Despite being one of HBO’s most popular TV shows, Rome was cancelled after two short seasons. Devoted viewers were outraged that the historical drama could be cut so short. Now, if the series’ co-creator Bruno Heller has his way, Rome will rise again.
A co-production mainly between HBO and the BBC, Rome showcases the often violent transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. While past dramatizations of this period have focused almost exclusively on the political leaders of the day, much of Rome’s screen time is devoted to two common soldiers, Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson). The large cast also includes Indira Varma, David Bamber, Chiara Mastalli, Manfredi Aliquo, Suzanne Bertish, Max Pirkis, Lee Boardman, Esther Hall, and Ciaran Hinds.
Rome ran for two seasons and 22 episodes on HBO, debuting on August 28, 2005. The premiere attracted 3.8 million viewers and lots of positive reviews. A few weeks later, the series was renewed for a second season on HBO. The sophomore year finally debuted on January 14, 2007 and, for the most part, maintained its first year audience numbers.
Unfortunately, several months before Rome’s second season began airing, HBO announced that there wouldn’t be a third year. Rome was originally envisioned as a mini-series but, after network execs saw the quality of the scripts, they decided to make it an ongoing series. The show’s high price tag — about $100 million for the first 12 episodes — made it impossible to continue past the second year. Some HBO execs have since admitted that letting the historical drama end so soon was likely a mistake.
The last episode of Rome aired on March 25, 2007. The series’ creator, Heller (who also created CBS’ new hit show, The Mentalist), tells James Hibberd of The Hollywood Reporter that he learned about the series’ impending demise halfway through the writing of the second season. The news caused him to have to change his plans, including curtailing storylines for the Roman leaders to meet a certain key religious leader. He notes, “The second [season] was going to end with death of Brutus. Third and fourth season would be set in Egypt. Fifth was going to be the rise of the messiah in Palestine. But because we got the heads-up that the second season would be it, I telescoped the third and fourth season into the second one, which accounts for the blazing speed we go through history near the end.”
Unsatisfied with the show’s short run, Heller has been working on plans to continue the series. In a February 2008 interview, Stevenson remarked that Heller and fellow co-creator Bill MacDonald were in talks for a Rome movie. Heller had been working on the script but had to stop because of the writers strike.
Likely fuelled by HBO’s success with the Sex and the City movie and interest in a big-screen version of Arrested Development, the project is still on Heller’s to-do list. He wouldn’t share any story details but teased Hibberd, “It’s moving along. It’s not there until it is there. I would love to round that show off.”
But wait, didn’t one of the two main characters die in the last episode? Not quite. Though McKidd’s Vorenus was badly wounded and seemed to die on his deathbed, the show’s creator left himself an out. Heller says that he intentionally didn’t show the character’s body being sent to the afterlife. Heller says, “It was very deliberate that we saw him drifting away but didn’t see him atop a funeral pyre.” As McKidd once joked to Stevenson, “I never closed my eyes!”
Image courtesy HBO.