Talk about perfect timing. For several years, House executive producer Paul Attanasio and Sony TV had been working on a show set at the Vatican. They pitched it to Showtime last fall and, after months of discussions, the pay cable network greenlighted the project to pilot in the final days of 2012 with Ridley Scott attached to direct in his pilot directing debut. With Attanasio and Scott on board, Vatican already appeared a formidable contender for a series pickup. Then lightning struck — literally. On Monday, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, thrusting the inner workings of the Vatican into the spotlight. Hours later, a lightning bolt struck the Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica, which perfectly illustrates what the odds are of real events mirroring a fictional TV show.
As conceived, Vatican is a provocative contemporary genre thriller about spirituality, power and politics set against the modern-day political machinations within the Catholic church. Like Pope Benedict, the show’s fictional Pope Sixtus VI hails from Bavaria. Attanasio’s script even makes a fleeting mention of the Pope resigning. While I hear the reference is just a point in an argument, it is getting attention because of Benedict’s real-life resignation, the first in almost 600 years. What’s more, Vatican deals with a papal changeover as Pope Sixtus dies, what is exactly what the Catholic world is going through right now.
The Vatican has visibly picked up steam since the Pope’s Monday announcement. In the past four days, the pilot began assembling a strong cast led by Emmy winner Kyle Chandler, who signed on along with Matthew Goode and Sebastian Koch.
The real-life events at the Vatican also may have influenced the decision of Vatican producers where to shoot the pilot. While an array of European cities had been discussed, including Prague and Budapest, they’ve ultimately settled on Rome, where Vatican City is located. (The series would shoot in London). I hear the pilot is slated to begin filming April 9, which theoretically could overlap with the election and coronation of the new Pope. Pope Benedict officially resigns February 28. A conclave of cardinals has to convene at the Sistine Chapel 15-20 days later to begin the election process, which takes days until white smoke from the Chapel’s chimney signals a new leader of the Catholic Church has been chosen. His coronation takes place the next Sunday or Holy day. Given the sudden nature of Pope Benedict’s resignation, there is no obvious successor, and the voting process may drag on. (UPDATE: In another instance of life imitating art, speculation is intensifying that New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan could become the next Pope. Vatican‘s lead character is New York Cardinal Thomas Duffy, played by Chandler.) Even if the cardinals wrap things quickly, Showtime and Sony TV could conceivable get a second unit on the ground to film and incorporate the events on the show should they choose to.