A pay channel in the model of HBO, Showtime debuted on the market in 1976. Originally based in California, the network expanded to national markets two years later. Its original owner was the first incarnation of Viacom, which is now known as CBS Corporation, and has the Smithsonian Channel as a sister network as part of a unique deal with that institution for rights to programming involving Smithsonian exhibits and properties (blame this for why you see more programs like Ice Road Truckers on the History Channel). Showtime lags behind its rivals, HBO/Cinemax and Starz/Encore, primarily due to the other networks' stronger movie offerings; it lost the film libraries of its largest providers, Paramount Pictures (which was its corporate cousin from 1994 to 2005), Metro Goldwyn Mayer and Lionsgate, to their own Epix in 2009, but it hasn't been hurt by it at all (while Epix toils in My Network TV-esque obscurity, as several major providers refuse to carry it). However, Showtime does hold the rights to the Twilight film franchise, which they air plenty of times.
When it comes to original programming, however, Showtime's offerings generally rival those of HBO--especially with its big drama series, the critically acclaimed Weeds (which is also Adored by the Network), and Dexter, and more recently United States of Tara.
(Though in The Nineties, it was known more for genre shows with a reliance on Recycled: the Series, with Stargate SG-1, Poltergeist: The Legacy, and a Revival of The Outer Limits all starting on the network.)
Back in The Eighties one of its earliest original series was Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre, a low budget but well-acted and written series that re-told classic fairy tales with all-star casts, including some of the biggest names in Hollywood. The series was so popular that it became one of the earliest series to get released on home video.
Being a premium network, it has more lenient standards when it comes to profanity and nudity (this is after all where David Duchovny got his start as the "host" of Red Shoe Diaries); something which has been lampshaded over the years.
Notable shows featured on Showtime have included:
- The Big C (2010-present)
- The Borgias (2011-present)
- Boxing (1976-present)
- Brotherhood (2006-2008)
- Californication (2007-present)
- Dead Like Me (2003-2004)
- Dexter (2006-present)
- Episodes (2011-present)
- House of Lies (2011-present)
- Inside NASCAR (2009-present)
- Inside the NFL (2008-present after a Channel Hop from HBO, one of the Long Runners of cable)
- Jeremiah (2002-2004)
- The L Word (2004-2009)
- Masters of Horror (2005-2007)
- Nurse Jackie (2009-present)
- Penn and Teller Bullshit (2003-2010)
- Poltergeist: The Legacy, first two seasons
- Queer as Folk (US remake, 2000-2005)
- Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2007-2011)
- Shameless (US remake, 2011-present)
- Stargate SG-1 (1997-2002, seasons 1-5)
- This American Life, television version (2007-2009)
- The Tudors (2007-2010)
- United States of Tara (2009-2011)
- Weeds (2005-present)