Starz Execs Gamble on Pirates With 'Black Sails,' Defend 'Boobs and Blood'

Black Sails Key Art - P 2013

Black Sails Key Art - P 2013

Like Boss and Magic City before it, Black Sails heads into its series premiere on Starz with the distinction of already having earned a season-two pickup. Its predecessors never made it past that.

Starz CEO Chris Albrecht, who has spoken about his penchant for early renewals before, addressed the latest order during the network's Television Critics Association panel. 

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"In order to get shows back on the air 12 months after they originally air, they need time," said Albrecht, who bucked network trend in 2013 by waiting for Da Vinci's Demons to premiere before giving the green light for more. "These big serialized dramas continue to get better -- the good ones anyway -- [but] at some point the show needs to make a case for itself, business-wise." (On the subject of second orders, the network also confirmed it is mulling a sequel to Golden Globe-nominated The White Queen, called The White Princess, without co-producers BBC.)

Albrecht credits much of the goodwill for Black Sails, a swashbuckling period piece about the struggle to survive in pirate hotbed New Providence Island, to the Comic-Con preview. "The response was phenomenal," he said. "Some critics there declared pirates the new zombies. We thought that was some pretty good footsteps to follow in."

Zombies, of course, a reference to TV's top series, The Walking Dead. But the surprising dearth of pirate programming on television is something Starz execs and series creator Jonathan E. Steinberg think will work in their favor.

"This has been one [idea] that's been stuck in my head for a long time," he said. "No one has dug into this world, deep into the bedrock of the reality of it and what it was like to wake up in the morning with this as your life. If you wanted to survive, to eat, you needed to take from somebody."

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Steinberg made a few comparisons to some rather illustrious series -- The Sopranos, The Wire -- that were also the first on TV to tell a certain story: "It feels like fresh snow."

Black Sails, which premieres Jan. 25, started production on its second run in November 2013. Beyond that, Steinberg was hesitant to say if he expected more from the series.

"I don't know. As long as there's a story, we'd like to get to keep doing it," he said. "It's a hard show to make, but it's a fun show to make."

This being Starz, the question of nudity also came up several times, with one reporter referencing the network's apparent affection for "boobs and blood." Steinberg argued that the reality of being on a tropical island and essentially unemployed makes sex an inevitability.

Starz managing director Carmi Zlotnik offered this in defense of excessive skin: "If it goes to inform the character or drive the plot, then it's not gratuitous."