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In the last couple of years, cable networks old and new have taken some big swings with original dramas. SundanceTV took the lead in 2013 with Rectify, and this year, Discovery and WGN America joined the fray with Klondike on the former and Salem and Manhattan on the latter. This expansion into originals isn't surprising; for years, we've seen how this kind of programming can launch middling networks into a different stratosphere. But producing that initial series is just the first step. Despite the buzzphrases we like to throw around, no network becomes "the next HBO" with a single show. Even though I love it when a little guy like WGN America jumps into the ring with its first original series, I'm equally intrigued when a network that's been chugging along and making solid programming for awhile tries to pivot in an attempt to reach the next level. And it just so happens that Cinemax and Starz made that attempt in the same week, with the debuts of The Knick and Outlander, respectively.

As you're surely aware, this isn't either network's first rodeo. For Cinemax (which is of course owned by HBO's parent company), The Knick is original series number four—well, assuming you're not counting all the ahem, "after dark" programming—after co-productions like Strike Back and Hunted and TV.com favorite Banshee. Starz has been pumping out originals in earnest for nearly a decade, including CrashTorchwood: Miracle DaySpartacus, Magic City, Boss, DaVinci's Demons and Black Sails, though only Spartacus and DaVinci's Demons have managed to make it past two seasons. More to the point, many of the Cinemax and Starz's series have been solid-to-good, especially BansheeStrike Back, and Spartacus. To say that either The Knick and Outlander is the first or will become the network's best is disingenuous and speculative. 

However, while a few of the networks' past shows have hit with audiences, both channels are still pretty far removed from the discussions that surround new series on HBO and Showtime. For better or for worse, one of the key things that premium cable networks rely on is buzz. We know that Girls and Masters of Sex don't get as many as viewers as, say, NCIS. But if the right people are talking about those premium cable shows and the word-of-mouth convinces non-subscribers to take the plunge, HBO and Showtime win. Cinemax and Starz typically haven't enjoyed a seat at the buzz table, despite the fact that some of their best programming has been more worthwhile than some of the more frequently discussed shows on HBO or Showtime. With The Knick and Outlander, Cinemax and Starz are trying to join the conversation—and they're doing it in very smart (albeit familiar) ways.

What's particularly smart about both shows is that they take the elements that Cinemax and Starz are known for—blood, violence, nudity, etc.—and combine them with strategies that tend to draw people in. To wit: 


BIG, RECOGNIZABLE NAMES BEHIND THE SCENES


Most notably, The Knick and Outlander are shepherded by very respected and famous creative types in Steven Soderbergh (while The Knick is written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, Soderbergh is getting all the attention for his direction) and Ronald D. Moore. Say what you want about our increasing and sometimes annoying focus on single auteurs or showrunners, but those big names draw people in—especially when they're big names for producing innovative and entertaining stories. Tim mentioned in his review of The Knick that the series will be heaven for all the Soderbergh fans out there, and in the TV world, Moore might have an even more devoted fanbase (depending on how you feel about the Battlestar Galactica finale). Cinemax and Starz have had notable showrunners on the payroll before (Steven S. DeKnight and Frank Spotnitz come to mind), but not like this. Soderbergh and Moore will have a major impact because they'll bring in viewers and because they'll help make good TV.


ON CINEMAX, A BIG STAR ON THE SCREEN

It's not just the familiar talent behind the scenes that makes The Knick a safe bet for Cinemax. Along with Soderbergh, The Knick benefits from a triumphant move to television by Clive Owen, an actor who hasn't been as well-served by Hollywood films as much as he deserves to be. Owen appearing on The Knick isn't as big of a get as Matthew McConaughey on True Detective, but it's still a big deal—and not just because he's a recognizable name, but because he's a really great performer. This is especially beneficial for Cinemax, whose previous forays into original programming haven't featured anyone near Owen's stature (no shots at Antony Starr, Philip Winchester, Sullivan Stapleton, or Melissa George; we're just talking star power here). It's easy to see that the network believes the Soderbergh/Owen combination can bring it some awards attention—another way to make a mark and pull in new subscribers. 


ON STARZ, POPULAR SOURCE MATERIAL

For Outlander, the other big draw isn't the cast but the source material. The show is of course based on Diana Gabaldon's book series of the same name that's sold millions and millions of copies around the world. While Starz is no stranger to projects based on different types of source material (CrashCamelotThe White Queen ), Outlander is on another level as a clear adaptation of an ongoing and popular series of novels. While the Game of Thrones comparisons are easy to make, they're certainly relevant (the good news is that Outlander is quite similar to Game of Thrones, as Lily hinted at in her preview). Trying to appeal to Outlander readers is a smart strategy, and one that probably seemed very current to Starz with Game of Thrones' successes in mind. 


