EXCLUSIVE: Showtime has axed King Shaka, its upcoming epic drama series executive produced by Antoine Fuqua, which tells the sweeping story of the Zulu Empire founder.
It marks the latest new series to be canned at the network before it has aired amid a programming overhaul at Showtime, which is being merged with sister streamer Paramount+ and will be renamed as Paramount+ with Showtime.
While King Shaka will not run on Showtime, the premium network is working on multiple other drama projects with diverse storytelling as part of recently announced three main programming lanes, including a project from The Chi showrunner Justin Hillian; Panda, from Fresh Off the Boat’s Eddie Huang; and Quiet in Her Bones, from writer Aminta Goyel.
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Deadline understands that King Shaka, which is being headlined by Charles Babalola, was permanently shut down over the weekend as it was wrapping production in the historic KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) South Africa province, the birthplace of King Shaka. We hear most of the filming, including the final episode, had been completed, and producer CBS Studios is exploring other options for the series, which will be able to assemble a full season out of the footage. Showtime is assisting the studio in their efforts to find a new home for the series.
King Shaka joins two other new drama series with completed seasons to be released by Showtime over the past couple of months: Three Women, which landed at Starz, and Ripley, which moved to Netflix. Deadline revealed last week that the network also has cut much of its development slate as it shifts its programming strategy to focus on the three lanes laid out previously by Chris McCarthy: complex characters and subversive antiheroes like Dexter, Your Honor and Yellowjackets; high-stakes powerful worlds like Billions and Homeland; and culturally diverse takes like The Chi and the upcoming Fellow Travelers.
The decision to release King Shaka followed a reevaluation of Showtime’s slate by the new regime that was as installed by McCarthy after he added the network to his purview last fall. The pipeline for the third programming lane, built around tentpole The Chi, includes the untiled Justin Hillian project, described as an exploration of the cutthroat world of celebrity and power in L.A.; Eddie Huang’s Panda, executive produced by Jonah Hill and Matt Dines, described as Goodfellas meets Euphoria; as well as Goyel’s Quiet in Her Bones, a South Asian Big Little Lies meets Mayor Of Easttown drama chronicling the disappearance of a socialite, executive produced by Raghav Tandon.
King Shaka, formerly known as Shaka: King of the Zulu Nation, comes from writers Olu Odebunmi and Tolu Awosika, Propagate, Fuqua Films and CBS Studios.
It tells the story of the Zulu Empire founder Shaka (Babalola) and his unlikely rise to power, uniting multiple tribes across vast stretches of southern Africa in the early 19th century to transform his power into legend, on par with history’s most seminal figures.
Tipped as one of Showtime’s largest-scale productions ever, the sprawling tale, a longtime passion project for Fuqua, involves a large cast and elaborate battle scenes.
Charmaine Bingwa, Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, Aïssa Maïga and Thando Dlomo are also series regulars with Tony Kgoroge, Sindi Dlatu and Bahle Hadebe recurring.
King Shaka is executive produced by Odebunmi and Awosika, Fuqua, Bridget Carpenter, Propagate’s Ben Silverman, Howard T. Owens and Rodney Ferrell. Seith Mann, who directed the pilot, and Spencer Medof are also executive producers. Scott Greenberg is a producer, and Michael Callas is producing for Fuqua Films.
The series involved a production investment in South Africa and the KZN province, with more than 300 locals hired for jobs across all facets of the production. In addition, the production was working with career-building training programs such as SA Film Academy and the Academy of Creative Excellence to provide production internships and other opportunities.
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