After nearly four decades of marital woes, religious reform and headless hijinks, all conveniently condensed into four short seasons on “The Tudors,” Henry VIII will soon shuffle off his mortal coil (oops — spoiler alert!) and end his televised reign.
For fans of the historical reboot, June 20 means no more trashy retellings Tudor England’s highs and lows, no more (often historically inaccurate) tales of international intrigue and unfortunately, no more adventures of the inordinately hot Henry and his oddly ageless BFF, the Duke of Suffolk.
Of course the alternately violent and cable-sexy period piece had to end sooner or later. History hinted at that, after all. But that’s no comfort for those now accustomed to thrilling interpretations of past scandals. So what’s a steamy-cable-TV-loving history buff to do?
Well, one could simply sit back and wait for King Henry’s successor. No, not his sickly, short-lived son Edward VI. Henry VIII’s Showtime successor is set to be next year’s “The Borgias” — a costume drama based on Renaissance Italy’s favorite completely corrupt noble family of the same name. Not bad.
But certainly not the only option, either. Sure, “The Borgias” seems to be the only one currently in production, but history is jam-packed with potential “Tudors” replacements, so why stop there? With inspired casting and maybe a few minor tweaks when it comes to the truth, the right cable channel could convert any of these historical eras and figures into must-see, sexy prime-time TV.
Beheadings are so last century
For those who prefer their somewhat-pseudo history with fewer metrosexual monarchs and a bit more gore, there’s the tale of the Countess Elizabeth Báthory, otherwise known as “Bloody Lady of Čachtice,” and sometimes known as the early 17th century’s ultimate serial killer.
Legend — and some versions of historical record — has it that the Hungarian aristocrat had a taste for murder in every possible form. Starving, burning, mutilating and a variety of better-left-unmentioned methods were said to be employed in the killings of scores, if not hundreds, of young women. Where official accounts leave off and urban legend helpfully picks up, it’s even guessed that Báthory bathed in the blood of virgins to maintain her youthful glow.
OK, that last bit is almost universally dismissed, but hey, it would still make the cut in a made-for-TV tale. Just think of “The Tudors,” “True Blood” and even “Dexter” crossover appeal that gruesome twist could create.
They didn’t call her the great for nothing
From German princess to Russian regent, Catherine the Great did a lot to improve the state of her nation during her 34-year reign. She also, according to her own memoirs, improved the state of her personal life while she was at it.
Though Catherine II brought a friendlier face to world power plays and church changes than our “Tudors” leading man, the empress shared his habit of falling in and out of love on a whim. Thankfully for the men of 18th century Russia, she didn’t exercise Henry’s exit strategy when it came to relationships. Whether the guys in questions were simply momentary lovers or illegitimate baby daddies, Catherine preferred to line their pockets when she broke their hearts.
As for marriage, Catherine wasn’t a fan of the institution beyond the one, albeit big, perk it brought her. Her singular walk down the aisle with the not-so-endearing Peter III was all it took to convince her marriage was overrated. The throne, however, was not — which is why she and her main-man-on-the-side overthrew hubby when he went out of town.
Who wouldn’t want to watch a modern spin on classic Catherine? With a sexy small-screen siren and a big enough budget, the empress’s romantic interludes could put Henry’s to shame. Yes, “Tudors” fans, even the ones he shared with anonymous ladies-in-waiting Nos. 1 and 2.
A more perfect union
But never mind all the monarchs. Eventually a group of fearless fellas ready for change said to heck with all of that. They’ve had more than a few movies and miniseries made in their honor, but maybe the time has come for a full-on, no-holds-barred Founding Fathers series.
Some of the traditional leading men, such as John Adams, who already had his own HBO treatment; Thomas Jefferson, the subject of a tell-all or two; and the beloved George Washington could take a backseat to allow someone like Benjamin Franklin to steal the spotlight.
He might be better known for inventing the lighting rod or his “Father of the Bifocal” status, but the ingenious Franklin was hardly as staid as his gadgets, postmaster duties and politics implied. According to his own writings, he was hit with the ladies.
Franklin even almost married one of them. Unfortunately, his beloved was already married to another. Of course, Franklin wasn’t the only Founding Father to partner up with a not-quite-divorced bride (I’m looking at you, Andrew Jackson), but he was the only one to enter into a common-law arrangement with his live-in love and readily admit to a son from a mystery mother.
Just think: Those scandalous tidbits don’t even include his alleged affairs with half of Paris. In fact, the only thing old Ben lacked for the perfect cable drama was a TV-friendly face.
Not that it matters. If “The Tudors” taught us anything, it’s that looks are relative. It’s just a matter of finding the right man for the role — someone like Jonathan Rhys Meyers, for instance. Throw on some spectacles and he’s bound to look every bit as much like Benjamin Franklin as he ever looked like Henry VIII.
History’s chock full of these reboot-ready stories, whether one goes way back to the 400s for the woes and rewards of Alcibiades, known for his role in the Peloponnesian War, or simply takes a short trip to the many loves of Albert Einstein. The plots are long written and just waiting for adults-only “Tudors” treatment.
But until someone makes “The Life and Oh-So-Private Times of Benjamin Franklin” or any of the others a small-screen reality, or at least until “The Borgias” debuts next year, there’s only one more opportunity to see history played out in a completely compelling if not completely correct way — with Henry and the gang Sunday night.
Ree Hines doesn’t understand why Henry VIII can’t reign supreme for one more season. We never let the facts get in the way before now! Bah. Follow @ReeHines on Twitter to share your “Tudor” tweets.