Looking at The Knick and Outlander, it's clear that they employ different—yet similarly prominent—strategies. The Knick is the more star-studded affair, developed with the hope that the old "film stars come to TV!" adage still holds true. Meanwhile, Outlander is the expensive adaptation of a beloved property in the trusted hands of a respected industry veteran, with similar expectations that the material, Moore, or both will help bring in viewers. The Knick and Outlander are better—or at least have the potential to be better—than what Cinemax and Starz have produced up until this point, without departing too much from their networks' other fare. But the slight tweaks are very important when it comes to getting people talking, and it already seems to be working. Both The Knick and Outlander were more highly anticipated and discussed in the lead-up to their premieres than the typical Cinemax or Starz show. 

Note: Discussion in the comments has made me realize it's worth noting that Soderbergh and Owen first pitched The Knick to HBO but the project was moved to Cinemax due to some differences in how HBO likes to develop shows. Soderbergh wanted to move quickly, and that's not HBO's game. So The Knick is really trying the HBO approach, just on another member of the conglomerate family.

What's more, it's not just talk: Starz's pre-release strategy for Outlander netted the pilot 900,000 views before last Saturday's official premiere, and by the end of the weekend, the show had scored 3.7 million total views on various platforms, the largest debut in Starz's history. Similarly, The Knick garnered 1.7 million total views in its first weekend, a very strong number for Cinemax. Ultimately, comparisons to HBO and Showtime can't be made  just yet, but with these two new shows, Cinemax and Starz are much closer than they were before. 


What do you think? Will Starz and Cinemax ever be able to truly compete with HBO and Showtime?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 5/28/2016

Season 2 : Episode 8

Next Episode

AIRS ON 6/4/2016

Season 2 : Episode 9

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I don't get Cinemax, so I'll have to try out The Knick using some other venue. I couldn't get into Outlander, which surprised me since I loved Highlander and love Scotland. I love DaVinci's Demons and can't wait to watch the 3rd season.
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If we are talking about bold moves and new tv series then it should start with the amazing choice of music composed by Cliff Martinez for the Knick! It is just mind blowing good. I know they did it because the music of the beginning of the last century was awfully boring, but still they could go secure with "strings-and-horns" and not with contemporary electronica. Well done!
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I am thrilled about Outlander. I haven't read the books, but this show seems to be going in the right direction.
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Why aren't you guys reviewing the Knick also? It is fantastic. It makes me wish a lot of other directors would try their hand at a TV series and not just direct the pilots, even if the show has their style, but to actually direct it all like this seems to be.
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What happened to The Knick on Friday? Cinemax having a pledge drive?

Fair show, only just watchable.
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Imagine a PTA or Wes Anderson tv series.
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I'm absolutely thrilled that, we're not only getting Outlander, but we're also going to get a second season for the Dragonfly in Amber story.

Newly created: A
place to party with your friends and discuss this week's episode, and other
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No spoiler alerts are required, for any of the books or episodes that
have aired.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/288491771338920/?ref=br_tf
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Ron D. Moore has trusted hands for a reason. He's taking a well respected series and honoring its excellence by carefully developing it into a recognizable yet satisfyingly varied adaptation. Well done, sir.
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Starz really hasn't kept many shows going. I read the first outlander book and I'd rather not watch the show till starz renews it. They really dont play at the same level as HBO.
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Staff
Starz renewed the series this morning. Are you psychic?
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;)
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If memory serves me correctly, Kelsey Grammar was nominated and won an award for Boss. I'm really sad that it wasn't able to move pass season 2 and really deserved to have the story wrapped up in a shortened 3rd season
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*past
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Not sure about Cinemax but as for Starz, in time, they probably be a worthy rival for HBO as I predict that Outlander will eventually match GoT in terms of quality in everything. Another great article, Cory! :D
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cinemax is owned by the hbo



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I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Outlander. People should give it a shot even if it doesn't sound like something they'd be interested in.
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You should read the books if you haven't already.
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Loved the premiere episode of the Knick and looking forward to more, while Outlander doesn't premiere until Aug. 24 in Canada on Showcase. I could not get into Diana Gabaldon's book and have yet to like any of the series picked up by Showcase, but I'm game to give it a try anyway.


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Starz make some good series but really this 2 new shows are not really for me. I do like Black Sails and Spartacus and Torchwood: Miracle Day. But Outlander looks like a boring chickflix to me I never read the books but if it end with her getting a baby of that guy or something like that.... OMG.

And The Knick really not understand what people see in this show I don't want to see a 1900 Hospital drama show!! I can barely stand the hospital dramas that play in todays time! And more graphic death/alive bodys surgery is not helping it for me!
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I would say give Outlander a chance. It's more than just a boring chickflick-style show. I promise.
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Try to give Outlander a chance. Yes, on the surface it might seem like a boring "chick flick" - but believe me, if that was all there was, the book series wouldn't span roughly 6000 pages over 7 novels (or more, I haven't actually counted). How would you even fill that with just relationship drama? What it does is use some of the established romance tropes to showcase a whole cast of fascinating characters and a whole lot of Scottish history, that's not just a pretext to make the romance more complicated - the Jacobite Rising is a major plot point, e.g..

