'Spartacus' unshackled with Starz

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Starz is bringing "Spartacus" to life on the small screen, greenlighting a 13-episode series from executive producers Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Joshua Donen.

Steven S. DeKnight ("Smallville") has signed on as head writer and showrunner of the hourlong series set in the brutal world of gladiators, Starz Entertainment executive vp programming Stephan Shelanski said.

"Spartacus" marks Starz's second original drama after "Crash" and the first drama to be produced in-house by sibling studio Starz Media, under the supervision of executive vp original production William Hamm, who previously was executive vp television at Raimi's Ghost House Pictures and brought the project to the channel.

The series — developed by Raimi, Tapert and Donen — will start production in New Zealand early next year, targeted for a summer debut on Starz and its suite of channels. The network touted the series' production values; it's estimated that the budget will end up north of $2 million an episode.

"Spartacus" was inspired by the real-life slave of the Roman Republic who in 73 B.C. led a revolt that grew to more than 120,000 fighters. Starz said the story will be "reimagined" for what it calls a generation of TV viewers raised on graphic novels and cutting-edge production technology.

"This is not going to be at all like the 1960s Kirk Douglas film," Shelanski said. "We didn't want your typical sword-and-sandals. It's going to be fun, fast-moving, full of action and interesting characters and have a little more depth to it than the 1960s film."

Shelanski added that the show will be produced specifically for a premium cable audience, with "R-rated" action and storytelling. The goal is to accomplish the graphic-novel look and feel of such movies as "300" and "Sin City." As with "300," producers also will be looking to cast "Spartacus" with a group of fresh-faced, unknown actors.

Hamm added that "Spartacus" will be one of the first TV series to use an "almost 100% virtual environment," using live-action actors against virtual sets in the style of "300" and "Sin City."

"It will bring the younger audience who has grown up on graphic novels and video games this heightened reality; it's not going to look like anything you've seen before, especially on TV," said Hamm, who also worked with Raimi and Tapert when he was an exec at Universal TV and they were part of the producing team on "Xena: Warrior Princess" and "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys."

Starz Media's Anchor Bay Entertainment will hold exclusive worldwide home entertainment distribution rights; the company's Worldwide Distribution group will handle international TV and domestic syndication sales. (partialdiff)
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