IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

HBO, BBC team up to take ‘Rome’

Networks to co-produce epic drama set for 2005 release
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

At HBO and the BBC, all roads lead to “Rome.” After more than three years of development, HBO has given the green light to its epic drama series set in ancient Rome, which the British Broadcasting Corporation has come on board to co-produce.

THE TWO NETWORKS have ordered 12 episodes of the series, said to be budgeted at about $5 million per episode. The premiere is slated for 2005 on HBO and BBC Two.

Production on the series is scheduled to begin next year and will be based at Rome’s Cinecitta Studios with location shoots throughout Europe and North America.

“The intriguing saga of ancient Rome is both a fascinating historical epic that offers insights into the foundations of the modern world and a story of timeless passions with contemporary resonance,” HBO chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht said.

HBO brass are said to be big fans of state-owned broadcaster BBC’s previous epic take on ancient Rome, the 1970s hit “I, Claudius.” “Rome” also comes on the heels of HBO and BBC’s collaboration on the Emmy Award-winning World War II saga “Band of Brothers.”

“Rome” is a saga revolving around the lives of two ordinary Roman soldiers, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, and their families and is set against the backdrop of the tumultuous last years of Gaius Julius Caesar’s reign, which marked Rome’s transition from a Republic to an Empire.

The series picks up in 51 B.C., eight years after the First Triumvirate — Caesar’s strategic alliance with two other leading politicians, Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey) Magnus — signaled the end of the Roman Republic and two years after Crassus was killed in battle.

“Rome” finds Caesar at the end of a string of military successes in Gaul, Germany and Britain. Defying a Senate order to disband his loyal army, he brought his legions across the Rubicon River in 49 B.C., easily securing control over most of the troops under Pompey’s command.

Jealous of Caesar’s success and terrified by his populist agenda for radical social changes, Pompey attempts to foment mutiny against his alliance partner, which is thwarted by Vorenus and Pullo. The feat earns the two plebeian officers Caesar’s gratitude and access to the luxury life of the upper class. In addition to Caesar, Pullo and Vorenus also cross paths with Caesar’s chief Lt. Mark Antony, Egyptian queen Cleopatra and Caesar’s great-nephew and adopted son Octavianus, who, following Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C., would become the first emperor of Rome.

“It’s very much an ‘Upstairs, Downstairs,’ piece, and the audience will be able to experience what life was like in ancient Rome from all points of view,” said Anne Thomopoulos, HBO’s senior vp original programming. “It’s historical but highly entertaining.”

The journey of “Rome” to the small screen started more than three years ago when producers William J. MacDonald and John Milius pitched the idea to HBO as a miniseries. The network brought scribe Bruno Heller in and, after reading three one-hour scripts, opted to make the project as a series.

“At a certain point, the idea of doing something epic and period as a continuing series versus as a miniseries just seemed a more bold choice,” Thomopoulos said.

And although the story takes place 21 centuries in the past, she thinks the audiences will easily connect with it.

“The characters are very well developed, and even though they exist in a world that is very foreign from ours, there are also incredible similarities,” said Thomopoulos.

© 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.