Out exec producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Chicago) are interested in more than musicals. Aside from their gay parents-meet-straight parents sitcom It's All Relative, the duo is set to explore the Roman Empire with Taranus, a series that will chronicle the power struggle following the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.
Daily Variety reports that after mulling the concept for some time, ABC's Susan Lyne and Lloyd
Braun are readying Taranus to shoot in Rome in January as an eight-episode "limited series" they hope will lead to a longer run. The Roman epic, executive-produced by Zadan and Meron, is created by Thomas Wheeler and Chip Johannessen.
The "limited series" designation will justify the construction of period sets and soundstages, with network brass hoping that a quick audience embrace will lead to a second-season arc of 13 episodes or more. While ABC and Touchstone haven't issued an official thumbs-up, they hired series vet Johannessen to run the show, empowered line producers to secure soundstages in Rome, and set episode delivery dates for the fall 2004-2005 season.
Wheeler is ready for an extended run. He has written a bible for three seasons that covers Caesar's succession all the way up to Marc Antony's steamy alliance with Cleopatra. The major protagonist is Julius Caesar's 17-year old nephew, Octavius, who's unexpectedly named in Caesar's will
as Rome's next leader. Caesar's murderers target Octavius, who flees with the help of gladiator slave and Caesar confidant Taranus, whose job is not only to protect the youth but make a man and leader out of him.
"The fact part is Caesar dropping his fortune and rule on an unsuspecting 17-year-old, who becomes this King Arthur or Henry V character who must summon the courage to rule," Wheeler said. "Rome was plunged into civil war, and he was opposed by the senate and Marc Antony's 500,000 troops. Within one year Octavius managed to put together an army from scratch, invade Rome, and drive Marc Antony across the mountains.
"This is meant to be a defining show for ABC," Wheeler said. "We've been given a creative mandate to be broad, with the sweep of movies like Excalibur or Lord of the Rings and the contained story arcs of The Sopranos."