Kathryn Busby, who was hired by Starz as president of original programming in January, joins a premium cable network with two pillars: the “Outlander” and “Power” franchises. So she did what any good network executive would do: She leaned on them.
“They’re monsters,” she said of the two worlds. Power ended in 2020, but spawned spin-offs Power Book II: Ghost, Power Book III: Raising Kanan, and Power Book IV: Force. (The fifth edition, a show starring Larenz Tate and set in the political world, will not move forward, Busby confirmed.) “Outlander,” which recently wrapped its sixth season ( 16 episodes of Season 7 have been ordered), and it’s about to get its first scripted spinoff: the prequel “Outlander: My Blood,” the network confirmed earlier this month.
Busby spoke with Variety as Starz prepares to unveil its latest product on Thursday at the network’s virtual TV Critics Association. The news tour group said the two shows helped define Starz and its show focus. “I like to say they’re swagger shows,” she said. “They’re premium and commercial shows. They’re propulsive and provocative, and they’re powerful characters. As other networks and other streamers become more common, I feel like people know what they’re going to get when they come to Starz.”
The success of “Outlander,” especially among female audiences, has informed the network’s upcoming series of period dramas, including Katherine de Media starring Samantha Morton. Catherine de Medici, her rise to power in 16th-century France, and a new take on the “Queen of the Serpent”. Dangerous Contacts,” set in pre-revolutionary Paris.
Meanwhile, “Power” is a juggernaut, but the network is equally proud of Katori Hall’s “P-Valley,” which Busby boldly compared to HBO’s iconic “The Wire” and the network’s upcoming Ava DuVernay romantic drama on par.
Busby, who most recently served as executive vice president and head of Sony’s Samsung TV brand, is a TV vet whose resume also includes stops at TBS, New Line, Carsey-Werner and Universal TV. She was drawn to the idea of reinforcing Starz’s reputation for programs front and center with women and voices of color.
“As a black woman, I don’t feel like I’m on the screen,” she said. “I don’t feel like someone like me is on the screen. So I always wanted to be in a place that supports vulnerable people.”
Other Starz creators include Tanya Saracho, who was behind the network’s critically acclaimed “Veda,” and is now developing “Lovesong,” a half-hour series about a Mexican-American friend living in London. And “Dear White” alumni Justin Simien, Steven J. Kung, and Leann Bowen, who are producing the Asian-American comedy “Plan A.” Marlon Wayans’ semi-autobiographical comedy series The Book of Malone was previously set up on HBO Max, and his projects have also moved to Starz.
Because she’s on the production side, Busby doesn’t have much to say when it comes to what happens to Starz as a whole when parent company Lionsgate prepares to sell the network or turn it into a standalone company. But she was also a bit cautious when discussing the decision to cast Mel Gibson in the “John Wick” prequel series “Continent,” which predates her arrival. “For people who like ‘John Wick’, they’re going to like ‘Continent,’” she said.
Her enthusiasm for the revival of “Party Down” was more candid, and despite having only two short seasons in 2009 and 2010, she still has a loyal following. Before the cast was busier and in demand than it was a decade ago, the return of “Party Down” was logically difficult to pull off. But Busby isn’t giving up on the idea of more seasons: “It’s a gift,” she said. “I’ve always wanted more possibilities. Of course, we’d love to raise the issue and consider that possibility.”
Also on the Starz docket: new seasons of “Shining Vale”, “Blindspotting”, “BMF”, and “Hightown”. One thing you won’t see more of is the limited series in “Gaslight,” where Julia Roberts/Sean Penn watched the Watergate break-in, garnered solid reviews but failed to land a key Emmy nomination – Despite A-listing star power. Busby called the lack of Emmys “disappointing,” but said it made more strategic sense to exit the limited series than to base it on the accolades — focusing on recurring series to define the Starz brand made more economic sense.
“They’re more of a financial risk…so if we’re going to do limited series, they have to be as big as that,” she said. “They have to be very, very special. Otherwise, we’re really going to try and figure out a way to make them come back.” Busby said the DuVernay series, which will run for three seasons, is a bit of a compromise.
“It’s our way of doing a radical rebel love story between a deaf black woman and a white man [played by Joshua Jackson],” she said. “It addresses race, class, disability and privilege. But part of what we did during development was its three seasons. So it’s not limited, but it feels like it’s limited because we already know where it starts and ends. ”
This representation is at the heart of Starz’s “Take the Lead” campaign, which Busby said also describes “what we do in the practice of programming and how we run the company. Starz is really a leader in this.
I’ve never been Having never worked at a company like this, our executive suite is 75% women and the board is 50% people of color. I know these numbers because I’m proud of them. 63% of our series leads are people of color. 54% of our performers are women. Almost 50% of our directors are people of color. We’re doing great shows, successful shows, but we’re also contributing to the world the way we think Hollywood should. I know It sounds good, but honestly, in the rest of my life, I never had a chance to be like that.”