Starz Ent. nabs rights to 'Pillars of the Earth'

7:00 PM PST 03/01/2010 by Scott Roxborough, Nellie Andreeva

Mini marks first major acquisition for new chief Chris Albrecht

In its first major acquisition since Chris Albrecht took over as chairman and CEO, Starz Entertainment has nabbed U.S. television rights to "The Pillars of the Earth," a $40 million, eight-part miniseries based on Ken Follett's best-seller about the building of a cathedral in 12th century England.

Directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan ("Heroes"), the series stars Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Matthew Macfadyen and Donald Sutherland. It was produced by German-based Tandem Communications and Canada's Muse Entertainment in association with Ridley and Tony Scott's Scott Free Films.

Follett's novel, which has sold 14 million copies worldwide, is an epic tale of good vs. evil told against the religious, social and political struggles of medieval Europe.

"I'm a believer in the power of event television, so 'The Pillars of the Earth' is precisely the kind of programming I want to showcase on Starz," Albrecht said.

He said he was looking to do original programming in the summer and, with nothing in Starz's production pipeline, he looked outside and screened footage from "Pillars."

"It is very entertaining, and event miniseries like 'Pillars' are particularly good for pay TV," said Albrecht who, as HBO head, oversaw several such projects, including the Emmy-winning mini "Band of Brothers."

Albrecht wouldn't discuss the license fee Starz is paying for "Pillars" but noted that it wasn't "a bargain-basement deal."

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

"Pillars" would fit with another costume drama with historic elements on Starz, the network's hit freshman series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand."

"Starz is really the perfect fit for us," Tandem co-head Rola Bauer told THR. "Chris has always created and appreciated quality content and understands how best to market it."

Besides its epic scale and varied setting, "Pillars" has drawn attention because of its unusual international production model. The series was financed without securing a U.S. or U.K. broadcaster preliminarily, something rare for an English-language project of this size.

The mini is still looking for a British TV outlet but has been licensed to a number of other European broadcasters.

Scott Roxborough reported from Cologne, Germany; Nellie Andreeva reported from Los Angeles.
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