As part of the Starz portion of the TCA Press Tour, President and CEO Chris Albrecht took some time to talk about the shows they currently have in production, and what their upcoming slate will look like. During the interview, he spoke about how they decide what original programming will be done for Starz and what will be done for Encore, the production challenges of the Michael Bay pirate series Black Sails (currently in pre-production in South Africa), how they came to the decision to end Spartacus, their desire to continue to work with that show’s creator Steven DeKnight, and when Black Sails, Da Vinci’s Demons, Marco Polo and Noir could hit the air. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
CHRIS ALBRECHT: We’ve completed production on Spartacus: War of the Damned and Season 2 of Boss. We are in production on Da Vinci’s Demons. We are about to start production, in a couple of weeks, on the second season of Magic City. And we are in pre-production in South Africa on Black Sails, the pirate show that Michael Bay is bringing to us. We are excited about all of those shows that we have going.
How do you decide which shows are for Starz and which shows are for Encore?
ALBRECHT: The expensive ones are for Starz. No. We decided, as part of our Encore strategy, to broaden and strengthen and help focus the Encore plexus by adding original programming. Throughout my career, I’ve realized that there are a lot of great opportunities out there to be associated with programming. It may have started elsewhere, as Crimson Petal did in the UK. So, our main strategy for Encore is to go through those types of partnership acquisitions. In the mini-series area, we are going to have a regular year-round, weekly presence on Encore of classic mini-series and a new mini-series that we are bringing. For the time being, I think the home of mini-series will be on Encore.
How are you going to accomplish Black Sails with all of the production complications that you might have at sea? Will anything you developed on Spartacus, as far as green screen, be beneficial to Black Sails?
ALBRECHT: Yes, I think all of the innovations that have happened in film and television are going to help accomplish something really unique on Black Sails. We are certainly not going to be doing what we did on Spartacus, which is to shoot the show all interior. One of the reasons to go to South Africa is because we can create great standing sets, both interior and exterior, and have the opportunity to create an actual water set outside, which will allow us to build a boat and probably part of another ship to be able to really bring that world to life. Michael Bay and his team are experts in exciting tentpole-type film and television, and the combination of their film experience plus the great television writers that have come on will be really successful in bringing us something really unique. We are looking to put on these big canvas shows, and Black Sails is going to fit into that. The scripts have been terrific. Everything that we are trying to do is incredibly ambitious, and this is certainly in that category.
ALBRECHT: I joined Starz when we were editing the first season of the show. And I think the producers and those of us at Starz were always well aware that this was going to be a very different show once the rebels were in the hills and the Romans were in the town. How do you get the protagonists and antagonists together, in the same space, without somebody having to die? So, we ended up having to tell two distinct stories, which is never the ultimate way to create a great serialized drama. So then, of course, we had the tragedy with Andy [Whitfield], which made everything very difficult and pushed back. Having said that, the show has been remarkably successful and, ultimately, what all of the producers felt, along with us, was that, rather than trying to string out a story and have one more battle, or one more argument between the rebels, or one more villain show up, we would follow the trajectory of the history and bring the Spartacus story to fruition because it was better to leave people wanting more than to risk repeating ourselves and diminishing the overall impact of the franchise. But, it was a very difficult decision and one we certainly didn’t want to be in the position of making.
Will Steven DeKnight be doing something else for you?
ALBRECHT: Steven DeKnight has an overall deal with Starz, and he just returned from Hawaii where he shot a proof of concept piece. It’s not a pilot. It’s just a scene or two for a show that he’s developed, that we are very high on, called Incursion. It’s a sci-fi piece that’s kind of Band of Brothers meets Halo. Again, it’s incredibly ambitious, and it involves a lot of creature work and things like that. But, Steven is a sensational writer, and he certainly is as good as anybody that I’ve met, at being able to write for premium television.
ALBRECHT: Da Vinci’s Demons will be on most likely the second quarter 2013, but nothing is announced yet or set in stone. Black Sails will hopefully be on in very early 2014, potentially in the Spartacus slot, but nothing is set. The scripts for Marco Polo are absolutely, positively fantastic. The challenge of making that show in China has proved to be as formidable as we feared. It’s not like making a movie in China where, once you load up and you leave, you’re gone. We have to be able to come back and capture something that’s going to feel like a major feature film, on a television budget, and do it, hopefully season after season, so we are taking more time than the producers thought. I don’t have any news on when that will air because we are still very much in the planning stage, although we spent plenty of money and invested a lot of time in making all of those plans. We ran into some creative challenges on the script side of Noir, but it is absolutely in our zone. Rob Tapert, Josh Donen and Sam Raimi are terrific executive producers and partners for Starz. We want to do as many things as we can with them. We have a couple of things with them, but Noir is certainly the thing that we all see as a must-figure-out. So, we are still getting the scripts together, but I’m very confident that Noir will be on. I just can’t tell you when.