The legendary Spanish artist, who died in 1973 at the age of 91, was chosen for the depth of his impact on art and the perception of what constitutes art in the modern era. He also fit the bill as a historical figure whose name is well known but his life story is less familiar. Picasso’s story offers plenty of dramatic twists and turns, from the backdrop of two world wars and the Spanish civil war, to myriad romantic relationships and a life that naturally intersected with a slew of other famous names of his time. His circle included such notables as Ernest Hemingway, Coco Chanel, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Gertrude Stein, Georges Braque, and Jean Cocteau.
“Genius,” from Imagine TV and OddLot Entertainment, bowed this year with a 10-episode narrative look at the life of Albert Einstein, limned by Geoffrey Rush. The first season concluded Tuesday night. Nat Geo said “Genius” qualifies as the channel’s most-watched original series launch to date. In the U.S., viewership averaged 1.8 million total viewers, a strong showing by Nat Geo standards. On Nat Geo channels around the world, the series was seen by some 45 million viewers, per Nat Geo.
Ken Biller, showrunner and executive producer with Imagine’s Ron Howard, emphasized that they considered dozens of male and female subjects before selecting Picasso. The choice of an artist was important to establish that show’s vision of those who qualify as geniuses are not limited to people who worked in science and academia.
“Pablo Picasso was someone who saw the world in a completely different way,” Biller said. “It was important to us to make a declarative statement. ‘Genius’ is not only about scientists.”
Picasso fit the bill for his legacy as one of the “iconic figures in history who changed the way we see the world and were striving for goals that other people hadn’t even thought to set,” Biller said. Although Picasso’s name was raised early on as they began planning season 2, Howard said the “Genius” team spent “hours and hours and hours” debating various figures before coming to consensus on the artist born with a mouthful of a name: Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso.
Howard, who directed the first installment of “Genius,” said the nature of Picasso’s work will enliven the look and feel of season 2. The prolific artist generated some 50,000 works during his long career, including such renowned paintings as “The Old Guitarist,” “Guernica,” “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon,” and numerous works on display at the Museum of Modern Art.
“His view of the world and his creative restlessness and the bold choices he made will allow interesting visual cinematic choices for us,” Howard said. Howard said he floated the name by friends and family members and found it “stimulated curiosity in people.”
A writers room has already been assembled for “Genius” Season 2. Production is expected to begin by the end of the year with the goal of airing next spring. As with the first season, the plan is to cast two actors to play Picasso at younger and older stages of his life. Unlike the first season, which drew from by Walter Isaacson’s 2007 book “Einstein: His Life and Universe,” the show as yet has not optioned any biographical source material for Picasso.
The process of deciding the subject for season 2 only reinforced the wide range of potential subjects that could keep the anthology series going for many seasons, Howard said. Biller said they hope to put the spotlight on a woman in season 3. The need for the show to focus on a household name makes it harder to find a female subject but they are committed to doing so in the future, Biller said.
“Of course there have been many genius women throughout history but unfortunately history hasn’t remembered many of them,” Biller said. “The pool to choose from is smaller.”
Howard and Imagine’s Brian Grazer’s are exec producers of “Genius” with Biller and OddLot’s Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane. Fox 21 Television Studios and EUE/Sokolow are also producers.