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Heller looking for movie version of 'Rome'

RomejpgThe creator of CBS' red-hot procedural "The Mentalist" hasunfinished business in Italy.

Bruno Heller says he wants to produce a theatrical wrap-up to hiscritically beloved and prematurely canceled HBO drama "Rome."

"There is talk of doing a movie version," he said. "It's movingalong. It's not there until it is there. I would love to round thatshow off."

The lavish period drama ran for two seasons on HBO, whichco-produced the series with the BBC. With the final season of "TheSopranos" as its lead-in, the first season was solidly rated. But the show's hefty $100 million production cost presented the network with a tough call onthe pickup. HBO opted for a second season to help get more valuefrom its initial investment but not a third, effectively cancelingthe show in summer 2006 before the second season debuted thefollowing January. The "Rome" sets were destroyed, and the actorswere released from their contracts, making the network's decision all butirreversible.

But season 2 of "Rome" was a surprise. Although slightly lower ratedthan the first, the show did much better than HBO expected without its "Sopranos"lead-in (averaging roughly 6.5 million viewers, nearly the same as "True Blood"). Plus it won awards, which is important to a pay network that attracts subscribers by offering premium programming: Post-cancellation, the first season received four Emmy Awards, and then anotherseven Emmys were heaped upon the final season.

Suddenly "Rome" was a Greek tragedy: a successful show with no future. Thebroadcast nets quickly snatched up the show's leads for top fallpilots.

HBO executives have since admitted that axing the show probably wasa mistake.

One seeming drawback to revisiting the show after its wrap was the demise of a key lead character, Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd). Yet Hellerreveals that the character's off-camera fate was far from fatal.

"It was very deliberate that we saw him drifting away but didn'tsee him atop a funeral pyre," Heller said.

Following his turn starring in NBC's "Journeyman," McKidd is in a recurring role on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy." Fellow"Rome" star Ray Stevenson, after appearing in CBS' "Babylon Fields" pilot, is now in the upcoming big-screen comic book adaptation of "The Punisher." Polly Walker appeared in CBS' short-lived "Cane" and is nowcast in Sci Fi's "Caprica." (Also, James Purefoy is the lead in NBC's ambitious "The Philanthropist" project, but the actor's portrayal of Marc Antony concluded in season two.)

A feature revival of a defunct series always is considereddifficult, though HBO succeeded with "Sex and the City," and Fox's"Arrested Development" is making progress toward the big screen.

Heller would not discuss plot ideas, but the original seriesoutline for "Rome" next called for the hedonistic Roman leaders todeal with the rise of a certain problematic rabbi -- a story linethat would have put a new Roman-perspective spin on the Greatest Story EverTold and potentially bring "Rome" a larger audience.

"I discovered halfway through writing the second season the showwas going to end," Heller said. "The second was going to end withdeath of Brutus. Third and fourth season would be set in Egypt.Fifth was going to be the rise of the messiah in Palestine. Butbecause we got the heads-up that the second season would be it, Itelescoped the third and fourth season into the second one, whichaccounts for the blazing speed we go through history near the end.There's certainly more than enough history to go around."

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