take the bull by the horns,” he said back then, detailing about 40 hours of originals in 2014. Starz “needs to find a way to get more at-bats” and target women and others who often are overlooked on premium TV networks, which he said attract a disproportionate number of older men.
This afternoon, Albrecht also announced premiere dates for two original series debuting this fall: The network’s first unscripted series, The Chair, a filmmaking experiment from executive producer Chris Moore, will premiere at 11 PM Saturday, September 6th, and Survivor’s Remorse, a basketball-themed six-part comedy, premieres at 9 PM Saturday, October 4.