Is TV big enough for two Borgias series?

Separate shows focus on 15th century crime family

Move over Tony Soprano, there's a new crime family in town, and they mean business.

Production kicks off Oct. 4 on Tom Fontana's "Borgia," produced by Lagardere Group's Atlantique Prods. with partners Canal Plus and EOS Entertainment. Fontana will exec produce the ambitious $30 million series, the largest-scale TV series financed solely out of Europe to date. "The Wire's" John Doman will star as family patriarch Rodrigo Borgia, the title role claimed by Jeremy Irons in Showtime's version, the similarly titled "The Borgias."

Showtime's "The Borgias" is produced by Neil Jordan, who directed the first two episodes of the nine-episode co-production with Canada's Take 5 Prods. Showtime is hoping "The Borgias" will replace "The Tudors" as their historical drama du jour and has assembled an all-star cast, including Irons, "Entourage's" Emmanuelle Chriqui, Joanne Whalley, Francois Arnaud and Holliday Grainger.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, "Borgia" is part of Canal Plus' editorial strategy to produce more "mega-films," which CEO Rodolphe Belmer describes as "the adaptation of big-screen blockbusters to television."

The parallel Borgias projects, however, were almost one and the same. After Showtime decided to make Neil Jordan's 15th century dreams a reality, the network contacted "Borgia" producers in Europe to possibly merge the two.

"On our side, we'd already written 12 scripts and they'd only finished the pilot episode on their end," Atlantique's Klaus Zimmerman says. "We were at different stages of production, plus there were also many artistic differences, so we each decided to move forward with our own projects."

But is the small screen big enough for the both Borgias?

"With top U.S. talent attached including Fontana as showrunner and executive producer and hopefully three seasons on their way, there will definitely be an audience for our show in the U.S.," says Lagardere CEO Takis Candilis

While Showtime preferred not to comment on the series until after production has wrapped next spring, CBS International -- global distributor for "The Borgias," -- introduced the show to their international clients at the L.A. Screenings and have already begun concluding deals, though they haven't announced any territories closing yet.

"The Borgias" will air on Showtime stateside next spring, while "Borgia" has yet to find a home in the U.S. However, producers aren't worried. "From the scripts and the creative package we've shown to buyers, we've received nothing but compliments from the U.S. so far," Candilis says.
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