Showtime and Howard Stern made news this week

By Joe Flint
Updated June 25, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Playing catch-up
Showtime, often seen as Pepsi to HBO’s Coke in the world of pay cable, is ramping up its original programming with two new series it hopes will close the gap with HBO and distance it from basic cable competitors such as TNT and Lifetime.

First up is Beggars and Choosers, an inside look at network TV created by the late Brandon Tartikoff (NBC’s hallowed entertainment head) and Peter Lefcourt. Next: Hoop Life, a drama about a pro basketball team from Homicide: Life on the Street producers Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana.

”If the old complaint was too much repetition and nothing one couldn’t find first somewhere else, now there’s a lot here you can’t see anywhere else,” says Showtime programming prez Jerry Offsay. The net is in about 11.1 million homes, up 26 percent from five years ago, but still far behind HBO’s 28 million subscribers.

On the movie front, Showtime has gone from producing fewer than 10 original films a year five years ago to a whopping 35 now. The net has also attracted top-drawer talent with projects like The Passion of Ayn Rand (starring Eric Stoltz, Peter Fonda, and Helen Mirren) and 12 Angry Men (George C. Scott, Jack Lemmon). Upcoming movies include Rated X, with brothers Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez as infamous porno pioneers the Mitchell brothers, and Strange Justice, based on the book about the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas saga, which both TNT and FX shied away from.

”We need to make better product today” to keep pace with the cable competition, Offsay stresses. The only folks not making better movies, he says, are the broadcast nets. ”I wouldn’t trade our original-movie lineup for any network lineup of the last five years.”

New ‘toons
Film Roman Inc., the animation house and production company behind The Simpsons and King of the Hill, looked to TV’s past and future for its next animated projects, signing on legendary TV producer Norman Lear and King of all Media Howard Stern to develop shows.

Stern’s Doomsday follows a family traveling ”across a postapocalyptic United States in search of a new home and traditional family values.” He’ll also voice a character.

Lear, creator of All in the Family, is developing Til the Fat Lady Sings with John Baskin, about life in a senior citizen rec center. Maybe Grandpa Simpson can cameo.