Showtime orders up ‘Borgias’ series

Jeremy Irons will star as patriarch of Renaissance family

With period piece “The Tudors” ready to sign off, Showtime has again reached back into European history with new series order “The Borgias.”

Jeremy Irons will star as Rodrigo Borgia, the patriarch of the powerful Renaissance family. Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game”) will exec produce and helm the first two episodes with Michael Hirst (“The Tudors”) also serving as exec producer. Jordan has been circling the Borgias saga for years as either a TV or feature film.

Ten episodes have been ordered and production will begin in the spring. Series is set to launch in early 2011.

Project was developed by DreamWorks Television and Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers banner.

A second version of the Borgias saga has been gestating as well, with longtime TV producer Tom Fontana attached.

Pay cabler presented its upcoming plans at Saturday’s Television Critics Assn. tour in Pasadena and touted a record-breaking 2009 in which the fourth-season finale of “Dexter” became the most-watched telecast in the history of the net.

Episode drew nearly 6 million overall viewers, a 41% increase over the season-three finale.

Network topper Robert Greenblatt said original series will remain the programming focus going forward, and emphasized that upcoming new skein “The C Word,” starring Laura Linney as a woman diagnosed with cancer, adds another strong female lead to its lineup. Edie Falco toplines “Nurse Jackie” and Toni Collette stars in “United States of Tara” – both are about to embark on their second seasons.

Greenblatt said although it was worked out well both ratings-wise and creatively, it wasn’t the intent of having this many shows with a strong female lead, and that trend will not like continue going forward.

“That was just the way it came out,” Greenblatt told Daily Variety. “We loved these scripts and attracted these great actresses. There was no great strategy behind it.”

“The C Word” co-stars Oliver Platt and Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious) guest stars in the pilot.

Darlene Hunt created and wrote “The C Word” and will exec produce with Linney, Neal Moritz and Vivian Cannon. Sony Pictures TV produces with Original Film.

Also upcoming is reality spinoff “The Real L Word of Los Angeles,” which has just been cast and will air in summer, and Hollywood satire “Episodes,” with Matt LeBlanc playing an off- and on-screen version of himself.

As for programs Showtime won’t be adding to its lineup, Greenblatt joked at NBC’s expense: “Want to make it clear we haven’t picked up ‘The Jay Leno Show’ or Conan for that matter.”

As for a subscriber base that has now reached a record high of nearly 18 million after consistently growing over the past few years, Greenblatt said, “During these hard economic times, there was a thought that people wouldn’t want to pay their cable bill, but if you look at the monthly fee, and it’s still a bargain for all the programming you get. It’s OK to stay at home and watch TV.

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