Spartacus: Gods of the Arena's Steven DeKnight faces the challenge of losing his lead actor and takes on critics of the show's hyper-violent, highly sexual content.
Written by Denis Faye
When Steven DeKnight decided to bring the tale of the world's most famous gladiator to the small screen, he probably had no idea that he'd be facing challenges worthy of Spartacus himself.
First, he had to recreate Rome with a "less than Romanesque" budget. The solution came in the form of fellow executive producer Rob Tapert, who's worked similar sword-and-sandal shows such as Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess. Tapert runs production where the show is filmed down in New Zealand and has a knack, as DeKnight puts it, for "making one million dollars look like four million."
The next hurdle was facing criticism over the show's hyper-violent, highly sexual content. Given it appears on Starz, a pay cable channel, Standards and Practices doesn't really play a role in the creative process. "I certainly make no apologies," shrugs DeKnight, whose previous writing-producing credits include Angel, Smallville, and Dollhouse. "It's not everybody's cup of tea, I understand that, but for adults who want an adult story and adult entertainment, it's perfectly fine."
Finally, and most tragically, the showrunner had to keep things together when Spartacus: Blood and Sand's lead actor, Andy Whitfield, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. "It was absolutely devastating," says DeKnight, "foremost on an emotional level. He's a fantastic human being."
As a quick fix while Whitfield was undergoing treatment, DeKnight came up with a prequel mini-series to keep the show alive. Spartacus: Gods of the Arena starts its six-episode run on Starz this month.
But then Whitfield decided to pull himself permanently from the series to continue treatment and spend time with his family, so for the second full season, Australian actor Liam McIntyre has stepped into Whitfield's sandals. While Whitfield's departure was a blow to morale in the writer's room, it didn't have a big effect on the scripts. "When McIntyre steps into the role, and we start to see footage on him, there may be minor adjustments," explains DeKnight, "but we're writing Spartacus as Spartacus."
DeKnight spoke with The Writer's Guild of America, West Web site about all the challenges of showrunning Spartacus. Even though some battles have been tough, this is clearly a writer willing to take on every comer in the arena.