Starz scores hit with ‘Spartacus’

Andy Whitfield, left, as Spartacus, fights Karl Drinkwater, as Kerza. “Spartacus” the series, with its salty language, bawdy interludes and graphic violence, is attracting 1.1 million viewers to Starz, giving new CEO Chris Albrecht ideas about remaking the channel. The show’s immediate future is in doubt, however, since Whitfield was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, (Kirsty Griffin / Starz / June 1, 2009)

There’s no confusing Starz’s “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” with Shakespeare‘s “Julius Caesar.”

In the pay TV channel’s adaptation of the tale of the rebel Roman slave, the battle cries from the Classical Age have, well, a distinctly 21st century ring (“My boot will meet your ass in the afterlife!”). The sexual intrigue seems lifted right out of a VH1 dating show (when a socialite decides to buy one of the gladiators-in-training, the men are ordered to drop their loincloths so she can make an informed choice). Then there’s the graphic, slo-mo violence (including a severed, flying head that would impress Quentin Tarantino).

With 1.1 million viewers, “Spartacus” is a home run for the cable channel, which is available in a modest 17 million homes. Long overshadowed by rivals HBO and Showtime, Starz has seen the sword-and-sandal melodrama become its first original series hit.

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