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Starz has more stars in its eyes

Its CEO, who came from HBO, has plans for more original series on the pay-cable network.

January 03, 2012|By Amy Dawes, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Manu Bennett, left is Crixus and Liam McIntyre is Spartacus in "Spartacus: Vengeance."
Manu Bennett, left is Crixus and Liam McIntyre is Spartacus in "Spartacus:… (Matt Klitscher / Starz )

The pair of Golden Globe nominations for "Boss" — it got nods for top drama series and lead actor — is undoubtedly a shot in the arm for Starz, the pay-cable network on which the show appears.

The network's motto is "the next big thing." It has been striving to make headway with its original series, particularly since the arrival two years ago of Chief Executive Chris Albrecht, who was programming chief at HBO during the era of "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under" and other landmark cable series. "Boss," created by Farhad Safinia and produced by Lionsgate Television, is the first serious drama launched during Albrecht's tenure, coming after the canceled fantasy-drama series "Camelot" and a prequel to "Spartacus," its ratings-getting gladiator franchise.

The Golden Globe recognition for "Boss," says Albrecht, "puts us in top-tier company and helps draw attention to what we think is a very fine show in what is obviously a very cluttered media landscape." Albrecht has often stated his intention to create programming at Starz that competes with HBO and Showtime, his better-established and better-funded rivals in the premium cable category, but business realities have apparently tempered that aim. "What we're trying to do," Albrecht now says, "is to create a distinctive brand for Starz, and as I look at what HBO and Showtime are doing, I see the opportunity for Starz to focus on larger-than-life, entertaining and fun dramas that are very well executed.

"People have written about 'Boss' as being a gritty and realistic political show, but I don't see it that way at all. I see it as an epic, archetypal drama that transcends the stories we read about in the newspapers, that is more theatrical. In that regard, it fits the characteristics we're looking for in all our shows."

In 2012, he says, Starz aims to have four original series on the air: "Boss," "Magic City," "Spartacus: Vengeance" and "Da Vinci's Demons."

"Magic City": The network has recently begun posting trailers for "Magic City." The splashy drama, likely to premiere in May, is set in the Miami hotel world of 1959 and has a sexy, hyper-stylish aura similar to "Mad Men." "It's glittery, it's fun, it's popcorn entertainment with great story lines and gorgeous sets," Albrecht says.

"Spartacus: Vengeance": The series marks the return of the successful franchise launched on Starz in early 2010 with "Spartacus: Blood and Sand." Australian actor Liam McIntyre assumes the lead role, replacing the late Andy Whitfield, who succumbed last year to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"Da Vinci's Demons": A historical fantasy involving the young Leonardo Da Vinci, created by David Goyer and produced in partnership with the BBC. It's about to go into production, Albrecht says. "We have a number of other shows in development, but 'Da Vinci's' is the one that we are hopeful will be on the air in 2012."

Starz' total annual production budget is "less than the $115 million HBO spends on a single miniseries like "Band of Brothers," according to Albrecht. "But because of the foreign sales we've been able to achieve on 'Spartacus' and our partnerships with the BBC, we've been able to augment that budget, and we're working hard with really talented people."

"As our business grows and we add more revenue, we'll look to increase our programming spend, but for now we're building up to 50 hours a year of originals and trying to be extremely focused on the brand that we want to represent our company."

The Starz network landed its first Golden Globe nomination in 2010 for the miniseries "The Pillars of the Earth."

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