Three sign on for 'Pillars of the Earth'

MUMBAI: A new TV maxi-series is trying to buck the trend and bring back appointment viewing for fictional sagas, a la The Thorn Birds or, more recently and modestly, Angels in America or Broken Trail. Most of the big Euro stations have lined up to air The Pillars of the Earth, but so far there are no broadcast takers in the U.S. or the U.K.

A Germany-Canada co-production spearheaded by Munich-based Tandem Communications and Montreal-based Muse Entertainment, the eight-hour saga, based on Ken Follett‘s best-seller, will be directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, who has helmed episodes of Heroes and Saving Grace and was Steven Spielberg‘s first assistant director on Saving Private Ryan and Schindler‘s List.

Pillars starts shooting on June 22 in Hungary and Austria. The premiere is set for the second half of 2010.

Ian McShane, who starred on HBO‘s Deadwood, will play Waleran; Donald Sutherland takes the role as Bartholomew; and Rufus Sewell, who recently headlined Eleventh Hour, plays Tom Builder. Others who have signed on for the shoot include Matthew Macfadyen (Frost/Nixon) as Prior Philip, Sarah Parish (The Holiday) as Regan Hamleigh, Hayley Atwell (Brideshead Revisited) as Aliena, Eddie Redmayne (The Other Boleyn Girl) as Jack and Gordon Pinsent (Away from Her) as the Archbishop.

"It‘s a new world order," Scott Free TV president David Zucker said in describing the strategy of putting together financing abroad and then backing into a broadcast deal stateside. "Yes, there is more risk at the top, but there‘s more latitude on the creative side. It‘s not dissimilar to the indie film biz in this respect. Given how difficult the economy became here, we decided to plow ahead and get funding and casting done before trying to do a licensing deal in the States."

Zucker said there was "a lot of interest" among yank broadcasters, cablers and pay cablers but did not specify how close to a deal the producers were.

The novel has been adapted by John Pielmeier, who will also play the role of Cuthbert in the saga. His credits include The Memory Keeper‘s Daughter and Hitler: The Rise of Evil. The historical novel set in 12th century England involves war, religious strife and power struggles as well as two interwoven love stories.

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