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Ellen Gray: HBO floats solo channel idea

I GOT A COUPLE of outraged e-mails last week from readers unhappy with the headline on an interview with Julia Stiles, who guest-starred this season on Showtime's "Dexter."

"In Treatment," with Gabriel Byrne: Will it return for a 4th season?
"In Treatment," with Gabriel Byrne: Will it return for a 4th season?Read more

I GOT A COUPLE of outraged e-mails last week from readers unhappy with the headline on an interview with Julia Stiles, who guest-starred this season on Showtime's "Dexter."

One came from a reader who believed it contained a spoiler about last night's Season 5 finale, something that wasn't likely, since neither I, nor the editor who wrote the headline, had yet seen the episode.

Another reader's complaint, though, touched on an issue that's coming up more and more in the age of DVRs, On Demand and so-much-television-so-little time: She was behind on "Dexter" and didn't like seeing a reference to a plot point, even one a few weeks old.

And, hey, I get it. I've been behind on "Dexter" myself a couple of times this season, having chosen to watch HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" in (mostly) real time.

Until Friday morning, when I finally reached the season finale of HBO's "In Treatment" - which first had been shown on the channel three nights earlier - I'd been hauling out the cone of silence when approached by anyone who wanted to talk with me about the show in any but the most general terms.

So in deference to anyone else who watches and might be a little behind on "In Treatment, which stars Gabriel Byrne as a therapist named Paul Weston, I'll refrain from talking in too much depth about the part in which Paul's own therapist, Adele (Amy Ryan), is abducted by aliens.

Except to say it was a really cool moment.

Don't know if that will be enough to create a groundswell of support for bringing "In Treatment" back for a fourth season - might be better if I talked about the part in which zombies broke in and ate Adele's brain - but TV By the Numbers reported last week that the final episode had averaged just 300,000 viewers, so it's worth a try.

I can't explain why so many people I know are fans of a show Nielsen ratings suggest a minuscule portion of the population watches, but I've come to think of it as one of those shows, along with "Dexter," that could exist almost separate from the actual TV schedule, On Demand services having created a place where subscribers can feast a la carte at any hour.

Lots of people, of course, wish their cable service were all On Demand, offering if not show-by-show choice, at least channel-by-channel selection.

Proponents of cable choice, many of them trying to avoid supporting some of the very shows I'm most interested in seeing, believe they shouldn't have to pay for TV they'll never watch.

Opponents argue the economics aren't that simple, and I can readily believe that buying fewer channels might end up costing more, if only because I've never seen anything involving cable television that didn't eventually end up costing more.

And yet I dream of a world where a "Dexter" or "In Treatment" was there when I wanted it while not even the smallest sliver of my cable bill contributed to the further adventures of Snooki or the "Real Housewives."

So I was intrigued last week when Jeff Bewkes, chief executive of HBO's parent company, Time Warner, was quoted as suggesting HBO might conceivably go it alone at some point.

"If HBO was 'overly hindered by having to be part of $60, $80 or $100 packages, we could [sell the channel] through existing distributors' or via new digital platforms, said Bewkes," reported the New York Post, which noted HBO is expected to report losing 1.5 million customers this year.

Right now, Bewkes, who was also critical of services like Netflix, which charge (and pay) less for content than he thinks it's worth, may be more interested in putting pressure on companies that force subscribers to ante up for higher-priced digital packages if they also want HBO.

But he could also be on to something that might shake the cable business to its core, finally forcing cable programmers to compete more directly - and viewers to decide just how many guilty pleasures they can afford.

'Closer' to close in 2011

"I'm not going to answer that question," Kyra Sedgwick said, laughing, during a recent interview, as I made my third approach to the question of how much longer she might be continuing as "The Closer" (9 tonight, TNT).

Now she has.

On Friday, TNT announced that the 2011 season, the hit series' seventh, would be its last.

And that the decision had been made by Sedgwick.

It couldn't have been the ratings, which actually grew this season, with the show about a Southern-born L.A. deputy police chief and junk-food junkie who has a way with murder suspects averaging more than 8 million viewers.

TNT did note the show would reach its 100th episode next season. That's often cited as a magic number for entry into the lucrative world of broadcast syndication. Earlier seasons of the Warner Bros. show are already appearing on Fox-owned stations, including WTXF (Channel 29), where it airs at 5 p.m. Saturdays. *

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