Monday, December 1, 2008

HBO's Rome May Return to the Big Screen

Heller looking for movie version of 'Rome'

Romejpg The creator of CBS' red-hot procedural "The Mentalist" has unfinished business in Italy.

Bruno Heller says he wants to produce a theatrical wrap-up to his critically beloved and prematurely canceled HBO drama "Rome."

"There is talk of doing a movie version," he said. "It's moving along. It's not there until it is there. I would love to round that show off."

The lavish period drama ran for two seasons on HBO, which co-produced the series with the BBC. With the final season of "The Sopranos" as its lead-in, the first season was solidly rated. But the show's hefty $100 million production cost presented the network with a tough call on the pickup. HBO opted for a second season to help get more value from its initial investment but not a third, effectively canceling the show in summer 2006 before the second season debuted the following January. The "Rome" sets were destroyed, and the actors were released from their contracts, making the network's decision all but irreversible.

But season 2 of "Rome" was a surprise. Although slightly lower rated than the first, the show did much better than HBO expected without its "Sopranos" lead-in (averaging roughly 6.5 million viewers, nearly the same as "True Blood"). Plus it won awards, which is important to a pay network that attracts subscribers by offering premium programming: Post-cancellation, the first season received four Emmy Awards, and then another seven Emmys were heaped upon the final season.

Suddenly "Rome" was a Greek tragedy: a successful show with no future. The broadcast nets quickly snatched up the show's leads for top fall pilots.

HBO executives have since admitted that axing the show probably was a mistake.

One seeming drawback to revisiting the show after its wrap was the demise of a key lead character, Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd). Yet Heller reveals that the character's off-camera fate was far from fatal.

"It was very deliberate that we saw him drifting away but didn't see him atop a funeral pyre," Heller said.

Following his turn starring in NBC's "Journeyman," McKidd is in a recurring role on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy." Fellow "Rome" star Ray Stevenson, after appearing in CBS' "Babylon Fields" pilot, is now in the upcoming big-screen comic book adaptation of "The Punisher." Polly Walker appeared in CBS' short-lived "Cane" and is now cast in Sci Fi's "Caprica." (Also, James Purefoy is the lead in NBC's ambitious "The Philanthropist" project, but the actor's portrayal of Marc Antony concluded in season two.)

A feature revival of a defunct series always is considered difficult, though HBO succeeded with "Sex and the City," and Fox's "Arrested Development" is making progress toward the big screen.

Heller would not discuss plot ideas, but the original series outline for "Rome" next called for the hedonistic Roman leaders to deal with the rise of a certain problematic rabbi -- a story line that would have put a new Roman-perspective spin on the Greatest Story Ever Told and potentially bring "Rome" a larger audience.

"I discovered halfway through writing the second season the show was going to end," Heller said. "The second was going to end with death of Brutus. Third and fourth season would be set in Egypt. Fifth was going to be the rise of the messiah in Palestine. But because we got the heads-up that the second season would be it, I telescoped the third and fourth season into the second one, which accounts for the blazing speed we go through history near the end. There's certainly more than enough history to go around."


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