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Encore Enters Original Series Business with William Hurt and Tom Hardy Vehicles

William Hart and Tom Hardy
Getty Images
William Hart, left, and Tom Hardy

The premium cable network will air "Moby Dick" and "The Take" miniseries as well as a Jerry Lewis documentary.

Like many cable networks before it, Encore is entering into the original programming business.

The Starz Entertainment-owned premium cable network, which to date has been better known for airing films, will dip its toe into originals with a handful of high profile projects, including two mini-series adaptations, Moby Dick and The Take. By 2012, the plan is to roll out one high profile project per quarter for its 33.1 million subscribers.

"As we strategized about how to rejuvenate the Encore brand, the strategy to add original programming to compliment our movie strategy was a big component of that," says Stephan Shelanski, executive vice president of programming for Starz Entertainment tells The Hollywood Reporter, adding, "It's going to be a small start and a small investment upfront. We're not jumping in at the level we're at at Starz channel."

The first of its offerings is Moby Dick, Tele Munchen's $25 million re-imagining of Herman Melville's classic novel starring Oscar winner William Hurt as the infamous Captain Ahab. Joining him on the two-night, three-hour international co-production, which bows August 1, is Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke (Gattaca, Training Day) as first mate Starbuck, Gillian Anderson (The X Files) as Ahab's wife, Donald Sutherland (MASH, Ordinary People) as Father Mapple and Raoul Trujillo (Apocalypto) as Queequeg. The RHI production is in participation with Tele Munchen and cooperation with Gate Filmproduktion.

Come fall, Encore will follow with the US premiere of miniseries The Take as well as documentary Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis. The former, based on Martina Cole’s best-selling crime thriller, is a four-part ITV Studios Global Entertainment production headlined by Tom Hardy (Inception, Layer Cake). The project aired across the pond in 2009, and its cast is filled out by Brian Cox (Braveheart, The Bourne Supremacy), Kierston Wareing (Luther)Charlotte Riley (Wuthering Heights) and Shaun Evan (Being Julia). The latter is a feature length doc, produced by Mansfield Avenue Productions, designed to showcase the multi-faceted career of the 85-year-old comedian, actor, director, writer, singer, professor and humanitarian.

Shelanski suggested that many of the network's projects will be international co-productions with several different entities investing rather than Starz going at it alone. The net's parent company will lose out on some of the ancillary benefits with this strategy, but, as he points out, "it helps channels like us get started in the space" -- not to mention, assemble buzzy-worthy casts like that of Dick's without breaking the bank.

Looking ahead, Starz brass is particularly excited about the potential synergies, but the brands won't be going after the same type of content. "Starz is [focused on] big, epic, adventure productions that have higher budgets and are more boundary pushing, while Encore's [efforts] will be a little more safe," says Shelanski, adding that the former goes after a 25 to 39-year-old demo while the latter looks to lure the 30 to 45-year-old set.

The news follows a late-May announcement about other upgrades to the Encore brand, including the addition of Spanish-language premium move channel Encore Espanol.

Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com; Twitter: @LaceyVRose