Catch up on the past week in TV news:
Syfy Acquires Starz Drama ‘Spartacus’
By Nellie Andreeva
EXCLUSIVE: Syfy has acquired U.S. basic cable rights to all 39 episodes of Starz’s Spartacus. That includes the three seasons of the swords-and-sandals drama as well as the six-part prequel Gods Of The Arena. Spartacus will make its Syfy debut June 26 and will air at 10 PM, following original series Defiance and Dominion.
Bill Hader To Create & Star In HBO Series
By Nellie Andreeva
EXCLUSIVE: Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader has signed an exclusive development deal with HBO to create and star in a new comedy series for the premium cable network. Hader is best known for his eight-season stint on SNL where he was one of the most popular cast members of the past decade, creating such memorable characters as NY club scene expert Stefon and Italian talk show host Vinni Vedechi and earning two Emmy nominations.
EMMYS: AMC Launches ‘Breaking Bad’ FYC Billboard Campaign
By Dominic Patten
EXCLUSIVE: If you’re driving around LA today don’t be surprised to see Breaking Bad’s Walter White staring down at you. With a print campaign to follow next month, AMC is putting up Emmy consideration billboards in several locations around the city to remind voters that the now-completed show is still eligible to repeat its Best Drama series win last year. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Syfy has acquired U.S. basic cable rights to all 39 episodes of Starz‘s Spartacus. That includes the three seasons of the swords-and-sandals drama as well as the six-part prequel Gods Of The Arena. Spartacus will make its Syfy debut June 26 and will air at 10 PM, following original series Defiance and Dominion.
The Spartacus deal comes 16 years after then-5-year-old Sci Fi Channel made its biggest acquisition pact to date, spending $150 million for the exclusive basic cable rights to three other Showtime series, Stargate SG-1, The Outer Limits and Poltergeist: The Legacy. Stargate and Poltergeist went on to become original series on Sci Fi, which ordered additional seasons — five for Stargate and one for Poltergeist. Stargate became a signature series for Sci Fi, spawning a franchise. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: While Starz‘s drama Spartacus is heading into its final chapter with the upcoming Season 3, Spartacus: War Of The Damned, Starz may not be ready to close the book on the successful franchise. I’ve learned that there is talk about a potential Spartacus spinoff series centered on Roman leader Gaius Julius Caesar. The spinoff idea, which is in the nascent stages, is being shepherded by Spartacus executive producer Robert Tapert. Spartacus was the brain child of Tapert and creator/executive producer Steven DeKnight, who is busy with another project, the hot sci-fi drama Incursion, which is on fast-track development at Starz.
Caesar is being introduced on the upcoming third and final season of Spartacus, which premieres January 25. The character, played by Australian actor Todd Lasance, is adding star power and a formidable new nemesis for the famous gladiator despite the fact there is no hard evidence that Caesar actually was involved in the campaign to put down the Spartacus-led slave rebellion, as he is on the show. Spartacus: War Of The Damned could serve as a nice starting-off point for a spinoff as it features a young Caesar who is yet to begin his ascent toward ruling the Roman state.
Related: … Read More »
At the top of Starz’s portion of the TCA summer press tour, the network’s president and CEO was asked about the decision to end the costume drama Spartacus after the upcoming third season. Albrecht said he joined Starz when the network was editing the first season of the show. “When I saw the ending of the first season, I said: ‘Uh-oh’, Spartacus just exited the franchise; it exited the Upstairs, Downstairs aspect of gladiators and Romans living together”. With the gladiators taking to the hills and the Romans in town, “we had to tell two distinct stories, and that is never the ultimate way to do a TV series”, Albrecht said. The series also had to deal with the departure of beloved original star Andy Whitfield. “Ultimately, rather than trying to string the story with one more argument, one more villain showing up, we decided to follow the historic trajectory and bring Spartacus’ story to an end. Better leave viewers wanting more than diminish the overall impact of the franchise”.
Spartacus creator Steven S. DeKnight, who is under an overall deal at Starz, is already working on his next project for the pay cable network. “Steven just returned from Hawaii where he shot ‘proof of concept’ for a show he’s developed”, Albrecht said. That show is sci-fi drama Incursion, which Albrecht described as “Band of Brothers meets Halo” and involves a lot of creatures.
