Spartacus prequel show coming, minus star with cancer

What do you do if you have a hit show but your star comes down with cancer? If you're Starz and the show is Spartacus: Blood and Sand, you cook up a six-episode prequel series that doesn't center on the main character.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the prequel series, which is planned for January 2011, will star John Hannah and Lucy Lawless, whose characters were skewered at the end of season one of the hit series.

The prequel will focus on the rise of the House of Batiatus and its gladiators before there ever was a Spartacus around to cause all that trouble. Hannah and Lawless will reprise their roles as Batiatus, the owner of the gladiator school, and his wife, Lucretia.

Spartacus star Andy Whitfield, who is undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma in New Zealand, will appear "briefly" in the as-yet-untitled prequel, which beings production this summer. Production on the second season of Spartacus was postponed when Whitfield fell ill.

"The prequel story maintains the excitement and entertainment value of the first season of Spartacus, giving audiences the engaging experience they've come to expect," said Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht. "Fortunately, Andy is responding to his treatments, and will be able to be part of this prequel in a limited capacity. As soon as he's able, we look forward to continuing the Spartacus story."

Actors returning for the prequel include Peter Mensah as Doctore, Manu Bennett as Crixus, Antonio Te Maioha as Barca, Nick E. Tarabay as Ashur and Lesley-Ann Brandt as Naevia. Additional characters will also be added, including a new champion gladiator for the House of Batiatus. The production team will remain intact with Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, Joshua Donen and Steven S. DeKnight.

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