Fans of Spartacus: Vengeance were stunned when six major characters, including Lucy Lawless' much-loved Lucretia, were killed off in the Season 2 finale last March. But that's nothing compared to this shocker! Starz has decided to end Spartacus after just one more season even though it's the cable channel's highest-rated show and a smash around the world. What are these people thinking? TV Guide Magazine got the scoop from the program's creator Steven S. DeKnight.
TV Guide Magazine: We're told this is all your idea. What are you doing to us Spartacus fans? This is devastating news!
I know! It's very sad news, and I've been living with it for quite a while now. My original plan was to go five to seven seasons but I want to leave on top. [Laughs] That's something new in television but we're going to give it a whirl!
TV Guide Magazine: Why did the plan change?
I guess things started to alter when we lost [the original Spartacus] Andy Whitfield. We've had some real challenges and tragedies with this show, and that was definitely part of what shifted our plans. Also, the more I delve into the history of Spartacus, the more repetitive it gets. From this point on in the real story, it's wave after wave of Romans chasing him here and there. Spartacus and his rebels didn't seem to have much of a plan — they went north, south, west, east, then north again. They were roaming all over the place. So we decided to go with just the best parts. We're going to condense all that into a 10-episode final season —Spartacus: War of the Damned — that's full of fantastic surprises and we will wrap up the story in a grand way. It'll leave you wanting more.
TV Guide Magazine: You're confident this is the right decision? You don't wake up in the middle of the night going, "What the hell have I done?"
[Laughs] Oh, all the time! There's always a twinge of doubt and regret, especially with a show that's still working so well and is still so popular and still so much fun to make. You just hope you're doing the right thing. For me and my partners, Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi and Josh Donen, the most important thing, when the smoke clears, is that the audience is satisfied. Did they have a good journey? You don't want them saying, "Thank God, that's finally over!" It would be the worst thing to stay one season too long. And many shows do.
TV Guide Magazine: When exactly did you make this decision?
We were 90 percent sure about this as we were wrapping up Vengeance.
TV Guide Magazine: Didn't any of your partners or anyone at Starz try to talk you out of this?
It wasn't so much a matter of talking me out of it but there was a lot of debate about how to end things. There were a couple of months where we went through various permutations. Should we wrap it up with 16 episodes and show them in two blocks of eight? Should we do 20 episodes? Finally it was decided that a really spectacular 10 was the best way to go. Starz completely supported us, just as they always have. Every single season of Spartacus has been a gamble. Season 1 we did by our bootstraps — "Hey, let's put on a show!" — and we got off to a rocky start before we became something special. Then, unfortunately, when Andy fell ill, we had to roll the dice on a prequel, which everybody thought we were nuts to do. Then we had to find a new Spartacus, Liam McIntyre. This show has always been a crapshoot, but that's one of the things that makes it so exciting. Starz has been amazing at every step. If the star of your show —the guy who plays your title character — falls gravely ill, most other networks or cable channels would have rolled up the sidewalk and cancelled the show. But Starz really wanted to tell the story through to its end. They didn't want to leave anything hanging.
TV Guide Magazine: So you're saying this outcome would be different if Whitfield hadn't been forced to leave the show?
That's a question I've often asked myself and there's really no way to answer. We may have run longer. You just never know. I wish I would have had the opportunity to find out. Andy is deeply, deeply missed, not just as our leading man, but as a human being. He was wonderfully warm and kind. It was a great personal loss.
TV Guide Magazine: McIntyre does a strong job as Spartacus but, perhaps due to his youth, he doesn't have the gravitas and complexity Whitfield did. He doesn't have that deep, tortured soul, which seemed to be creative gold. As a storyteller, did you feel more limited or confined with McIntyre in the role?
Not at all. Liam is certainly a different kind of Spartacus but, the truth is, we were originally looking for someone his age — someone mid-twenties — when we were originally casting the role. Realistically, gladiators didn't live much past that, so we wanted all our gladiators to be that young. But as we were casting we realized that the younger actors we were seeing didn't have Andy's world-weary feel. One of the things we responded to in Liam's audition was that he had some of that wounded sensibility. Spartacus may be a badass who readily kills people but he doesn't come to it from a place of anger, but rather from a deeply wounded heart.
TV Guide Magazine: How will you deal with the fact that the slave revolt ends on a great big bummer?
We all know Spartacus dies at the hands of the Romans. The challenge is to end the series on a note of hope. It's like the Titanic problem. How do you keep them interested when they know the boat's going to sink? It's all about the emotions that get you to the end of the story. You can't do three seasons of a show — well, four counting our prequel — and then have everybody die and have it be all for nothing. [Laughs] That would be one bad ride! So we're looking for the deeper messages here. What does victory really mean? What does defeat really mean? As we constructed the ending, it was just as important to look at the Julius Caesar-Marcus Crassus side of things, as it was to look at the side of the rebels. Both sides will have victories and defeats. Both will suffer great personal loss.
TV Guide Magazine: Did the productions costs come into play in your decision to close up shop? Thus far, Spartacus has been a rather small-scale epic but now you're moving into the part of his story where he gathered, according to the historians, as many as 120,000 followers and waged massive battles against the Romans.
It absolutely makes the show more difficult to produce. Spartacus no longer has 40 followers. Season 3 picks up six months to a year after the end of Vengeance, and we see that he has become the leader we've slowly been building him up to be. He now has thousands and thousands of followers. There will be some very large and awesome battles and some major events along the lines of the arena collapse in Season 2. I have to take my hat off to Rob Tapert and the entire production machine in New Zealand. I sit in L.A. and dream up crazy stuff and hand it over to them, and somehow they make it all happen. This show would not be a success without Rob. But all the spectacle means nothing without people the audience really cares about. The sex and the gore are great, but it's the cast that keeps you coming back.
TV Guide Magazine: Which is why it's so hard to imagine the show without Lucy Lawless, Viva Bianca [Ilythia] and some of the others you eliminated at the end of last season. They just didn't fit into the bigger picture?
It just killed us all to see Lucy and Viva go because they were such a great part of the Spartacus saga. And I did noodle for quite a while to find a way to keep one of them, but it just would not fit. Their chapter of the story had to close because we're now bringing in Crassus and Caesar. Lucretia and Illythia don't play into the Roman side of the story and there was no way to bring them onto the rebel side.
TV Guide Magazine: There was a lot of talk in your season finale about the dead folks reuniting in the next world. Hey, how about a spinoff? Spartacus: Afterlife!
[Laughs] That's a sitcom waiting to happen! But there actually has been talk — very preliminary talk — about doing some sort of follow-up series. We might do a spinoff using the same background that's not tied to history like the story of Spartacus. It's a thrilling world to explore, so you never know. It's always a possibility!