Crime paid for Chris Albrecht once before, and clearly he’s hoping it does once again. The former head of HBO — who was the executive that put The Sopranos on the air — is planning a remake of the Australian crime drama Underbelly for his new network, Starz. The series — which centers on real life Australian crime families from the ’70s through 2004 — is just the latest “high concept” drama the cable network has gone ahead with in the last year, following in the footsteps of the upcoming Pillars of Earth launch, a Camelot reboot and new season of the BBC Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood. All the cable network needs is a Sex and the City clone and Albrecht will be on his way to creating the new HBO.
Of course, that implies that the old HBO is no longer relevant, which between True Blood, the Martin Scorsese-approved Boardwalk Empire and a second season of Bored to Death couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is, with Starz becoming a major player in television drama, with HBO continuing its run of excellence, with AMC building on Mad Men and Breaking Bad and with basic cablers like TNT, TBS and USA all hiring huge talents to work at their alphabet soup networks, cable seems to be headed to an even bigger renaissance than it has experienced in the last ten years. And cable has been on a constant upswing! Which begs the question: Seriously, why watch networks anymore?
NBC gets mocked all the time for its poor ratings and programming, but with numbers down across the board — spoiler alert: ABC isn’t much better than NBC in many spots — this feels like another living wake moment for the Big Four. Look no further than the summer programming: AMC is revving up a fourth season of Mad Men; ABC is airing Scoundrels. And you wonder why cable gets all the good ideas? Underbelly could be The Scoundrels — early casting wish: Tom Wilkinson as the family patriarch — but we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, cast and crew unseen, simply because of where its airing.