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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 (though various other companies owned parts of it over the years). After the Viacom-CBS split of 2006, ownership of Showtime Networks went to CBS Corporation, which succeeded the first Viacom. Since the second Viacom-CBS merger in 2019, Showtime has been operated by Paramount Global under its Domestic Media Networks division.

Showtime often lags behind its rivals, HBO/Cinemax and Starz/Encore, primarily due to the other networks' stronger movie offerings. It may have lost the film libraries of its largest providers, Paramount Pictures (which was its corporate cousin from 1994 to 2005, and again since 2019), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Lionsgate, to their own Epix in 2009 (not counting Warner Bros., Universal and Columbia Pictures in addition to the other 3 studios mentioned), but it hasn't been hurt by this at all. For a significant period, Showtime held the rights to the Twilight film franchise and have shown them plenty of times. Current Showtime output deals include DreamWorks SKG (the live-action company), Amblin Partners, STX Entertainment and A24. note 

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Original programming is a different story, as Showtime's offerings generally rival those of HBO. Some of their best known series include Weeds (which was also Adored by the Network), Dexter, United States of Tara and Homeland. Back in The '90s, Showtime 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 in 1995 all getting their start on the network.

Back in The '80s 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. A Spiritual Successor called Shelley Duvall's Bedtime Stories also ran for three years in the 90's. Another notable early original series was Brothers, one of the first shows to address gay issues, which is also notable for the novelty of Yeardley Smith, best known for her role as Lisa Simpson, in a live-action setting, for being produced by Paramount's home video division for its' first couple of seasons (production transferred to Paramount Television in 1987), and for being hard to find.

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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. Showtime's sibling networks fall under the Showtime Networks umbrella, and include The Movie Channel (which is focused on older, genre and independent films), and Flix (which focuses on films from the 1970s and beyond). It also formerly included the Smithsonian Channel, part of a unique deal CBS has with the Smithsonian Institution for rights to programming involving Smithsonian exhibits and properties, but since the second Viacom-CBS merger, the channel has been operated by MTV Entertainment Group instead.

In addition to linear cable and satellite TV, a standalone streaming version of the network, also called Showtime, is available from both the network itself and via various streaming partners as an add-on (including Amazon, Hulu and Roku); unlike HBO Now (and subsequently HBO Max), the Showtime streaming service includes the linear feeds of the main Showtime network (though only customers who subscribe via Amazon have streaming versions of the multiplex networks mentioned below). As of 2021 there is also a bundle available (comparable to the Disney+ / Hulu / ESPN+ bundle) that combines Showtime with sister streaming service Paramount+; a linear channel, Showtime Selects, featuring older Showtime originals is also available via the free ViacomCBS streaming service Pluto TV. In 2022, the Paramount+ bundle will be discontinued as the streaming service expands to include all of Showtime's content, though Showtime will remain available as a separate service as well.

Showtime has seven sister networks that are almost always included with the main channel to make the network a good value for most of its audience (the collection of networks was once branded as Showtime Unlimited):

  • Showtime 2: A secondary channel that offers a separate schedule of movies, original series and specials. Launched on October 1, 1991, the channel was previously named Showtime Too from 2001 to 2006.
  • Showcase: Similar to Showtime 2, Showcase features movies, first-run feature films and original made-for-cable films originally produced for Showtime. Launched in 1996, the channel was previously named "Showtime 3" until July 1, 2001. (This channel is not affiliated in any way with other channels using the "Showcase" name that exist in other countries, particularly those in Canada or Australia.)
  • SHO×BET: Launched in September 1999, it was formerly known as Showtime Beyond and featured a mix of science fiction, fantasy and horror films, as well as made-for-cable science fiction series produced for Showtime. It was discontinued on July 15, 2020, and replaced with SHO×BET. SHO×BET now focuses on programming aimed at African American audiences and incorporating original scripted content targeted at that demographic from Showtime and BET's respective libraries.
  • Showtime Extreme: Launched on March 10, 1998, Showtime Extreme airs action and adventure films, thriller films, gangster films and sporting events (including mixed martial arts and boxing matches). The channel carries over 60 movies each month, along with a Sunday double feature spotlighting a different action star.
  • Showtime Family Zone: Launched in March 2001, Showtime Family Zone features family-oriented programming, including movies and specials aimed at a younger audience. All movies seen on the channel are rated G, PG, or PG-13 (or the equivalent TV-G, TV-PG, or TV-14), with no content at or above R or TV-MA airs on the channel.
  • Showtime Next: Launched in March 2001, Showtime Next features movies geared towards adults between 18 and 34 years old. The channel features over 50 films each month, including original made-for-cable movies, and live action and animated short films; it also broadcasts documentaries and concert specials.
  • Showtime Women: Launched in March 2001, Showtime Women features movies, Showtime original series and specials aimed at a female audience.

Shows and original films that Showtime have aired:

Bold indicates ongoing programs.
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