Canal Plus' 'The Borgias' tracks crime family

Series exec produced by former HBO exec Chris Albrecht

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CANNES -- Former HBO exec Chris Albrecht is taking crime drama from the streets of New Jersey to the streets of Spain and Rome during the height of the Renaissance for "The Borgias," produced by Gallic pay TV group Canal Plus and Lagardere Entertainment.

Written by Tom Fontana, "The Borgias" will follow the famous crime family through its reign of terror at the Vatican at the turn of the century when Rodrigo Borgia was pope. Fontana and Albrecht were in Cannes on Monday to continue discussions with potential European partners.

"There's a long history of attempted co-productions between the U.S. and Europe. I'd like to think of this as the inception of a modern co-production model," Albrecht said. "There's no longer simply this U.S. pipeline that pumps product out everywhere. This is really an opportunity to put together a unique partnership."

The series will be shot in English from May to December of 2010 in either Italy or in Spain for a January 2011 delivery. The 12-episode, 50-minute series will be made on a budget of €30 million ($44 million). Albrecht will act as executive producer alongside longtime production partner Anne Thomopoulos, with Helion Pictures' managing director Steven Bawol.

"It's not deal-driven, it's concept-driven. It's a question of taking U.S. talent to work with European talent," Bawol said.

Lagardere subsidiary Atlantique Prods.' Takis Candilis and Klaus Zimmerman are set to produce in association with German producer EOS Entertainment's Jan Mojto. Beta Film is handling international sales. Canal Plus will broadcast the series in France.

"It's a European project. The ambition isn't to make a U.S. series with European money. It's to make a product that artistically resembles our culture with a very strong editorial identity. We don't want to make a 'Europudding,' " Canal Plus COO Rodolphe Belmer said.

The series' stars have yet to be announced.

The story about the infamous chapter of the history of the Catholic Church was immediately attractive to Fontana, who penned "Oz" and "Homicide: Life on the Street."

" 'The Borgias' is a story I've wanted to write for a long time. It has everything a great TV series should have -- sex, violence and politics," Fontana said.

Showtime is also rumored to be shopping another Borgias project written by Neil Jordan to succeed "Tudors" on the pay TV network, but the projects are unrelated. This "Borgias" hasn't yet signed a U.S. broadcaster.