Albrecht also gave an update on Starz’s upcoming series. Da Vinci’s Demons, which is currently in production, is eyed for the end of first quarter or second quarter of 2013. The series stars Tom Riley as young Leonardo Da Vinci. The Michael Bay-produced pirate drama Black Sails is currently in pre-production in South Africa where standing sets are being erected with the goal to also build one or two boats. The series is looking at a launch in early 2014, possibly inheriting the Spartacus slot. Read More »
The upcoming third season of Starz’s flagship series Spartacus will be its last. The pay cable network also has set the title for the upcoming final season, Spartacus: War Of The Damned. It will premiere in January 2013. “It was an extremely difficult and emotional decision for my partners and I,” series creator/executive producer Steven S. DeKnight said. “Yet, in the end, the story was best served by rolling all of the remaining action and drama of Spartacus’ journey into one stunningly epic season that will be extremely satisfying for everyone who’s been along for the ride.”
Related: Starz Renews ‘Spartacus’ For Third Season
Spartacus was a breakout hit for Starz when its first cycle, Blood And Sand, premiered in January 2010. The series survived the tragic loss of its star, Andy Whitfield, who died of cancer last year. Its second season, Spartacus: Vengeance, featuring Liam McIntyre in the title role, averaged more than 6 million weekly viewers. The series introduced to TV a visually stylized violence previously only seen in movies like 300, spawned a successful prequel, Gods Of The Arena, and was sold in 150 countries. It also has been a top-selling DVD title. “Spartacus is a landmark series for the network which has enthralled millions of viewers and fans around the world,” Starz CEO … Read More »
Emmy voters received official ballots in the mail today with instructions that they must be returned by 5 PM on June 28. However, voting can’t actually take place until ballot listings are posted at a secure Emmy address online after 6 PM Monday, June 11th. With the race for nominations (they will be announced July 19) moving into the home stretch, campaigning is heating up — particularly at the Goldenson Theatre of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, where almost nightly screenings/panels with TV casts and creators are taking place. None are endorsed or sponsored by the Academy itself. Studios and networks rent out the space to give their shows the aura of Emmy but on invitations must specifically stress that it is not an Academy official activity. These events have been happening with regularity since April and May and will continue right up to the close of voting. Among those campaigning in June are CBS’ Blue Bloods (June 5),The Glee Project (June 7), Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey: Under African Skies (June 8), Leverage (June 9) and a Grammys event (June 11). On June 10th, Matt Weiner will fly back from the southern location of his feature directorial debut to appear with virtually the entire cast of 4-time Emmy-winning drama series Mad Men as they participate in a screening/discussion/reception for the season finale of the show two hours before it airs on AMC.
But none of these are as unique as an event last night at the Academy, … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Kirk Douglas will join Spartacus: Vengeance creator-producer Steven S. DeKnight and star Liam McIntyre at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences on May 31 to discuss the cultural impact of Spartacus then and now. Douglas, who starred in the 1960 feature film, just had his book I Am Spartacus! Making A Film, Breaking The Blacklist published by Open Road Media. “I made a film about freedom at a time when freedom was in jeopardy and a blacklist had been in effect in Hollywood for more than a decade,” Douglas says. “There are parallels in today’s political climate, which is why a hero like Spartacus still resonates.” Some called for a boycott of the original film because Douglas gave screenwriting credit to blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo. The Starz series Spartacus: Vengeance recently completed its second season after Spartacus: Blood And Sand and prequel Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena. The latter two editions have been airing in more than 150 countries.
Although Starz appears to be off the market for now, CEO Chris Albrecht told investors today that his channel should still be in the catbird seat as digital media grow. But “it will take money” to produce the kind of programming that will set Starz apart from basic cable channels that spend as much as $3M an hour for originals, he said at a conference organized by his parent company Liberty Media. He wants Starz’ shows to have a theatrical feel with iconic, larger than life characters and broad appeal. He assured the audience that he won’t break the bank, though: For example, Spartacus ”is shot completely inside a warehouse in New Zealand….This is the way they make theatrical movies now.” Also Starz has decreased its spending on theatrical films. “That money will be reinvested in original programming.” Starz still plans to run theatricals from its premium TV agreements with Disney, which runs to 2016, and Sony, which goes to 2017.
