BEVERLY HILLS – When Chris Albrecht took the stage at the Television Critics Association press tour on Thursday (August 2) morning, one of the first things he praises was the record-setting second season for “Spartacus,” which averaged over 6 million viewers per episode.
This raises one very obvious questions: If “Spartacus” remains a robust centerpiece to the Starz schedule, why is the network ending the series after its upcoming third season (plus a miniseries)?
“You know, I joined Starz when we were editing the first season of the show, and when I saw the end of the first season, I thought, ‘Uh-oh, they just exited the franchise, which was the ludus and the upstairs/downstairs aspect of the show, and now they are in the movie,'” recalled Albrecht, Starz’ CEO. “And I think the producers and those of us at Starz were always well aware that this was going to be a very different show once the rebels were in the hills and the Romans were in the town. How do you get the protagonists and antagonists together, or antagonists in that case, in the same space without somebody having to die? So we ended up having to tell, kind of, two distinct stories, which is never the ultimate way to create a great serialized drama. So then, of course, we had the tragedy with Andy [Whitfield], which made everything very difficult and pushed back.”
Albrecht continued, “Having said that, the show has been remarkably successful, and I think, ultimately, what all of the producers felt along with us is that rather than try and string out a story and have one more battle or one more argument between the rebels or one more villain show up, we would kind of follow the trajectory of the history and bring the “Spartacus” story to fruition, better probably to leave people wanting more than to risk repeating ourselves and diminish the overall impact of the franchise. But it was a very difficult decision and one we certainly didn’t want to be in the position of making.”
“Spartacus: War of the Damned,” the 10-episode climax to the “Spartacus” series, will premiere on Starz in January of 2013.
Steven K. DeKnight isn’t quite ready to leave Starz behind, though.
Albrecht told reporters that DeKnight still has an overall deal with Starz and that he just returned from shooting what is described as a “proof of concept” reel in Hawaii for a potential upcoming project.
“It’s not a pilot,” Albrecht made clear. “It’s just a scene or two for a show that he’s developed that we are very high on called ‘Incursion,’ which is a sci fi piece, kind of ‘Band of Brothers’ meets ‘Halo,’ would be the one line of it. It’s, again, incredibly ambitious, and it involves a lot of creature work and things like that. But Steven is a sensational writer, and he certainly is as good as anybody I’ve met at being able to write for premium television.”
Albrecht also updated reporters on a bunch of other additional Starz projects, including the Michael Bay-produced “Black Sails” and “Marco Polo.”
“Black Sails,” for example, is currently in preproduction in South Africa and it sounds like the pirate drama has ample scope, even if it doesn’t currently have a cast.
“I think all of the innovations that have happened in film and in television are going to help accomplish something really unique on ‘Black Sails,'” Albrecht teased. “We are certainly not going to be doing what we did on ‘Spartacus,’ which is shoot the show all interior. One of the reasons to go to South Africa is because we can create great standing sets, both interior and exterior, and have the opportunity to create an actual water set outside, which will allow us to build a boat and probably part of another ship to be able to really bring that world to life. Michael Bay certainly, and his team, are experts in exciting, you know, tentpole type film and television, and the combination of their film experience plus the great television writers that have come on and I don”t say ‘television writers’ as anything other than meaning they have the real experience to do series. I think that combination will be really successful in bringing something, as I said, really unique. We are looking to put on these kind of big canvas shows, and ‘Black Sails’ is going to fit into that.”
The network plans to have “Black Sails” on the air in 2014 (after the 2013 premiere of “Da Vinci’s Demons”).
“Marco Polo” is proving a bit more of a challenge, despite Albrecht’s feeling that the scripts are “absolutely, positively fantastic every time we look at them.”
“[T]he challenge of making this show in China has proved to be as formidable as we feared, and it”s not like making a movie in China where, once you load up and you leave, you”re gone,” Albrecht says. “We have to be able to come back and again capture something that”s going to feel like a major feature film on a television budget and do it hopefully season after season. So we are taking more time than I think the producers thought. And I don”t have any news on that because we are still very much in the planning stage, although we spent plenty of money and invested a lot of time in making all of those plans.”