If that's still not your cup of tea - everyone has different likes and dislikes and that's a good thing.
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btw love you guys, thanks for the great comments
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I though Cinemax was part of HBO pogramming :/
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Damn errors.

'Starz has been pumping out originals in earnest for nearly a decade, including Crash, Torchwood: Miracle Day, Spartacus, Magic City, Boss, and Black Sails, though only Spartacus has managed to make it past two seasons (I'm guessing the just-renewed Power will join that list, but we'll see come 2015).'

There are a few things missing from that statement. Starz has another show you fail to mention that was renewed this season for its third Season. Its a great show that those of us that watch really enjoy and it has something in it for everyone. A show which boasts excellent roles/performances from Tom Riley, Blake Ritson, Laura Haddock, Lara Pulver, Elliott Cowan and many others. It already IS the second most successful project attempted by the network and that show is 'DaVinci's Demons'. (It its third season renewal was announced the same day as another show in your article WGN's 'Salem'.) Also, 'Party Down', an excellent half hour comedy where every single actor to appear in the cast is now working elsewhere, is missing from the list and from what I recall, the only reason there wasn't a third season of 'Party Down' is Rob Thomas and Adam Scott didn't want to do another one.) Starz has more going on than you give it credit for. 'Spartacus' was so good, its been given a second life on SyFy and if anyone hasn't seen it they could start watching tonight because its at that point in 'Blood and Sand' where people watching realized exactly how special that show and its lead Andy Whitfield were. (The second episode airing tonight is 'Whore' which boasts one of the most excellently crafted final acts of any episode of television in recent memory. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about. One of Lucy Lawless's absolute best hours of television.)

Also, I will say it around these parts over and over and over again, 'Banshee' IS the best damn show on television. Look, leads, supporting cast, music, pre and post credit sequences, website. No television production currently airing is as bold, innovative, or original or takes as big of risks that always seem to pay off. The storytellers involved in this production, although most new to the game, seem to really know what they are doing. Great directors WANT to work on 'Banshee', and not just the same old TV directors that just seem to migrate from show to show. Because its being done completely different from the way anything else has been done on television. The creators and producers love their fans without pandering to them. 'Banshee' is WHY Soderbergh and Owen wanted Cinemax as a platform to launch their show. It is what attracted them to Cinemax. There's nothing as original or as creative as 'Banshee' on big brother (HBO) anymore. You think 'The Knick' is a turning point? I laugh at that. Brother, 'Banshee' already WAS the tipping point for Cinemax.

And before I go I just wanted to say, 'BANSHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"

Is it January yet?


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The DaVinci's thing was an honest mistake! Glad you guys let me know.

I'm not saying that Starz's programming is bad, this is more about perception than quality. Party Down is my favorite comedy ever, but absolutely no one watched it. And of course Banshee is amazing, but you're probably giving it too much credit. Soderbergh went to HBO about The Knick after making Candelabra and they didn't have space--or the scheduling flexibility--for him to do the show the way he wanted, and as quickly as he wanted. It was an HBO show that got moved over, more or less. You're not wrong about how great Banshee is though.
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You are a good dude Mr. Barker. Thanks and you're right I may overstate 'Banshee' just a touch but show is something new and brilliant and I still think it made it here destination for quality television. 'Knick' would have made more sense on HBO. It was my own damn errors I was commenting on not yours (no edit so I had to clear my comments twice).
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Magic City was very good. Starz is run by idiots, or they wouldn't have cancelled it.
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Mitch Glazer and his crew built that stunning hotel and then Starz canceled it after screwing with it for 2 years (both years cutting episode orders from 10 to 8 episodes after writers had originally broken both seasons for 10 episodes.) They really screwed that one up.
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I didn't mind Magic City. I wonder if Starz just hoped it would be a big prestige show for them and when it wasn't, they got spooked.
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Hey Cory, have you heard of Da Vinci's Demons. It's a show on Starz that got renewed for a third season earlier this year.
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Yeah, thank you. I fixed it! Thought that show was only in S2.
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I agree that Outlander could possibly launch Starz into network 'stardom' considering the hype it got and it's quality. I'm not sure on The Knick, since I haven't seen the show yet but I'm sure it's great.
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I love BANSHEE, and for me it´s The Show that had fill the gap left since Dexter (mostly the best 4 seasons) finished. If Banshee develops its characters in the next season (s) and Lucas Hood elevates at a Walter White kind of level, I think Banshee could put Cinemax up there with the big ones. I have read that most people started watching Breaking Bad from season 4, catching up with DVD. That could happened to Banshee too, because the show is unique and original in story development, photography, music, acting, originality and intensity.
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I'm sorry, but the part on Cinemax being the next HBO is somewhat ... pointless, given that HBO owns Cinemax and can rearrange schedule as much as it wants. The only reason The Knick is on Cinemax rather than on HBO is that Clive Owen and Steven Soderbergh asked for it; if they hadn't, it would have been on the HBO lineup.

