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TCA: Starz Continuing to Pursue 'Epic, Entertainment and Fun' Programming

Starz hopes to build upon the viewership success of its two highest-rated series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand and Pillars of the Earth with new potential franchises such as a "refreshing" of the legend of Camelot.

Bill Myers, president and chief operating officer of Starz Entertainment, said that the initial Spartacus built on its ratings, doubling its views from the pilot through the end of the skein. He quantified that explaining that 6 million viewers saw each episode of the series, on the varied platforms on which they were available, through the end of its initial run.

The premium channel intends to continue to pursue high-profile programming that is "epic, entertainment and fun," he added.

Currently filming is the Irish-Canadian co-production Camelot. Star Joseph Fiennes, tried to quantify for critics in Los Angeles how different the show, and specifically his character, Merlin, will be different from past tellings of the classic story. The actor noted that Merlin will focus less on magic than on the political intrigue of the story. He sees his Merlin as a mixture of "Obi-Wan Kenobi and Donald Rumsfeld."

Given the blood and lust depicted graphically in Spartacus, writer Chris Chibnall was asked by writers if he felt pressure to deliver more of these attributes in the historic tale than he would were the series made for another network.

"No, I don't feel that at all," he said, adding that he intends to deliver the best, most cinematic and rich Camelot possible. (But its obvious from the clip shown to writers, he does deliver the lust.) This version is based "loosely " on Thomas Malory's 15th century book, Le Morte d'Arthur.

"The essence of Camelot is deeply modern," said Fiennes, a mirror image of modern society. Viewers can identify with the politics, the human struggle, and yes, the sex. "It never goes out of date," he said. Fiennes, the survivor of a failed U.S. broadcast series (Flash Forward) sounded delighted to be on premium cable.

"I'm loving there are no commercial breaks, no looking to the camera in anticipation of commercial breaks," he said, which break the flow creatively. Referring to his cancelled show, he quipped he feels like he passed out and awakened in bucolic Ireland in a different lifetime.

Chibnall also confirmed that James Purefoy (HBO's Rome) will star in the series as King Lot.

Starz will also be the home for the fourth season of Torchwood. The series, last seen on BBC America, will be now be titled Torchwood: The New World and will play out over 10 episodes. John Barrowman returns, but executive producer Julie Gardner said the series will be "absolutely rebooted." A 10-episode arc compels the producers to come up with a fast-paced story with "no flab," Gardner said.

The series will expand beyond its base in Cardiff, Wales, in setting and sensibility with a plotline that will acknowledge past story lines enough to satisfy the series' fan base while becoming "brand new again."

This season will introduce a new character, a CIA agent. The role has not been cast, as the series will be filmed beginning in January. That character will prompt a massive story that will allow the story lines to move globally. The series will be shot in Los Angeles with scenes in that city and Washington D.C. among other U.S. locales.

And that successful Spartacus has spawned a six-part prequel, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. John Hannah and Lucy Lawless return in the series which is scheduled January 2011. 

Season 2 of the original Spartacus series will begin shooting in November. Star Andy Whitfield, who has been treated for cancer, is well and "looking healthier than I ever have," said writer Stephen DeKnight. Despite her apparent demise at the end of season 1, Lucy Lawless will return in the second year, DeKnight revealed.

Starz' new CEO, Chris Albrecht, the former HBO programming guru, did not attend the TCA. Carmi Zlotnik, Starz Media managing director, when asked about Albrecht's absence, said network executives believed critics would be more interested in talking to show creators. Zlotnik said Albrect will attend the January meeting of the television critics in Pasadena, Calif.