Starz acquires ‘Pillars of the Earth’

Eight-hour miniseries based on Ken Follett bestseller

Chris Albrecht has found the first pillar of his event programming strategy for Starz.

Liberty Media’s pay cabler has acquired U.S. TV rights to “The Pillars of the Earth,” a sweeping eight-hour limited series based on the 1989 Ken Follett bestseller of the same name. Project marks the first major programming move made by Albrecht since he took the reins as Starz prexy-CEO in January.

The $40 million costume drama, produced by Germany’s Tandem Communications, Muse Entertainment and Ridley and Tony Scott’s Scott Free Prods., revolves around war, religious strife and power struggles over the construction of a cathedral in 12th century England. Stars include Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Matthew Macfadyen, Donald Sutherland, Hayley Atwell, Alison Pill and Sarah Parish.

Starz’s acquisition of a project already lensed and financed by the various partners reps a key

strategy for Albrecht going forward. He’d been pursuing a similar Euro-U.S. co-production model for high-end TV projects while heading his Foresee production banner for the past few years. Starz plans to give “Pillars” a huge promo push for a July debut. Series will preem with a two-hour seg followed by six weekly installments.

“When I realized that we needed something big for the summer, I was aware that this project had been in production and it was just the kind of (programming) model I’d been interested in,” Albrecht said. “The execution is first-rate. Once I saw a rough assembly of it, I knew it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”

Albrecht has said he intends to develop big event-style miniseries to help differentiate Starz from its feevee competish. Albrecht was always a proponent of ambitious longform programming during his long tenure at HBO. Among the last projects he greenlit before exiting HBO in 2007 was “The Pacific,” the mega-budget, 10-part WWII limited series that bows March 14.

Starz’s deal for “Pillars” also includes calls for the cabler to develop additional projects with Tandem and Scott Free.

“Pillars” was lensed in Hungary and Austria and helmed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, whose credits include TNT’s “Into the West.” Book took a second run up the bestseller list in 2007 when featured as an Oprah’s Book Club selection.

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