Starz, Electus co-developing two series

Period drama, modern-day thriller announced at MIPTV

CANNES -- Starz is teaming with Ben Silverman's production and distribution outfit Electus to co-develop and co-finance two new series for the U.S. pay player: the medieval period drama "William the Conqueror" and a modern-day action thriller, "Peace Keeping."

Starz chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht announced the two new projects during his MIPTV keynote speech Monday, saying they exemplified the kind of internationally-packaged productions Starz would be pursuing in the future.

"William the Conqueror" focuses on the famous French ruler who, in 1066, led the last successful invasion of the British Isles. Pierre Morel, the French-born director of "Taken" (2008) and "From Paris With Love," will take the creative lead on the project and will likely direct the pilot as well as overseeing development of the entire series. Albrecht said "William" would look at the period "just before and just after" the 1066 invasion.

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"Peace Keepers" is set at the United Nations in New York and at troubled hotspots across the globe. It will be the first series made with the full cooperation of the U.N. Silverman is developing "Peace Keepers" together with Fisher Stevens, one of the producers on Oscar-winning doc "The Cove."

Albrecht comes to the Croisette in the midst of a ramp-up of original production at Starz.

In addition to sword-and-sandals series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" and upcoming sitcom "Gravity," Starz has greenlit "Camelot," a retelling of the King Arthur legend which will mark the production debut of Graham King's new small-screen outfit GKTV.

Starz also recently picked up period mini "The Pillars of the Earth," produced by Germany's Tandem Communications, Ridley and Tony Scott's Scott Free Films and Muse Entertainment of Canada -- marking Albrecht's first major acquisition since joining the John Malone-owned paybox.

And in a vote of confidence by all parties that the "Pillars" epic will be a hit Stateside and abroad, Tandem & Co. are re-teaming to adapt another Ken Follett best-seller, "World Without End" -- the sequel to "Pillars of the Earth." On this mini, Starz will be involved from the get-go as well as being the U.S. licensee. "Pillars" writer John Pielmeier is back to adapt "World Without End" for a possible eight-hour series.

"World Without End" is set in the 13th century -- a hundred years after the events of "Pillars" -- and takes place against the backdrop of the Black Death and the Hundred Years War.

Tandem, which handled international sales on "Pillars," will likely do the same for "World."

Starz plans to launch "Pillars" in July Stateside under the Starz Original banner with a two-hour premiere followed by six one-hour episodes.

As with the other unveiled projects, "World Without End" fits into Albrecht's strategy of doing original, event programming for Starz and forming creative production partnerships to bankroll the productions.

"At Starz we are looking to do one hour of original programming per week and an original miniseries every quarter," Albrecht said, adding that the pay channel would be open to any and all financing models, "from just picking up U.S. pay-TV rights to fully financing a series."

The former HBO exec said he had global ambitions for Starz and would like to set up international distribution for the channel's in-house productions. He even floated the idea of launching local-language versions of Starz worldwide.

In his keynote, Albrecht noted that the international market has become essential in financing series and world sales are the "profit engine" for any television producer.

In developing, financing and distributing shows, Albrecht called on "the smart producers and smart buyers" to move "outside the studio lot and outside your comfort zone and embrace international markets."
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