TCA: Starz Updates ‘Spartacus,’ ‘Black Sails’ & ‘Incursion’

The CEO of Starz talks about building pirate sets, quitting while 'Spartacus' is ahead and shooting tests for a new sci-fi series.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Starz Presented sessions on “Boss” and Encore’s “The Crimson Petal and the White” for the Television Critics Association today. Starz CEO Chris Albrecht opened with a few announcements and took some questions about the network and its other original series productions.

“We are in production on ‘Da Vinci’s Demons,’ about to start [the] second season ‘Magic City’ and in preproduction in South Africa on ‘Black Sails,’” Albrecht began.

We went ahead and asked Albrecht about “Black Sails,” the pirate series produced by Michael Bay. Pirate movies have been difficult productions for Hollywood, let alone a weekly series. We asked if developments from “Spartacus” like green screen would help with “Black Sails.”

“Yes, I think all of the innovations that have happened in film and television are going to help accomplish something really unique on ‘Black Sails,’” Albrecht said. “We’re certainly not going to be doing what we did on ‘Spartacus’ which is shoot all interiors. One of the reasons to go to South Africa is we can create great standing sets, both interior and exterior, and actually create a great water set outside, allow us to build a boat and probably another ship to bring that world to life.”

Having Bay in your corner helps too. Albrecht joked that the economic rates between South Africa and the U.S. added production value too. “For whatever reason, everything we’re trying to do is incredibly ambitious and this is certainly in that category, but with the talent of the team, the plan, I think the opportunities to really maximize our spend in South Africa, and we got lucky on our currency exchange with the rand.”

Then the question about the end of “Spartacus” came up. Starz’ flagship original series went through the most difficult tragedy imaginable when star Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with cancer. To give him time to recover, Starz added a prequel miniseries to the show, but ultimately had to recast the role with Liam McIntyre. They’ve announced the third season will be the show’s last. Albrecht said it was a creative decision, one he saw coming in the first season, before any outside factors came into play.

“I joined Starz when we were editing the first season of the show. 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’re in the movie. 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. Then of course we had the tragedy with Andy which made everything very difficult and pushed back.”

Rather than prolong the drama to stretch the story into multiple seasons, Albrecht suggested the series creators end with a big finish. “The show has been remarkably successful. Ultimately the producers agreed with us, rather than trying to string out a story, one more battle or one more argument between the rebels or one more villain show up, we would follow the trajectory of the history and bring the Spartacus story to fruition.”

Albrecht also confirmed that “Spartacus” producer Steven S. DeKnight would continue developing series with “Starz.” In doing so, he gave a status report and ambitious description of DeKnight’s next series, “Incursion.”

“Steven De Knight has an overall deal with Starz. He just returned this weekend from Hawaii where he shot a proof of concept piece, not a pilot, just a scene or two for a show that he’s developed that we are very high on called ‘Incursion,’ a sci-fi piece. Kind of ‘Band of Brothers’ meets Halo would be the one line of it. It’s incredibly ambitious, involves a lot of creature work and stuff like that. Steve’ s a sensational writer and as good as anyone I’ve ever met at writing for premium television.”

“Black Sails” and another highly anticipated Starz series, “DaVinci’s Demons”  have tentative air dates.

“‘Da Vinci’s Demons’ will be on most likely second quarter, end of first quarter/2nd quarter 2013 most likely. Nothing announced yet or set in stone. ‘Black Sails’ 2014, hopefully very early, potentially in the ‘Spartacus’ slot. Again nothing set, just letting you in on some of our thinking.”

Fans are excited about the next Sam Raimi/Robert Tapert, “Noir,” based on the anime series. Albrecht informed us of some development issues, but remained confident.

“‘Noir’ we ran into some creative challenges on the script side but it is absolutely in our zone. So we’re still getting the scripts together but I’m very confident that ‘Noir’ will be on. I can’t tell you when.”

Similarly, Starz’s announced “Marco Polo” series is also facing development difficult, but more from a production side. “‘Marco Polo’ which we had announced and which the scripts are absolutely fantastic. The challenge of making this show in China has proved to be as formidable as we’ve feared. It’s not like making a movie in China where once you load up and leave, you’re gone. We have to be able to capture something that feels like a feature film on a TV budget and hopefully season after season. We are taking more time than I think the producers thought. I don’t have any news on that because we’re still in the planning stage.”

The original miniseries “The Crimson Petal and the White” airs on Encore. This represents Albrecht’s plan for originals on both networks, with distinct agendas. Encore would be a venue to air foreign series in the states.

“We decided to broaden Encore by adding original programming. There are a lot of great opportunities to be associated with programming that might have been started elsewhere as ‘Crimson Pedal’ was in the UK. Our main strategy for Encore is to go for those kinds of acquisitions. We’re going to have year round classic miniseries and new [ones.]