The biggest new opportunities are in digital media: Starz next year will launch its own streaming platform for its pay TV customers, similar to HBO Go, Albrecht says. That will “get us in front of younger eyeballs and make our product as compelling as anything in the premium space.” Albrecht also is “willing to have the conversations” with companies that want to challenge cable and satellite providers by licensing traditional channels for a streamed service. “Someone will do it,” … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Jai Courtney, who starred in the first season of the Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, has landed a lead in One Shot, Paramount’s Christopher McQuarrie-directed drama based on the Lee Child-penned Jack Reacher novel series. In One Shot, Reacher investigates what seems like an open and shut case of a sniper who guns down five random victims. Reacher, teamed with a detective (Rosamund Pike) and uncovers a conspiracy. Courtney plays a highly trained sniper who is motivated to stop Reacher. Courtney starred in the first Spartacus season along with the late Andy Whitfield, a fellow Australian who took Courtney under his wing and got him signed by his manager, Sam Maydew, at The Collective. He’s repped by UTA and Australia-based Mark Morrissey.
Starz will pay tribute to former Spartacus star Andy Whitfield, who died of cancer last Sunday. The tribute, which will air this Sunday at 9 PM, will include five episodes of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, including the premiere and finale episodes. The network is set to re-air the entire first season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand starring Whitfield starting on Dec. 16.
EXCLUSIVE: Spartacus will not be the only recast role on the second season of Starz’s flagship series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. I hear Lesley-Ann Brandt, who played Naevia, body slave to Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) and lover of Crixus (Manu Bennett) on the first season of the show and in the prequel, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, has decided not to renew her contract and won’t return for season 2. She just started a recurring role on CSI: NY and opted to also pursue broadcast pilots, which are currently casting. The part of Naevia, a fan favorite, will now be recast. Starz is known as being less restrictive in its actors contracts, which allowed Jane Lynch to leave Party Down when she was cast in Fox’s Glee. Season 2 of Spartacus: Blood and Sand will also introduce Liam McIntyre as the new Spartacus. He replaced ailing original star Andy Whitfield. Production on the second season of the sward-and-sandal drama is slated to begin shortly.
It looks like with Spartacus, Starz not only has a breakout series on its hands but also a solid franchise. On Friday night, the premiere episode of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, a prequel to Spartacus: Blood and Sand, drew some 1.1 million viewers for its debut 10 PM airing, 66% higher than the original series’ premiere a year ago, and 1.9 million viewers combined for the 10 PM and 11 PM runs, 77% above the debut of the mothership series. However, Gods of the Arena couldn’t break the ratings records set during the first season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which is slated to begin production on its long-delayed Season 2 with a new actor, Liam McIntyre, replacing ailing Andy Whitfield.
The search for a replacement of cancer-stricken Spartacus star Andy Whitfield is over. Australian actor Liam McIntyre has been named the new star of the Starz drama series, which became a breakout hit for the pay cable channel when it first launched a year ago. McIntyre was one of 3 actors who were flown to New Zealand to audition in November. He was the only one that remained in consideration after the test while the network continued to see other candidates. Starz brass reportedly liked his acting abilities but he was asked to bulk up his thin frame in order to pass off as a believable gladiator. In announcing McIntyre’s casting, Starz said he “has excelled at a grueling and rigorous audition process to claim the title role in the second season” of Spartacus: Blood and Sand. The series’ prequel, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, debuts on Friday. Here is more from the network’s release:
McIntyre takes over the role of the Thracian warrior sold into slavery in the Roman Republic city of Capua – where he rises to become the champion of the city – before leading the slave revolt that ended Season 1. The part was played in the first season of “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” by Andy Whitfield, who was forced to leave the show in order due to health issues. Whitfield gave his blessing to the recasting.
“Since no one can really replace Andy, we realized that we should instead find an actor who can truly lead ‘Spartacus’ forward,” Straz’s CEO Chris Albrecht notes. “It was important to us to have Andy endorse the idea of recasting this part, which he did in the same heroic manner that he’s dealt with his whole ordeal. And that, coupled with our fortune in finding a young actor with the gladiator credentials and the acting ability of Liam, makes it easier for us to keep this hit franchise going.”
