Is Showtime Purging Its Identity?

I Didn’t Like Ray Donovan But that Didn’t Mean it Should’ve Gone Out Like That

It probably wasn’t noticed in the midst of the last few days sturm und drang, but last night Showtime announced that Ray Donovan, a series that could be considered one of its signature shows since 2013, would not be returning for an eighth season.

I write this article not to praise Ray Donovan — on numerous occasions I wrote that I considered it one of the weakest series on television, and Showtime in particular, but to recognize that this doesn’t seem to be a proper burial for it. The cast and crew had no idea that it was coming — they seem to have ended the seventh season on a cliffhanger — and they seemed to have been planning that their eighth season would be the final one. This is a trend that Showtime that has been more guilty of than say, HBO — I’m still bitter that they canceled Masters of Sex without a proper ending — but in the case, it seems to talk of a broader issue that has been afflicting the network in the last few months of 2019 and the beginning of this year.

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Last year, they were very clear that Homeland’s eighth season would be its last one. They had even delayed its premiere until this Sunday to make this clear. They also announced a couple of weeks ago that Shameless, the longest running series in their network’s history would be coming to an end with its eleventh season. I’m not complaining about either series end — Homeland more than deserves to come to a conclusion, and if anything, Shameless has been on the air at least one season too long –but I am beginning to wonder that, with the cancellation of so many of its signature series, Showtime is in the midst of an identity crisis.

HBO underwent a similar issue near the middle of the last decade and came through on the other side — if anything, it seems to be coming with more original and entertaining programming now that its free of Game of Thrones. But its harder to tell what Showtime is going to be like with so many of its name programs disappearing in rapid succession.

A lot of this may be due to a certain level of controversy that has plagued the network in the last year. William H. Macy, the lead of Shameless, has been stained in relationship to the college admissions scandal that ensnared his wife, but somehow not him. More seriously is news from behind the scenes. Earlier this year, SMILF, a comedy series that genuinely had the ability to be a big player for the network for years to come, was abruptly canceled after rumors surfaced that star-creator Frankie Shaw was responsible for harassing many members of her cast. The Affair, which also ended last year, has now come under a cloud of its own. In the fourth season, Ruth Wilson left the series under unknown reasons, and there are now rumors floating that the showrunners forced Wilson and many of the other characters to perform excessive nude scenes that many objected to. These are not the messages that a network needs about the people working there.

For all that, Showtime seems to be in a solid place when it comes to TV. Many of its current shows — On Becoming a God in Central Florida, Kidding, City on a Hill and Black Monday have serious awards buzz around them, and Billions and The Chi have already developed staying power. But with these cancellations, they seem to be developing problems that could be deleterious to their future work environment. And given their habit of killing shows far more prematurely than some of the more patient networks — there are still people pissed that United States of Tara and Brotherhood are gone — one wonders if the future for the network is bright. Then again, given how dark the nature of Showtime is on its best day, perhaps the darkness is where it wants to stay.

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After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.

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