You won't find dashing buccaneers in fancy sashes engaged in witty repartee on Starz's "Black Sails," the new pirate adventure series from executive producer Michael Bay premiering on Jan. 25. You will find plenty of nudity, swearing and blood, however.
"Black Sails" was written by creator Jonathan Steinberg ("Jericho") as a prequel to the Robert Louis Stevenson children's classic "Treasure Island." But this big gambit for the premium cable channel isn't for kids.
The gritty hour-long series is set in a lawless world during the Golden Age of Piracy when Captain Flint (played by Toby Stephens) is beginning his Messianic quest for the largest haul of treasure in the world.
"The sequel to this series has already been written, so we just have to catch up," says Steinberg over the phone from Cape Town, South Africa, where "Black Sails" is currently filming its second season. (It was renewed before the first season even aired based on overwhelmingly positive fan reaction at Comic-Con International in San Diego.) "Our hope, ultimately, is that if the show lives a long and healthy life, by the time it's over it will have re-contextualized the book."
That's an ambitious goal, but "Black Sails" is an ambitious show. The big-budget, eight-episode first season was filmed in Cape Town on a massive backlot that contains a beach, a water tank with a life-size replica of an actual pirate ship and a fully functioning pirate town that stands in for the remote Bahamas outpost of New Providence Island.
The bulk of the action takes place on the island, which is ruled by outlaw justice and overseen by a hard-talking beauty named Eleanor (Hannah New) who buys and distributes the pirate's looted goods through her father's company. The pirates take refuge on the island since their murderous ways have made them marked men. Flint hopes to amass enough wealth to keep the pirate way of life alive, and safe from the ire of Colonial powers.
"When I got on set I could not speak, my first question was 'Is every TV show from America like this?'" New, who is British, says over the phone from Cape Town. "We have people driving up to the studio gate and asking if it's a theme park."
Big and bold is the idea, says Steinberg, adding that the show would not work unless it succeeded in drawing viewers into a completely foreign universe. That's certainly in keeping with many of cable TV's most talked-about dramas, including "Deadwood" and "Game of Thrones."
Stephens likes the "Deadwood" analogy and takes it a step further.
"It is sort of like a western because they are living at the edge of the known world and, like the Wild West, there are no rules," says Stephens. "It's not romantic, it's vicious and scary. Everyone is surviving by their wits and they're driven by high stakes and desperation."
"Black Sails," however, is driven by Steinberg's attention to detail and historical knowledge. It's also driven by the weight of name recognition that comes with executive producer Michael Bay. Bay makes his television debut with the show after being behind such big-budget Hollywood spectacles as "Transformers," "Pearl Harbor" and "Armageddon."
Explaining why he decided to try his hand at television, Bay simply says, "I love cable TV."
"I wanted to get into it because you can watch in-depth characters over years," he continues from his home in Miami Beach, Fla. "I waited years until I found the right project. 'Black Sails' was that project."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times