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ThE MaStEr

HBO, Showtime Re-Up Hits; Starz Mulls ‘Spartacus’ Fate
By Thomas Umstead and Mike Reynolds -- 9/27/2010 12:01:00 AM



Home Box Office and Showtime sought to shore up their 2011 programming lineups last week by renewing several highly-rated series, while premium peer Starz was deciding whether to go ahead with its most popular series, Spartacus, after the series’ star left due to an illness.

HBO didn’t wait to renew its freshman series Boardwalk Empire, saying two days after the Sept. 19 premiere it will bring back the series about gangsters and corruption in Prohibitionera Atlantic City.

HBO said the Martin Scorsese- directed pilot averaged 4.8 million viewers, the secondmost watched start for an HBO series behind Deadwood. That Western-themed drama drew 5.8 million viewers when it premiered in March 2004, according to network officials.

With additional plays at 10:15 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., Boardwalk Empire was watched by a combined 7.1 million viewers on premiere night.

Bruce Miller, TV critic for the Sioux City Journal, said he wasn’t surprised by the early renewal, which locks in the cast as well as the show’s producers, Terence Winter (The Sopranos) and Scorsese. “When you have those type of people involved in the show, as well as the investment in the set, it was a prudent thing for HBO to do because it’s going to have an audience no matter what,” he said.

Showtime’s Monday-night comedy lineup of veteran series Weeds and freshman dramedy The Big C both will be back next year.

Weeds, starring Mary-Louise Parker as a widowed housewife involved in the marijuana-trafficking business, will return for a seventh season in 2011, Showtime said. Its sixth-season debut culled 6 million viewers per episode across a number of platforms.

The Big C, with Laura Linney as a woman who decides to shake up her status-quo existence after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, had the most-watched series premiere ever for Showtime, averaging more than 6.5 million viewers. Showtime said it ordered 13 new episodes of Sony Pictures Television- produced The Big C and at least that many for Lionsgate’s Weeds.

Starz is determining the next course of action for drama series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, after lead actor Andy Whitfield bowed out of the show’s second season after a recurrence of cancer.

Whitfield was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in March while preparing for the show’s second season, which was slated to launch in September 2011.

A network official would not comment on the status of a sophomore campaign for Spartacus, which averaged more than 6 million viewers across all platforms during its run that began last January.

Miller, of the Sioux City Journal, said, “it’s the proverbial elephant in the room — how do you continue the series without the main character there? They either have to recast or put the show on hiatus indefinitely.”

Starz had earlier disclosed plans for a six-episode prequel, which it still plans to air in January 2011.


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HBO, Showtime Re-Up Hits; Starz Mulls ‘Spartacus’ Fate





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