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Will Showtime’s Gamble on the Paramount+ Model Pay Off?

The network is going all in on Billions and Dexter, leaving its successful original programming in the dust.
  • Michael C. Hall in Dexter (photo: ©Showtime/courtesy Everett Collection)
    Michael C. Hall in Dexter (photo: ©Showtime/courtesy Everett Collection)

    There’s no doubt that Paramount+ has hit a gold mine of sorts with its current lineup of original programming. Yellowstone was the most watched show during the 2021-2022 TV season, and its success prompted the spinoffs 1883 and 1923, both of which are also drawing in huge audiences for the otherwise relatively quiet streaming service. Now that Showtime is merging with Paramount+, it makes sense that the network would want to adopt the streamer’s strategy. But a recent announcement about Showtime’s brand extension plans show that the cabler may be leaving behind what actually makes the network successful.

    Later this year, Paramount+ and Showtime will be integrated and renamed “Paramount+ with Showtime.” There have already been victims of the merger, including American Gigolo, Let the Right One In, and Dexter: New Blood, all of which were not renewed for a second season, and Three Women, the first season of which is complete but no longer attached to Showtime. And despite already axing a series attached to a legacy brand, Showtime is indicating that its focus is now on capitalizing on existing hits like Billions, Homeland, and, yes, Dexter (prequel origin stories about Dexter and the Trinity Killer are in the works).

    It’s not a completely new strategy. In 2019, Showtime revived its 2000s hit The L Word with The L Word: Generation Q, and in 2021 it brought on Dexter: New Blood. While The L Word: Generation Q is still airing (for now), Season 3 brought in an average of just 63,000 viewers per episode and, as mentioned before, Dexter: New Blood was canceled last week. The kinds of singular, subversive shows that helped Showtime rise to prominence as a cable network don’t lend themselves as easily to replication.

    Paramount+ and Showtime have also historically reached very different audiences. In a 2019 statement, Keith Cox, president of development and production for Paramount Network and TV Land, said of Yellowstone, “Their stories are compelling without being too dystopian or too cerebral. We want to develop shows that have the broad appeal of broadcast shows, but with the tone of cable.” Showtime, on the other hand, found its greatest success in 2022 with Yellowjackets, a show that stands out for being dystopian and cerebral.

    And the names of these new series aren’t exactly instilling a lot of confidence. Not only is the name of the new service itself, Paramount+ With Showtime (PWS for short, probably), less than inspiring, the titles of the proposed spinoffs feel like the network executives simply went with their first thoughts. The Billions companion series are Millions and Trillions. The Homeland series titles being considered are The Bureau and The Department. And the Dexter prequel is being referred to as Dexter: Origins, stating exactly what it is. It’s hard to imagine anything especially groundbreaking coming from these titles, and the descriptions of the Billions series provide even less hope — Millions is described in The Wall Street Journal as being about “young characters on the come up in finance,” which, while generic, sounds similar to HBO’s Industry.

    Shows still not renewed for another season at Showtime include I Love That For You, Ziwe, and The L Word: Generation Q, and if the two former are abandoned it signals even further that Showtime’s pivot will be leaving some of its best and most original series behind. And while Yellowjackets is safe for now, this decision could put it in the crosshairs. These shows that tell brand new stories in new ways, particularly with strong women at the forefront, have always been a part of Showtime’s recipe for success — just look back at Weeds, United States of Tara, and Shameless. Relying on more of the same instead of innovating new series will change the network’s reputation and provide one less outlet for exciting television.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: Showtime, Paramount+, Billions, Dexter, Homeland, Yellowjackets, Yellowstone