The piece is more relevant for Starz, given the quality of their shows. I know Spartacus has a lot of fans, but objectively, most of Starz's shows are guilty pleasure, nothing more. Hopefully, Outlander is the second of their original shows (the first being Boss, a truly great one) that suggests it might have some artistic value. Honestly, I didn't expect to like Outlander at all, but I somehow did, so I'll be looking forward to what comes next.

By the way, you have it wrong about Starz - Boss also made it to a second (and last) season, deservedly so, if you ask me. The first season was still better, but it still was a great series.
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While I'll admit that it bothers me more than it probably should, I find it really hard to accept that anybody would throw Spartacus into the same pile as Camelot or Black Sails and deny it any artistic value. That show amounted to so much more than just being a guilty pleasure, especially once it worked out its early flaws. The way the fights were directed was an art in itself, but it also had a true soul when you looked past the sex and violence content that is usually dubbed as gratuitous. The characters were fully fledged and not just rough sketches, and the unfolding story had gravitas. I don't think Outlander is anywhere close to reaching Spartacus' depths yet, but I wouldn't expect that after barely three episodes.

And on an unrelated note - thanks for that link to the article. I was going to skim that interview with SS, but it turned out to be interesting enough that I just read it properly.


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I'm not entirely certain my understanding of the role Soderbergh and Owen played in the decision to air on Cinemax is the same as yours. The project was originally pitched to HBO, and it still shares the same executives, financial backing, and marketing folks. My understanding is that Soderbergh agreed to (rather than initiated) the move to Cinemax as part of Home Box Office, Inc.'s attempt to similarly elevate the programming reputation of its sister network, a bit of a gamble for the showrunners since HBO has such a solid reputation for its original programming and therefore generates a lot more buzz without having to try as hard.

Nevertheless, when you're talking about developing Cinemax as a commodity, which demands a separate subscription for most viewers, allotting it a prestige project is a major step in "competing" with HBO and Showtime. I doubt HBO subscribers will drop it in favor of Cinemax, but fans of HBO-style programming very well might pick up another to get The Knick.
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I saw the Cinemax idea in a promo material, but it quoted an interview with Steven Soderbergh in Esquire, which I found:

http://www.esquire.com/blogs/culture/steven-soderbergh-interview

It's the penultimate question, though I was partially wrong, it was only Soderbergh's proposal.

A side note - where I live (Bulgaria, that's in Eastern Europe), the only way you can get HBO is through a package, which also includes HBO Comedy, Cinemax and Cinemax 2. I guess this mislead me, because apparently you have more choice in the US. Not that I mind - at least in Europe, Cinemax airs a lot of European cinema and documentaries, so it's a lot of value. And I also get to watch HBO's prime series, usually with less than a 24-hour delay.
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Ah, that explains a lot. It also sounds like Cinemax's film catalog is far better than it is here. I've wearied significantly of the poor selections available on all premium cable networks, which amounts to little more than excessively repeated viewings of "new releases" a month or more after their DVD release date and a short rotating collection of secondary titles. It doesn't amount to anything like "programming," unlike regular cable channels TCM or even AMC, whose titles vary significantly in quality but at least are often organized to feature series, actors, themes, or awards.

Thanks for the Esquire link.
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Not a bad point, should mention that. I'll add it in.
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He wrote "past two seasons" Many of the shows mentioned got two seasons but not more.
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It's my mistake - I didn't read carefully and I apologise. However, it turns out you can now add Da Vinci's Demons to the list of series that have passed through a second season :)
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Exactly. Magic City made it to 2 seasons as well but not "past" 2 seasons.
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Because the idiots at Starz cancelled it. Boss was, as has been noted, a very good show. Guess the audience of GOT is too erudite to watch shows like these.
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I wouldn't make such conclusions. I have been a fan of the A Song of Ice and Fire series since before A Storm of Swords was published, and I also love Game of Thrones (the TV series). I think the reason for Boss failing to draw audience is the image of Starz, as most people expect shows like Spartacus, Camelot or Black Sails, rather than Boss or Magic City (though to be honest, I didn't like that one very much).
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Banshee is still the best show on TV although The Knick pilot was superb too, likewise Manhattan. I just don't like this networks' "turning point" theory when they already do some great shows.
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I'm really looking forward to outlander it looks promising
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Same here. I'll probably watch it after exams.
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