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Does John Malone Have A Big Deal In Mind For Starz?

Analysts attending Liberty Media’s annual investor day on Thursday will be listening carefully when Starz CEO Chris Albrecht discusses his channel’s plans. His boss, Liberty Chairman John Malone, loves to buy, sell, and swap assets — as long as he can do so without paying a big tax bill. And there’s a growing belief that Malone is positioning Starz for a deal as the company focuses its branding efforts around more than 50 hours of original programs — including Boss, Magic City, Spartacus, and Da Vinci’s Demons — instead of theatrical films from Disney and Sony. For example, BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield says in a blog post today that “a transaction may…be coming to turn Starz into an asset based security” instead of just part of the Liberty Starz tracking stock. Janney Capital Markets’ Tony Wible says that Starz’ “strategic benefits could make it an M&A target.” Maxim Group’s John Tinker agrees that Starz “should be merged into a larger entity.”

Albrecht reinforced those views recently by talking up his desire to have the channel stand out as a premium service. On Friday he elaborated at the Monaco Media Forum on points he made earlier in the week on the Liberty earnings call: The channel scrapped its effort to negotiate a new streaming deal with Netflix because it didn’t set Starz apart from the video pack. Read More »

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Lesley-Ann Brandt To Leave Starz’s ‘Spartacus’, Role Of Naevia Will Be Recast

Nellie Andreeva

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.

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Big Debut For Starz’s ‘Spartacus’ Prequel

Nellie Andreeva

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.

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Liam McIntyre Is The New Spartacus, To Succeed Andy Whitfield On Starz Drama

Nellie Andreeva

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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Dominic Purcell To Enter ‘Spartacus’ Arena?

Nellie Andreeva

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 »

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