Pirates take to small screen, make waves in latest television trend

February 13, 2014

Courtesy of Platinum Dunes

Every few years, certain themes emerge in television programming. Whether it is shows about producing sketch shows (“30 Rock,” “Studio 60 on Sunset Strip”) or fairy tale-inspired dramas (“Once Upon A Time,” “Grimm”), series with similar premises inevitably find themselves compared to one another.

This year, the parallels will be drawn between new programming on Starz and NBC, with both networks debuting shows about pirates.

Both shows are set in the year 1715 on New Providence Island in the Bahamas. But fortunately, that is basically all that the series have in common.

“Black Sails,” a Starz Original Series that began on Jan. 25, takes its inspiration from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island,” the novel that produced one of the most famous pirates of all time, Long John Silver.

The series serves as a prequel to the book, featuring Silver (before the parrot and peg leg) and his infamous boss, Captain Flint. The show follows both men — Flint on his ruthless quest for treasure and Silver on his journey to becoming Flint’s quartermaster.

On the other hand, this summer’s “Crossbones,” on NBC will be taking its cue from history. The series begins when Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle, “Covert Affairs”), a British assassin, goes undercover to bring down the notorious pirate Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard. The latter will be played by none other than John Malkovich.

As the show progresses, Lowe finds himself drawn into Blackbeard’s web and even siding with the pirate’s political philosophies.

The current interest in pirates may seem a little out of left field, but it is not actually that surprising. Many networks have explored other avenues for genre shows, most of which have turned out to be successful.

The CW has cornered the market on vampires with not only “The Vampire Diaries” but also “The Originals,” while AMC has zombies covered with the “The Walking Dead.” MTV has the hit remake of “Teen Wolf,” featuring a bevy of attractive young werewolves.

Pirate series prove ideal in that they can include some fantasy elements, but they can also be historical dramas such as the HBO hit “Deadwood.”

Television provides open waters for a show about pirates, unlike the four-installation Disney franchise that has dominated the genre on the big screen.

The showrunners of “Black Sails” and “Crossbones” have the opportunity to present their own takes on the sea-bound scoundrels.

Yet it remains to be seen whether there is enough room on television for two pirate series. Networks appear to be operating under the assumption that there is. “Black Sails” has already been renewed for a second season. Perhaps “Crossbones” will manage the same.

In a sea of “Law and Order” spin-offs and various police procedurals like “NCIS,” a show about pirates might be just what viewers need.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Feb. 13 print edition. Nivea Serrao is a staff writer. Email her at entertainment@nyunews.com.

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