Credit: Franco Biciocchi

Rome was Game of Thrones before Game of Thrones.

Like HBO’s fantasy hit, the 2005 series was a sprawling non-contemporary swords-and-shields drama with a large ensemble cast and plenty of violence and sex. It was extremely well written and acted, launching its cast into stardom. Rome was also quite expensive and shot overseas, just like Thrones.

Except Rome was canceled, with HBO making the tough decision to ax the show before its second season even aired in order to save money on maintaining production resources in Italy. It’s rare that networks ever admit that ending a show was a mistake, but HBO executives later did, at least privately. Actors such as Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, and James Purefoy went onto other ventures, and creator Bruno Heller launched a more more traditional drama — The Mentalist — to big CBS ratings.

After Thrones debuted to acclaim and popularity in 2011, one Rome star couldn’t help but feel a little sore about the way things turned out, with Purefoy declaring Thrones “stole our f–king show.”

Today, Heller doesn’t agree with that sentiment, but does note Rome helped pave the way for Thrones.

“They didn’t take our spot,” says Heller, talking to Entertainment Weekly for this week’s package on TV shows that deserve a second chance. “They learned a lot from a business commercial sense, what not to do. Rome was the first show HBO shot out of country with large budget that was period. The mistakes we made are the mistakes Game of Thrones learned from. Many of the directors and producers are the same. Thrones is a brilliant show, brilliantly executed. One of the reasons it will continue is there’s a series of books that assure the powers that be that you have a structure. One of the challenges from HBO’s point of view was Rome had a large and ambitious structure but we were making it up as we went along instead having those wonderful books.”

Rome did, however, have actual history to mine, and there’s a whole lot of that left. Given the show’s abrupt ending, fans have longed for the series to return.

“Just like many of the other shows in the same class, it’s a show that ended early rather than got strung out and had the juice squeezed out of it,” Heller says. “It ended for reasons other than running out of things to say. I loved it. I thought it was a great show. There’s a sense that there’s unfinished business.”

As for the possibility of that ever happening, the odds are strongly against a revival — HBO apparently isn’t interested. But at least some key talent would be up for it.

“Never say never,” Heller says. “Funnily enough, the sets are still there. They look very beautiful and are ready to go. But realistically, the thing with anything that’s come and gone, is this business is so much about what’s next. It’s difficult to get things going again just because they should be. There has to be a very strong commercial reason, as well.”

That said, Heller says he could “envision circumstances” of a reboot. “It’s just a matter of enough people thinking it’s a good idea. I could call Kevin and Ray and they’d love to come back and have another crack at it. It would be up to HBO. Normally I don’t like to look back, but that show was the great love of my life.”

To find out whether more of your favorite cult TV shows — including Chuck, Party Down, and The Comeback — will be revived, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now.

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