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Albrecht preps for Starz in post-Liberty world

Topper says cabler will increase output with lower-cost programming

As Starz waits for Liberty to spin it off, network topper Chris Albrecht said the change will likely affect the programming pipeline.

Albrecht, who headed to South Africa to check on production for new Michael Bay series “Black Sails” immediately after Saturday’s Television Critics Assn. sesh at Pasadena’s Langham Hotel, said shows in a post-Liberty world don’t have to be grand in scope.

“I do think we’ll be able to make decisions for ourselves on originals and maybe have a broader spectrum of programs,” Albrecht told Variety. “When you do one show a quarter, we’ve tried to have them be big tentpole-type stuff. If we can do six to seven shows per year instead of four, we can introduce things that aren’t $4 million-$6 million per episode shows.”

Starz’s next debuting series will likely be in that price range. The eight-part “Da Vinci’s Demons” will premiere April 12 following the series finale of “Spartacus: War of the Damned.” Production is shared with BBC Worldwide Prods. to help defray costs.

Albrecht wouldn’t comment on where the network might land in 2013 as a stand-alone publicly traded company, but he said that Starz and sister cabler Encore could “be part of either a bigger or smaller media company.”

At the beginning of the sesh, Albrecht said it was a daunting but exciting challenge to be CEO of a public company.

As for Liberty opting to delete Starz from its portfolio, Albrecht said: “They decided it was the right time. In my opinion, it was the right time for Liberty and for Starz.”

Albrecht said one of Starz’s most important accomplishments in 2012 was ramping up development, which was stagnant before he arrived.

Increasing original production is important to the network because its film pipeline will be significantly smaller when it loses its movie output deal with Disney in 2017. While Starz was once best known as a cable home for theatricals, the economics of that business model are quickly changing as viewers find different ways to watch films at home.

“Ever since I was at HBO, we realized it was original programming that drives the business,” Albrecht said. “Being owned by Liberty, Starz had library commitments and we were sticking our toe in originals.”

As for Disney, Albrecht said it was Starz that said no to reupping its pic pact with the studio, not the other way around. “We thought the financially responsible thing to do was not give someone else money in an asset that has declining value,” he said.

While the David S. Goyer-created “Da Vinci’s Demons” and “Black Sails” are on the horizon, Kelsey Grammer starrer “Boss” was canceled after two critically well-received but very low-rated seasons. A TV movie could act as a series-ender if writer Farhad Sarfinia can deliver a script on the right timetable.

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