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The Hollywood Insider: 'Spartacus' loses lead

Andy Whitfield departs the Starz gladiator series, and Ed Burns goes digital

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Spartacus actor faces struggle, as does series
Starz’s cult hit Spartacus: Blood and Sand is grappling with last week’s bad news that star Andy Whitfield, 36, must resume ”aggressive” treatment for a recurrence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma and would not be able to reprise the title role in the drama’s second season. ”It’s with a deep sense of disappointment that I must step aside from such an exceptional project as Spartacus,” the North Wales-born actor said in a statement. ”It seems that it is time for myself and my family to embark on another extraordinary journey.” The second season wasn’t set to bow until September 2011, but it’s unclear how Starz will proceed on Spartacus, which averaged 1.2 million viewers during its first 13 episodes — a formidable performance for a network that reaches only about 17 million homes. For now, the pay net will air a six-part prequel, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, in January that will feature series stars Lucy Lawless and John Hannah, with a brief appearance by Whitfield. ”Right now, we just want to extend our concern and support to Andy and his family,” says Carmi Zlotnik, managing director at Starz Media. ”We will address our programming plans at some later date.”
Lynette Rice

Ed Burns looks beyond theaters for indie cinema’s future
Actor-director Ed Burns‘ next movie, Nice Guy Johnny, won’t be playing in theaters. Instead, the coming-of-age drama is premiering Oct. 26 on Comcast On Demand. The move makes sense: Burns, 42, has already pioneered alternative distribution with his 2007 drama Purple Violets, the first-ever straight-to-iTunes release. (While his first film, 1995’s The Brothers McMullen, made $10.4 million at the box office, his last theatrical release, 2006’s The Groomsmen, earned only $128,000.) He says he was approached by traditional distributors for Johnny, but they just couldn’t match the potential audience of video on demand. ”The number-one complaint from my fans is my movies don’t come near where they live,” he says. ”When Comcast said there was access to 20 million subscribers in 22 markets, it was a no-brainer.”
Nicole Sperling