Head of Starz Programming on “Outlander”, “Power”, “Party Down” Futures
Kathryn Busby, who was hired by Starz in January to take over as president of original programming, has joined a premium cable network with two big tentpoles: the “Outlander” and “Power” franchises. So she did what any good network leader could do: she leaned on them.
“They are monsters,” she says of both worlds. “Power” ended its run in 2020 but spawned spinoffs “Power Book II: Ghost,” “Power Book III: Raising Kanan,” and “Power Book IV: Force.” (A fifth edition, a show starring Larenz Tate and set in the political world, won’t move forward, confirms Busby.) And “Outlander,” which recently wrapped its sixth season (with a 16-episode season 7 already commissioned), is also set to get its first scripted spinoff: the prequel “Outlander: Blood of My Blood,” which the network confirmed earlier this month.
Busby, who spoke to Variety as Starz prepared to unveil its latest merchandise Thursday on the Critics Assn Network’s Virtual TV. press tour panel, says the two shows help define Starz and its programming focus. “I like to say these are shows that have swagger,” she says. “These are both premium and commercial shows. They are propulsive and provocative and they are very powerful character pieces. As other networks and other streamers become a bit more mainstream entertainment, I feel like people know what they’re getting when they come to Starz.
The success of “Outlander,” particularly with female audiences, informed the network’s upcoming slate of period dramas, including “The Serpent Queen,” starring Samantha Morton as Catherine de’ Medici as she takes power in the 16th century in France, and a new version of “Dangerous Liaisons”, set in pre-revolutionary Paris.
“Power,” meanwhile, is a juggernaut, but the network is equally proud of Katori Hall’s “P-Valley,” which Busby boldly puts on par with HBO’s iconic “The Wire” and upcoming romantic drama. of Ava DuVernay’s network.
Busby, who most recently served as executive vice president and head of Sony’s TriStar TV label, is a television veteran whose resume also includes stops at TBS, New Line, Carsey-Werner and Universal TV. She was enamored with the idea of bolstering Starz’s reputation for programming where the voices of women and people of color are front and center.
“As a black woman, I didn’t feel like I was on screen,” she says. “I didn’t feel like people like me were on screen. And so I always wanted to be in a place that stood up for underrepresented voices.
Other Starz group creators include Tanya Saracho, who was behind the critically acclaimed “Vida,” and is currently developing “Lovesong,” a half-hour drama about Mexican American friends living in London; as well as “Dear White People” alums Justin Simien, Steven J. Kung and Leann Bowen, who are working on the Asian-American comedy “Plan A.” And Marlon Wayans, whose semi-autobiographical comedy series “Book of Marlon” previously premiered at HBO Max, has moved his project to Starz as well.
Because she’s on the production side, Busby doesn’t have much to say about what happens overall to Starz as parent company Lionsgate prepares to either sell the network or to transform it into a distinct society. But she’s also a little leery of discussing the decision to cast Mel Gibson in the “John Wick” prequel series “The Continental,” since that decision predates his arrival. “For anyone who loves ‘John Wick’, they’re going to love ‘The Continental’,” she says.
She’s more outspoken in her enthusiasm for the revival of “Party Down,” which still has a loyal following despite its short two-season run in 2009 and 2010. With a cast even busier and in-demand than it was a decade ago. A few years ago, the return of “Party Down” was logistically difficult to pull off. But Busby hasn’t ruled out the idea of more seasons: “It’s a gift,” she says. “I still hope there is a possibility for more. We would love to ask that question and consider that possibility.”
Also on the Starz program: new seasons of “Shining Vale”, “Blindspotting”, “BMF” and “Hightown”. One thing you won’t see much more are limited series in the vein of “Gaslight,” Julia Roberts/Sean Penn’s look at the Watergate heist that earned strong reviews but failed to land any nominations. keys to the Emmys — despite that A-list star power. Busby calls the lack of Emmy love ‘disappointing,’ but says pulling out of limited series is more strategic than accolades-focusing on recurring series to define the Starz brand just makes more economic sense .
“They’re more of a financial risk…so if we’re going to do limited runs, they really have to be that big,” she says. “They must be very, very special. Otherwise, we are really trying to find a way to make them reproduce. Busby says the DuVernay series, which would run for three seasons, is a bit of a compromise.
“It’s a way for us to do a radical rebel love story between a deaf black woman and a white man [played by Joshua Jackson],” she says. “It addresses race and class, disability and privilege. But part of what we’ve done in putting it into development is that it’s three seasons. So it’s not not limited, but it feels like it’s limited because we already know where it starts and we know where it’s going to end.
This kind of representation is central to Starz’s “Take the Lead” campaign, which Busby says also describes “what we do as a programming practice and also how we run our business. Starz is truly a I’ve never worked at a company like this where 75% of our executive suite are women and board members 50% are people of color I know those numbers because I’m proud of it. 63% of our series leads are people of color. 54% of our show runners are women. Almost 50% of our directors are people of color. We do great programming, successful programming but we also contribute to the world in the way we think Hollywood should I know that sounds rah rah but honestly I haven’t had the opportunity to be like that in my other lives.