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EXCLUSIVE: With the long-delayed second season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand officially a go, who will replace cancer-stricken Andy Whitfield as Rome’s most famous gladiator? Last Friday, Starz’s boss Chris Albrecht said that the network brass are “confident that we will find an actor who can ably step into Spartacus’ sandals.” I hear that that same day, the pay cable network’s executives had received a screen test for the role done by former Prison Break star Dominic Purcell. Throwing Purcell’s name into the mix is an intriguing proposition. For once, he does have the the physique to pull off a believable gladiator. Australian actor Liam McIntyre is said to still be in serious contention for the role, and he continues to bulk up as the network execs reportedly liked him as an actor in his November screen test but his thin frame was a problem. But last week, rumors started circulating that Starz had also approached a name actor for the part. Purcell has been vacationing in his native Australia, so he put himself on tape there and emailed the clip to Starz brass last Friday. It is not clear what the network’s final decision will be, but if Purcell gets … Read More »
Spartacus: Blood and Sand will continue. Ending months of speculation, Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht confirmed that the costume drama will proceed with Season 2. “We are officially going ahead with the long planned but unfortunately delayed second season of Spartacus,” he said at the opening of Starz’s TCA session. “We don’t have casting news but … we’re very confident where we are in the casting process that we will find an actor who will step in the sandals of Spartacus although we will never be able to replace (cancer-stricken original star) Andy Whitfield.” In November, Starz flew 3 actors to New Zealand, with one of them, Australian Liam McIntyre, still in the running for the lead as he is bulking up for the task.
Albrecht was unapologetic about the channel’s creative direction towards noisy, commercial dramas or as he called it “premium TV-flavored popcorn. “We’re leaving the quiet dramas to other networks.” Here are few more soundbites from Albrecht’s short impromptu Q&A:
- On how Starz is able to do expensive-looking costume dramas like Spartacus and Camelot: “We borrowed costumes from Rome,” a series he once launched on HBO.
- On Starz’s decision to get out of the comedy series business with the cancellation of Party Down: “We’re not a very funny group.” He then added: “We decided to focus on one-hour dramas, those are the kind of productions that travel better. And it takes one to fill an hour, it’s hard to find two comedies that go together. So … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE THURSDAY UPDATE: I hear that none of the three actors who screen tested for the Spartacus lead this week, Stephen Amell, Aiden Turner and Liam McIntyre, got the role. However, Starz is still holding onto McIntyre, the Australian, while the other two have been released. He may still get to be the next Spartacus, succeeding the ailing Andy Whitfield. But I hear Starz brass is considering all options for its hit series, including the possibility of ending it or bringing in someone else for the lead. Read More »
Dustin Clare, a virtual unknown in the U.S., but a popular TV actor in his native Australia, has landed the lead in Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, Starz’s six-part prequel to hit series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Jaime Murray and Marisa Ramirez are set to co-star in the prequel, which focuses on the House of Batiatus in its pre-Spartacus days and chronicles the rise of Gannicus (Clare), the first gladiator to become Champion of Capua. Returning to reprise their roles from Spartacus: Blood and Sand are Lucy Lawless (Lucretia), John Hannah (Batiatus), Peter Mensah (Oenomaus) and Manu Bennett (Crixus). Murray, repped by Gersh and Luber Rocklin, will play Gaia, Lucretia’s (Lawless) friend and a Capua social climber. Ramirez will play a beautiful slave girl with complicated relationships. Spartacus: Blood and Sand star Andy Whitfield will appear briefly in the prequel, which is slated to begin production in August in New Zealand for a January premiere on Starz. Whitfield, who plays the title character of Spartacus, will then rejoin the show in season two, which is set to begin production later this year. Whitfield, Lawless, Hannah, Spartacus: Blood and Sand co-star Viva Bianca and executive producer/head writer Steven S. DeKnight will be on hand for the series’ panel at Comic-Con on July 23.
EXCLUSIVE: Starz has decided not to renew comedy series Party Down and Gravity. I hear the pay cable network may make the announcement later today. Both shows were developed and launched by Starz’s previous regime, but new president and CEO Chris Albrecht has stated repeatedly that he is big fan of Party Down. While the off-beat comedy has become an instant cult classic, I hear at the end of the day its appeal was deemed not wide enough to keep the show beyond its recently concluded Season 2. Consider this: The Season 2 finale of Party Down and Season one close of Gravity last week drew a 0.0 rating in adults 18-49 each and total audiences of 74,000 and 54,000, respectively. That is miniscule even for pay cable standards. And the writing has been on the wall: some of the actors on Party Down have already taken other jobs, like Adam Scott, who recently joined NBC’s Parks & Recreation. Starz’s slate has evolved following the breakout success of period drama Spartacus. The pay cable network has focused on dramas with big, recognizable title like the upcoming series Camelot, Torchwood and the Spartacus prqeuel as well as limited series The Pillars of the Earth. Additionally, Starz is developing an U.S. version of the hit Australian mob drama Underbelly.
UPDATE 12PM: Stephan Shelanski, executive vp programming for Starz Entertainment, issued a statement confirming the cancellations. ”After careful consideration, we’ve … Read More »