Starz to air 'Spartacus' prequel

Lucy Lawless, John Hannah to take center stage

NEW YORK -- Starz will air a six-part prequel to original series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" in January with Andy Whitfield, who plays the title character, making a brief appearance.

Lucy Lawless (Lucretia) and John Hannah (Batiatus) will take center stage in the story of the rise of the House of Batiatus and its champions before Spartacus.

The title is still to be determined, but the prequel will begin production this summer in New Zealand.

Production on the second season of "Spartacus" has been delayed due to Whitfield's cancer diagnosis.

The news comes days after Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht said on the first-quarter earnings conference call that the premium TV network operator is looking to keep the "Spartacus" franchise going in creative ways in Whitfield's absence.

In the prequel, Hannah returns as Batiatus, owner of the Ludus, and Lawless once again plays his wife Lucretia. Besides other returning characters, new ones will be added, such as the gladiator who was champion of the House of Batiatus before Spartacus.

The second season of "Spartacus" was postponed this spring to allow Whitfield to be treated for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in New Zealand. His doctors indicate that the actor is responding well, Starz said Tuesday.

"The prequel story maintains the excitement and entertainment value of the first season of 'Spartacus,' giving audiences the engaging experience they've come to expect," said Albrecht. "Fortunately, Andy is responding to his treatments, and will be able to be part of this prequel in a limited capacity. As soon as he's able, we look forward to continuing the Spartacus story."