Friends, Romans, countrymen: ABC is about to head back to the world of Emperor Augustus. The network has ordered eight one-hour episodes of Empire, a limited series about the rise of Gaius Octavius, who became the first emperor of Rome in 27 B.C. The historical epic, co-executive-produced by out moguls Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Chicago, The Reagans), is scheduled to shoot on location in Rome in the spring for a bow sometime during the 2004-2005 season. Empire was created by screenwriter Tom Wheeler, who will serve as executive producer. He said the story begins with a teenage Octavius, who took the name of his great-uncle Julius Caesar after the latter was assassinated by political rivals, and who grew to become Emperor Augustus. The writer added that he relied on multiple sources for research and consulted with a classics professor who helped with historical details and accuracy.
ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne said the project will offer viewers a contemporary take on an era seldom glimpsed except in movies such as Gladiator. "This is an era and a place people don't get to visit on television," Lyne said. "These characters are very contemporary, very relatable, and yet also very heroic." Lyne granted that the scale of such a period epic makes it a costly undertaking but added that the network will see all the scripts before shooting commences. Wheeler said he already has written complete drafts for three episodes. While figures for estimated production costs were not available, Wheeler said the studio is "being very generous."