Starz CEO Chris Albrecht made a startling announcement this week: He’s moving the cable channel’s original programming from Saturday to Sunday nights, starting in July with Power. That means that season 3 of Outlander — yes, yes it’s going to happen! — would go up against the likes of Game of Thrones on HBO and Homeland on Showtime. In other words, Starz is taking on the cable big boys. Move over Jon Snow. Jamie Fraser is coming to town.
In the announcement in the Hollywood Reporter, Albrecht explains the choice this way: “We see an opportunity. Saturdays have worked so well that we feel our shows are going to be able to stand up on the most watched night of the week.” Airing on Sunday nights, Albrecht says, will also make shows like Outlander be part of the Monday water cooler conversations (do people still talk around water coolers at offices????) and the resulting social media push.
But the real driver behind this move is likely this factoid noted in the Hollywood Reporter: 53 percent of the 2015 Emmy nominations were for Sunday night shows. And Starz needs to get some of those Emmys to take its channel to the next level.
“Sundays are a prestige night and we feel our shows are definitely going to be very competitive, not just in viewership but in attention-getting business on Sundays,” Albrecht says. Saturdays will be for original movies. He also hinted that Starz may play with dropping all episodes at once for certain shows.
The announcement has some Outlander fans already in a tizzy (which admittedly does not take much.) “I can’t stay up that late on Sunday nights to rewatch episodes!” some have cried. Canadians, meanwhile, who currently wait until Sundays to see the show (legally), have quietly said, “Welcome to our world.” If Starz follows its current plan, however, — making the episode available at 12:01 A.M. — Obessenachs can still get in a couple of rewatches before they have to clock in on Monday mornings.
It is that kind of unique obsessive fan behavior, though, that will help Starz get where it wants to be from its Sunday night maneuver. Sure, they’ll moan a bit, but it won’t be long before Outlander fans see why this move is good for Starz in general and Outlander in particular. In order for Outlander to get the awards it deserves — for acting, costumes, set design, music, cinematography — it has to play in the same ring as the big leagues. Yes, the show has gotten a smattering of award nominations — an Emmy nomination for composer Bear McCreary and Golden Globe nominations for Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies, for instance — and even a couple of wins — Sam Heughan got a Gold Derby Award and the Critics Choice Television Awards named the show most bingeworthy in 2016 and most exciting new series in 2014. But in the meantime Game of Thrones won 12 Emmys in 2015 alone. This from a show whose main storyline seems to be seeing how many people can be killed in any given episode.
Starz certainly has a bunch of worthy TV shows besides Outlander. But what these shows don’t have are the same kinds of fans. Yes, there are undoubtedly days when any one of the actors or creators of Outlander wished that Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook had not been invented. Outlander fans weigh in loud and strong on every piece of minutiae minutes after the final credits have rolled. Book purists bemoan every single change from the Word of Gabaldon, while shippers break down the private lives of the two main actors, Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, frame by frame looking for signs that they are a CIRL (that would be couple in real life). It is not all pretty.
But wow Outlander fans can rally when called upon. They wear their fingers to the bone voting for various online popularity contests — Outlander won the Radio Times inaugural League of Fandoms beating out Sherlock, Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who and Harry Potter for God’s sake. They also have raised thousands and thousands of dollars for charities sponsored by Heughan and Balfe.
And that is Starz’s secret weapon: Obsessenachs will follow Outlander wherever it goes. It could air at 2 a.m. on a Monday night and the fans would be there, helping to put Starz on the TV map where it belongs. Winter may be coming, but for Outlander and Starz, the good weather is here to stay.
What do you think of the move to Sunday nights? Do you think it will help or hinder Outlander‘s popularity and opportunity for awards? Do you think it will hurt ratings? Will it affect your viewing habits?