On the heels of their collaboration on Torchwood: Miracle Day, Starz Entertainment and BBC Worldwide Prods have signed a multi-year production agreement. Under the deal, the two companies will co-develop and co-finance multiple series that will be produced by BBC Worldwide Prods. The potential output is estimated at more than 100 hours of drama series programming. Starz gets distribution rights for the U.S. and English-speaking Canada, while BBC Worldwide will distribute the series internationally. The deal essentially gives Starz a (non-exclusive) production arm without the large cost associated with overhead as Starz is looking to compete against its more established pay-cable competitors on a far smaller production budget. The network already uses a similar approach in casting, where it has been using the services of independent casting director Marc Hirschfeld who has been essentially serving as head of casting on a non-exclusive, consulting basis. The deal with BBC Worldwide will allow Starz to put on the air bigger-budget series as BBC Worldwide will deficit finance the shows, covering the difference between the license fee paid by the network and the series’ budget. The company plans to cover the deficit by international sales, so all series developed and produced under the agreement with Starz will be designed with the global marketplace in mind. The first project in the works is Da Vinci’s Demons, recently announced by BBC Worldwide Prods’ head Jane Tranter and written by David S. Goyer. The pact instantly makes BBC Worldwide Prods, known primarily for producing the ABC reality hit Dancing With the Stars, a major supplier of scripted series in the U.S. “When I came to Starz, we determined that forging strong international partnerships would play center stage in financing our ramp-up of dynamic original programming,” said Starz CEO Chris Albrecht. “This exciting partnership with BBC Worldwide Prods is a major step in that direction.”
EXCLUSIVE: HBO has teamed with BBC2 to acquire the rights to turn the Robert Graves historical novel I, Claudius into a miniseries. The mini will be exec produced by BBC Worldwide Productions’ Jane Tranter and Anne Thomopoulos, who were executives producers of HBO’s Rome. The deal ends a long series of twists and turns for the rights to a book that was previously turned into an Emmy-winning 13-part miniseries in 1976 by BBC. In that mini, Derek Jacobi turned in the role of a career as Claudius. The book and mini gave a glimpse into the power, madness, murder, backstabbing and debauchery that was part and parcel of ruling-class Rome. It is seen through the eyes of Claudius, who was content to be the butt of jokes and hide his brilliance behind a stutter and a limp. Because he was never perceived as a threat, Claudius was never poisoned as many others in his circle were. Claudius outlasted them all, and became emperor in 41 A.D.
The feature rights were long controlled by In The Name of the Father helmer Jim Sheridan, but suddenly those rights were shopped in 2007. It looked like producer Scott Rudin beat out a competitive field of suitors to pay $2 million for the rights. He had Oscar-nominated The Departed scribe William Monahan ready to write it and Leonardo DiCaprio ready to attach himself to star. But the deal collapsed when Sheridan successfully challenged the claim in Ireland. By the time Sheridan finally bowed out, Rudin was no longer interested because he had moved on to another Roman Era epic, the movie adaptation of Stacy Schiff’s book Cleopatra: A Life, which has Angelina Jolie ready to play the Egyptian queen and David Fincher keen to direct her. Others flirted with the property, but the story is so big that it became clear that a miniseries was a way to get everything in. That opened the door for Tranter, who pursued the property for a decade. HBO has feasted on episodic period dramas, from Rome to its current run of Game of Thrones.