Epix is about to become an original series player. I have learned that the premium TV network/VOD service, backed by Viacom, Lionsgate, and MGM, is in negotiations for a 10-episode straight-to-series order for Graves, a half-hour comedy starring Nick Nolte as a former President of the United States. The project, created, executive produced and to be directed by Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote) and executive produced by Oscar-winning producer Greg Shapiro (The Hurt Locker), hails from Lionsgate TV, the TV division of one of Epix’s co-owners. Written on spec by Stern who brought the Oscar-nominated actor aboard, it centers on former U.S. president Graves (Nolte) who has an epiphany, realizing that some of his policies have brought damage to the country. He embarks on a quest to right the wrongs while his wife is pursuing a career in politics.
Graves would mark the first series order for Epix, whose original offerings to date have consisted of documentaries as well as comedy and concert specials. (Its main business has been running an extensive roster of movie titles from the libraries of the 3 studios behind it.)
The series pickup, which I hear is pending, would support the November remarks by Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman that Epix “prepares to add high quality original programming produced by Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM beginning at the end of 2015.” As part of the service’s preparation for the foray into series, in January it brought in seasoned TV scripted executive Jocelyn Diaz as EVP Original Programming to oversee Epix’s drama and comedy series efforts.
This is not the first time Epix has ventured into original scripted programming under CEO Mark Greenberg. In February 2009, months before the network’s launch, Epix greenlighted a pilot for what was supposed to be the service’s first original series, Nashville drama Tough Trade, also from Lionsgate TV. Shortly after Epix’s launch in October 2009, it hired another veteran network development executive, Laverne McKinnon, as EVP original programming and development. Epix announced high profile projects with Oliver Stone and Larry Charles and put several miniseries in development, including Atlas Shrugged, while laying out an ambitions scripted plan. It included the launch of the channel’s first original scripted offering, likely a miniseries, in third-quarter 2010, followed by a rollout of a scripted program each quarter, alternating between minis and 13-episode series.
But by August 2011, Epix had pull the plug on its original scripted efforts, with Tough Trade not going beyond the pilot and McKinnon exiting. (Tough Trade lived on at Lionsgate TV, eventually spawning the studio’s ABC drama Nashville.)
However, reality was different back then. Epix was still a fledgeling service struggling to secure carriage on some of the biggest cable and satellite platforms.
Now Epix is an established, very profitable brand with wide distribution. For the most recent period, Lionsgate, which owns 31.2% of Epix, reported net profits increase of 56% to $33.6 million for the service on revenues of $101.1 million, +12.7%. The solid financial footing allows Epix to be more aggressive in the expensive area of premium scripted series.
Lionsgate TV has a history of helping upstart outlets get on the map with scripted series, including AMC with Mad Men, Showtime with Weeds, Netflix with Orange Is The New Black and WGN America with Manhattan.
Oscar nominee Nolte recently co-starred on the Fox limited series Gracepoint and previously starred on the HBO drama Luck, from Michael Mann and David Milch.