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Starz’ Gritty Rookie Takes Viewers to Ballet

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Starz series have, in recent years, dived into the Roman Empire, 1700s Scotland and the golden age of high-seas pirates. Now the cable net steps into an entirely different milieu—the dark world of elite-level ballet. The limited series Flesh and Bone, a gritty look at the side of ballet that carefully coiffed audiences don’t see, debuts Nov. 8 and represents Starz’s intent to diversify its formerly testosterone-charged viewer base.

Created by former Breaking Bad writer Moira Walley-Beckett, Flesh and Bone follows in the footsteps of Starz originals The White Queen and Outlander in luring female viewers with cerebral, and visceral, scripted series. “We felt women were not being served by the premium landscape,” says Alison Hoffman, executive VP of marketing. “We had wonderful storytellers and stories to bring to a female audience.”

‘Arresting’ Development

The series started with a meeting involving Starz programming execs and producers Lawrence Bender, perhaps best known for producing much of Quentin Tarantino’s films, and Kevin Brown. When Walley-Beckett’s name was attached, “an intriguing idea became a really exciting idea,” says Carmi Zlotnik, Starz managing director.

The rarefied world of ballet might seem an odd fit for the network that aired sex-and-swords series Spartacus, and debuted Ash vs. Evil Dead on Halloween. Zlotnik disagrees. The hallmark of Starz, he says, is inspirational, “go for it” programming; a viewer searching for content will see an “arresting image” when turning to Starz. “They know the channel does things a little bit differently,” he says.

Starz has launched limited series before, such as Dancing on the Edge and The Missing. Zlotnik says every project has a natural length to it, and Flesh and Bone’s was as an eight-part series. Hiring a small army of ballet professionals added a degree of difficulty, not to mention expense; Zlotnik likens the production to running a TV series and a ballet company simultaneously.

“This has a good arc and a great ending,” he adds. “Why push it beyond that?”

Pressing the ‘Flesh’

Starz is going about marketing Flesh and Bone uniquely. An Instagram campaign involves sharing stunning photos of ballerinas plying their craft around New York with followers. A street team in ballerina togs will be at Manhattan landmarks Nov. 2, handing out promotional issues of Time Out New York. A unique partnership with Entertainment Weekly sees the series premiere released on six days before its TV debut.

Similar to other networks, Starz is experimenting with binge-friendly releases. Over the summer, the network announced that season 3 of Da Vinci’s Demons and the whole of Flesh and Bone will be available to subscribers coinciding with their fall premieres, president Chris Albrecht calling it an opportunity for viewers to “immerse themselves into quality series and enjoy them on their own schedules.”

Starz is betting big on ballet. “We feel really confident about this show, a fantastic story well told,” Hoffman says. “We want to get it out broadly.”