This may be of interest to expectant fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Chris Albrecht, head of HBO when the channel optioned George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series and now head of Starz, has revealed that his cable network is going to focus its development on historical/fantasy-flavored productions for the time being, according to this Variety report from the MIP TV exhibition at Cannes (familiar to GoT followers as the location where international broadcasting rights for Game of Thrones would first be negotiated).
Starz has already had a great deal of success with Spartacus: Blood and Sand, so much so that the delay in production in season 2 (due to lead Andy Whitfield’s ongoing treatment for a recently discovered non-Hodgkins lymphoma) has them considering a spin-off miniseries to fill time. They also recently acquired broadcast rights to Pillars of the Earth, a big-budget miniseries set in 12th century England based on Ken Follett’s international bestselling novel, and are bringing Arthurian romance-adventure Camelot into production.
This trend appears to be continuing, with Albrecht revealing that Starz is now also developing a mini-series titled William the Conqueror, based on the life of the Norman duke (known in his earlier days as William the Bastard) who would become King of England. There’s a choice quote from Albrecht as well: “The business model is going to be: If it’s got a sword, we want it,” Albrecht joked. “But (picking up) a good contemporary or futuristic piece right now might not be bad.” As to his former home, he calls HBO “kind of a colossus” as far as original programming goes, but he hopes Starz will carve out a niche as “entertaining”, suggesting this strategy is aimed at pleasing the crowds more than at pleasing critics.
What’s interesting about it is that Albrecht’s instincts seem to have been pretty solid, and his instincts have been indicating that there’s a definite place for historical/historical-fantasy original drama on cable. Others seem to agree, given Showtime’s bringing The Tudors to a close only to be readying Borgias to replace it as a sumptuous historical drama, and many more are making that very same bet with shows such as “The Medici” and “Pharoh” being produced internationally. Game of Thrones is the most clearly fantastical of the lot (it remains to be seen whether Camelot will take a more historical or fanciful approach), and certainly one of the highest-budgetted, so it may be argued that HBO’s taking the largest risk into unknown territory. Up to now, fantasy epics on television have been more along the lines of Xena than The Lord of the Rings.
It looks like fans of pre-Modern costume dramas are going to have a feast to choose from later this year and through next. Will all the bets on these costume dramas pan out? 2011 will let us know.