New season of “The Borgias,” “Dexter,” “Inside Comedy” and the rest of the best of Showtime at TCA

Showtime and The CW were the focus of Thursday’s press sessions at the Television Critics Association (TCA) semiannual press tour in Pasadena. Showtime kicked the day off with the casts and writers for two of  their hit series  — Shameless and The Borgias  — and followed with introducing Inside Comedy and House of Lies. The top 12 notables from the session include:

1. The Claire Danes and Damian Lewis drama Homeland finished up 2011 as  Showtime’s highest-rated freshman series ever. The series will most likely return in fall.

2. Dexter will be back for two more seasons. Last season Dexter broke ratings records for the series. This year, David Nevins, president of entertainment, says: “I think it’s going to help to write with that endgame in mind, and I’ve been pushing— I’ve been pushing to shake up the formula a bit, and I think there’s gonna be fundamentally different dynamics now that Deb, in addition to confronting her feelings for Dexter, has also just been given a huge reveal at the end of the season, and that’s gonna ricochet through and I think change the feel.  I think it’s time.  It’s time to sort of shake up what Dexter goes through so that he’s not quite such a lone wolf.”

3. The network is in “deep conversations with Major League Baseball” to secure another season of their successful series The Franchise. They expect to have an announcement on the new team shortly but promise it to be a “very interesting one.” Milwaukee Brewers anyone?

4. The network is working with Jim Rome, Nevins wants to build the network’s sports portfolio via a personality-driven show.

5. Expanding their documentary lineup is another focus. Nevins says Showtime  is interested in doing “branded, high‑impact filmmaker‑driven documentaries on iconic culture‑defining, perhaps controversial, people where the subject will create its own attention.” Nevins confirmed docs about Dick Cheney and R.J. Cutler.

6. April 8 marks the return of Nurse Jackie at 9pm ET/PT, followed by The Big C and The Borgias.

7. When it comes to any new series, relevance is imperative: “I think relevance is a big deal for us, and I want to do shows that resonate in the wider culture,” Nevins says. “It was a big priority for me coming in. And I think there’s a huge opportunity to challenge the world that we live in, and relevance, timeliness, is, I think, one of the important things that can distinguish Showtime, as long as we’re not too obvious and on the nose about.”

8. Executive producers David Steinberg and Steve Carrell explore comic geniuses in an interview style series titled Inside Comedy, beginning  Jan.26 at 11PM ET/PT. “It’s a rare, in‑depth and very personal look at what makes them tick.” The series features a whose who of comic greats past and present from Tim Conway, Mel Brooks and Don Rickles to Jane Lynch, Chris Rock, Larry Seinfeld, Larry David, Kathy Griffin, Ellen DeGeneres and more. It’s a must see!

9. Episodes, starring  Matt LeBlanc, will return with nine episodes this summer.

10 . Shameless executive producer John Wells’ says his favorite moment from the new season is an episode involving euthanasia. “You can’t believe you are laughing.” “I’m very proud, actually, of something that you haven’t seen yet that comes up which is a euthanasia story that happens in the middle of the season. I won’t put any more detail to it because I don’t want to reveal it exactly. You know, with the Grammy character who’s played by Louise Fletcher, wonderful actress who comes back for three or four episodes, and it’s appalling and funny and painfully real all at the same time. And it’s involved with Joan [Cusack], and it’s really one of my favorite moments of the entire season because it’s talking about something that we’re all uncomfortable about, which is there’s a moment at which the person who’s alive doesn’t really want to be alive anymore, and you have no idea what to do about it. They’re ready to give up. It’s too painful. They’re tired. There isn’t really a mechanism for dealing with that.  People get very uncomfortable about it, and Joan Cusack’s character makes a choice about helping her which gets remarkably funny, and you just can’t believe you’re laughing at it, and yet at the same time you know it’s very true.”

11. The Borgias executive producer James Flynn tells of the new season: “This year the series is very muscular and gritty. I mean, the medical standards, dental standards were terrible at the time.  The poverty ‑‑ when you got ill, if you got an injury, you could die very easily just with a flesh wound in a battle.  So there’s a real sense of that, the difficult times they were living in without proper medical procedures, and that scene certainly underpins it.”

12. The network’s newest series House of Lies, which premiered last Sunday, stars Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell and is based on the book by Marin Kihn — House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Tell You the Time. Kihn shared: “Well, you know, this book, House of Lies, that I wrote is a book written by an angry little man who is bitter, works all the time, and that’s me.  And I think that Matt and the writers did everyone a big favor by changing it a little bit, and by changing it, I mean adding things like personal relationships, having sex occasionally, I mean, because some of us don’t have sex with anyone, including their spouses.  We are just too tired.  So, to answer your question, it is heightened.  Obviously, it’s a comedy.  My book is about the workplace because that’s where consultants spend their lives.  So anything that’s not in the workplace is the comic element.  Anything that is in the workplace rings true to me.  I mean, the language that he’s using is real consultant language.  It started — my book started as a consultant‑to‑English dictionary, how to interpret your consultant for, you know, regular people.  The dictionary is still in here, so — and that element is still in the show.  So I think there’s a lot of it that’s true to life.”