Starz keeps ‘Torchwood’ burning

Cabler orders 10 episodes

Starz is diving into the “Torchwood” business, cutting a deal with BBC Worldwide Prods. for a 10-episode order of the sci-fi drama.

Partnership allows Starz to capitalize on “Torchwood’s” worldwide following. And the deep-pocketed U.S. partner will allow the show to expand the scope of its production, and add a few Yank characters. The previous “Torchwood” seasons aired on BBC America, to record ratings for the cabler. Fox had been developing a redo of the series but tabled it earlier this year.

The fourth season of the show will bow on Starz and Beeb in the summer of 2011. The new segs will be co-produced by Starz, BBC Cymru Wales and BBC Worldwide, with BBC Worldwide distribbing outside the U.S.

“Torchwood” creator Russell T. Davies is back on board as exec producer, along with Julie Gardner, BBC Worldwide’s senior veep of scripted.

An offshoot of “Doctor Who,” “Torchwood” revolves around a secret government operation based in Wales that investigates unexplained phenomena.

“The things I have in mind for Starz include the realm of science fiction, and to me this show feels like classic sci-fi,” Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht told Daily Variety. “It’s really not about the effects — it’s about storytelling and characters and the things that go into making any good show.”

Starz’ deal with BBC Worldwide resulted from a broader conversation Albrecht has been having with BBC Worldwide Prods. exec veep Jane Tranter, with whom Albrecht collaborated on various projects during his HBO days. Albrecht said he was impressed by the pitch for “Torchwood’s” fourth season from creator/exec producer Davies.

Tranter emphasized that the co-production pact will mean bigger budgets, greater production values and a more global story, according to Tranter.

“Whereas previously with Torchwood stories were confined to the U.K., and sometimes a specific area of the U.K., now we’ve got an opportunity to set the stories in part in the U.K., in part in the U.S., and occasionally we will go to other places in the world as well,” Tranter said.

The majority of the coming season will be filmed in Los Angeles, where Davies has been based for the past year, although a significant portion will be shot in the original “Torchwood” base of Wales. Davies is looking forward to telling a story with bigger stakes worldwide.

“Jane always had this global aim that I really loved, because that’s the way drama’s going now,” Davies said. “Everything’s downloaded, and your stuff goes around the world in seconds. When I worked on ‘Doctor Who,’ our highest viewing levels were in South Korea.”

Davies successfully rebooted the enduring “Doctor Who” franchise in 2005. The first season of “Torchwood” bowed on the BBC in 2006.

Davies began envisioning the new season of “Torchwood” before the pursuit of a new deal began and was able to present a season premiere script and preliminary bible that sold Starz on the project. The coming season will contain a story arc that comes to full completion at season’s end. It will pick up after the recent limited series, dubbed “Torchwood: Children of Earth,” leaves off, but in a fashion that doesn’t require new viewers to have knowledge of previous episodes, he said.

In addition to John Barrowman’s Capt. Jack Harkness and Eve Myles’ Gwen Cooper, there will be two other series regulars and a host of recurring characters. One of the pressing questions about a new version of “Torchwood” for American audiences involved whether Harkness would be forced into heterosexuality, but Tranter and Davies quickly dismissed that possibility.

“Capt. Jack’s sexuality is certainly not going to change,” Tranter said. “Whether it’s man, woman or alien, Capt. Jack is a gloriously sexually active being.”

Steve Clarke contributed to this report.