Starz Spartacus: Blood and Sand prequel announced

Starz channel is planning a six-part prequel to its hit series Spartacus: Blood and Sand.Production on the second season of the Spartacus series was delayed in spring 2010 after Andy Whitfield – who played the gladiator hero in the first season – was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand photo

Photo: Andy Whitfield in Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Andy Whitfield, said to be responding well to treatment, will make a brief appearance in the prequel to Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

The first series focused on Spartacus, a Thracian gladiator, who from 73 to 71 BC led a major slave uprising against the Roman Republic.

In the still-untitled prequel, co-stars Lucy Lawless (Lucretia) and John Hannah (Batiatus) – who were killed off in the finale of Spartacus: Blood and Sand – will play the main characters. The series will focus on the rise of the House of Batiatus before Spartacus’ arrival as a captured Thracian slave.

Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, Joshua Donen, and Steven S. DeKnight are in charge of production. Filming is expected to begin in New Zealand soon, and the miniseries will start airing on Starz in January 2011.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand drew a solid viewership – the series averaged 1.2 million viewers during its Friday night slot. The 18-49 demographic nearly doubled to 725,000 by the end of the season, according to reports.

The prequel to Spartacus: Blood and Sand is part of an aggressive strategy by Starz to compete with HBO and Showtime. A prequel to the hit series may well be one of the ways the channel can keep the interest generated by the hit series alive.

Starz chief executive Chris Albrecht – a former HBO strongman – said Andy Whitfield was “responding to his treatments,” and “as soon as he’s able, we look forward to continuing the Spartacus story.”

Speaking about the new series, Chris Albrecht said the storyline would capture “the excitement and entertainment value of the first season of Spartacus, giving audiences the engaging experience they’ve come to expect.”

Starz is scaling up production, with a focus on period dramas. Among the shows in the development stage is writer S. Craig Zahler’s Men of the Dusk, the story of a former Confederate soldier who administers a group of workers transporting items and people from town to town. Albrecht is also working with former NBC chief Ben Silverman on William the Conquerer and Peacekeeper.

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