The Big Sick’s Success Drove Epix’s Marketing Plan for Its New Ray Romano Series

The network recommits to scripted shows, starting with Get Shorty

Get Shorty premieres on Sunday, but Epix released the first two episodes on YouTube and Facebook two weeks ago.
Justin Lubin

Epix lept into the crowded scripted series field last October, debuting drama Berlin Station and comedy Graves. While networks like WGN America and A&E have begun to bow out of that genre, the premium cable network says it is as committed as ever, renewing both its freshman shows and launching its third scripted series, Get Shorty, on Sunday.

Based in part on the 1990 Elmore Leonard novel, which led to the 1995 movie with John Travolta and Gene Hackman, Shorty is about a hitman (Chris O’Dowd) who decides to switch careers and become a movie producer, teaming up with a washed-up producer (Ray Romano) who shows him the ropes.

Epix was jointly owned by MGM, Paramount and Lionsgate until April, when MGM agreed to buy out its partners for $1 billion.

For the new owner’s first series, Epix is pulling out all the stops to get eyeballs on Get Shorty, especially after Romano’s film The Big Sick became a sleeper hit earlier this summer. On July 24, Epix posted the first two episodes on Facebook and YouTube, while cable companies that carry Epix made the first three episodes available on demand. Episodes are also airing on Delta Airlines and Twitch, while Epix is also offering a free preview weekend beginning today to attract new audiences.

Epix president and CEO Mark Greenberg talked about Epix’s new owner, why the company is more committed than ever to scripted series and how The Big Sick influenced Get Shorty’s marketing campaign.

Adweek: Epix is relatively new to scripted, but some of the other newer players in the field have already retreated. You, on the other hand, renewed both of your series and are about to launch a third. How do you feel about your approach to scripted shows?
Greenberg: We feel great. The first two that we did were consistently in the top 10 of our programming for the year. So we know that it generated viewership. We know that it got consumer feedback. And the attention we got from press has been great. We got some great reviews, especially on Berlin Station, and Nick [Nolte] got a Golden Globe nomination [for Graves]. We’re off to a good place.

One network that retreated from premium scripted, WGN America, did so because of its new owner, Sinclair. You also have a new owner in MGM. Are you getting different marching orders now regarding scripted?
Do more. Here’s the reality: we know that movies are our workhorse. Even [Time Warner CEO] Jeff Bewkes and [HBO CEO Richard] Plepler will say, 75 percent of HBO’s total viewership is movies. That’s an important factor, and that will continue. But I think in this environment of, how do you brand yourself, these shows define who you are. You say Netflix, it’s House of Cards, Orange is the New Black. As a brand in this complicated environment, this multichannel world with multiple platforms, you need to have those signatures out there. So Gary [Barber, MGM’s chairman and CEO] and his board have been enormously supporting, saying, “Look, you guys have done great stuff, we think you should do more.”

Get Shorty is an MGM production. Going forward, are you open to making deals with all studios?
Yes. Totally.

So it won’t be just shows from MGM?
Listen, we hope that we’re the first place that MGM wants to go for its stuff. You can see The Handmaid’s Tale, which is a great episodic series. Maybe a year ago that might have come our way, maybe not. It’s a great, great series. I think they’re very happy where it is, but that would have been a conversation that at least we might have had.

You’re giving a sneak peek at Get Shorty early on digital. Is that because Ray blew up this summer with The Big Sick?
We tapped into it. We also used our platforms on the digital side of where we’re going, and we’re able to tag into people on those platforms who saw The Big Sick. So we’re able to be a little bit more strategic. We use a digital marketing company that helps us focus those messages, because it’s smart.

So you went out earlier than planned because of The Big Sick?
Yeah, maybe by a week. Because we wanted to take advantage, and we took that into consideration. You don’t want to go too far out in advance, because what happens is, we have three episodes that are out there. So what you don’t want to do is be so far out that the people who sampled it have to wait until after Labor Day to join. There’s a little bit of compressing, and we’re just trying to find a way strategically to put it all together.

Is there anything you learned last fall about scripted that you incorporated into the second seasons of your returning shows?
We have a great ensemble cast at Berlin Station, and we very intentionally decided to put in more women [with Ashley Judd and Keke Palmer]. [Season 1 star] Michelle Forbes was a great presence, but we didn’t have the right balance, reflecting what I would say is society. So the feedback was, how do we become more accessible for women? By putting some strong additional female characters on board, I think really helped. We got great feedback, but we wanted to make sure that we’re widening our purview of what audience we could make it accessible for.