| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Aug 30 From the FBI agent tripping
on acid to the action film star marrying a transsexual, the
Sunday night Showtime drama "Ray Donovan" has served up its
share of bizarre twists.
In the tale of a ruthless yet morally conflicted Hollywood
"fixer" played by Liev Schreiber, "you never know where it is
going to go," executive producer Mark Gordon says.
What the premium cable network does know is that "Ray
Donovan" - now heading into the final three episodes - will be
its biggest show in its first season. Ratings are outpacing the
current record holder, domestic terror thriller "Homeland," by
almost 40 percent.
The show already has been renewed for a second season, and
CBS Corp-owned Showtime Networks Inc has bet on "Ray Donovan" as
its next big showcase.
Popular serial killer drama "Dexter" concludes next month
after eight seasons, and "Homeland" embarks on a crucial third
season after a more lukewarm reception to season two.
"We are trying to have one anchor show each of the four
seasons of the year," said David Nevins, Showtime's
entertainment president. "I think 'Ray Donovan' has already
established itself as one of the anchors. It will probably be
our anchor in the summer for years to come."
Building a stable of strong shows is key to Showtime's
strategy of developing original programming to compete with HBO
and Netflix, which have come to be known as much for
their own productions as for running Hollywood films.
Early reviews for "Ray Donovan" were mixed, though most
critics praised Schreiber and Oscar winner Jon Voight, who plays
Ray's menacing father, Mickey, a Boston mobster jailed 20 years
for a crime he did not commit.
It's the relationship at the heart of the drama, and it's
still a mystery. Mickey wants to reconnect with his family in
Los Angeles, but the baseball-bat wielding Ray, who can fix the
worst problems for his Hollywood clientele, can't fix Mickey. He
wants him dead and viewers don't know why.
Nevins said the show draws around 5.7 million viewers each
week, either on Sunday nights or through digital recording, a
number he calls "remarkably solid."
It would be higher if not for the Time Warner Cable Inc
blackout in some major markets due to a weeks-long fee
dispute with CBS, he added.
ABOUT MEN, BY A WOMAN
Women, it turns out, are showing keen interest in the show,
which was created and is written by a woman, Ann Biderman.
"You've got very interesting moments of male psychology
written interestingly by a woman, and I think that true look at
the way men think and approach the world is fascinating to
women," Nevins said.
Gordon, a TV and film producer behind hit network shows like
ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," paired up with Biderman for his first
premium cable production.
After Showtime accepted the pitch, they spent months
developing the "Ray Donovan" script, finding the director and
casting the show.
It took a "very long time" to convince Schreiber to play
Ray, he said.
"We had the time to do it right," said Gordon, a benefit of
working for a network that does not need to heed the accelerated
schedules of broadcast and commercial TV networks because of
For Gordon and Nevins, the unpredictability of the "Ray
Donovan" storyline and the character of Ray is key not only to
the show, but also to Showtime's profile.
"There's a place on television for comfort TV. I don't think
they come to Showtime for comfort," Nevins said. "Our shows are
challenging, subversive and unpredictable."
Eric Deggans, TV critic at the Tampa Bay Times, said he
likes Voight's and Schreiber's performances, but believes the
show's meandering storylines can be problematic for retaining
"I don't know if that is because they are moving so slowly
or if it's because the storylines are not compelling," he said.
Final episodes will answer questions like why Ray hates his
father, and Nevins says he believes the show will end up being
different from anything people have seen on TV.
"'Ray Donovan' I think comes in with a group with
'Homeland,' with 'Masters of Sex,' with 'Shameless' that I think
are taking us to a new level," Nevins said. "Only history will
tell if it has the long-term impact that the 'The Sopranos' has