16th Century Sex and Power Thrill Audiences

Forget the petticoats, silk skirts, embroidered jackets and ornate jewels, the royals of the 16th century seemed to take greater joy in scampering out of their heavy costumes than parading around in them.

At least that's what the "The Tudors," Showtime's sexy and lavish historical drama, leads you to believe about the life and times of King Henry VIII, the notorious English monarch who broke from the Roman Catholic Church and worked his way through six wives in the pursuit of a male heir.

A chiseled Jonathan Rhys Meyers, playing a young King Henry VIII, spends as much time striding through court making royal decrees as he spends bare-chested, unbuttoning his pants to bed a retinue of sixteenth century beauties.

Filled with the explosive energy of a tightly coiled spring, Meyers' King Henry VIII chases after immortality and women, willing to sacrifice his wife, his daughter and even his religion.

"Tudors" creator Michael Hirst has written about the Henry that history has overlooked: the rambunctious, athletic, arrogant young man who accidentally came to power when he was only 18 years old, and who, as the series so aptly portrays, was more interested in the perks that came with monarchy than the business of ruling a kingdom.

"He had ultimate power. He could do anything he wanted. He was called the handsomest young king of Christiandom," Hirst told ABC News, "but at the same time he has a very human situation. He's married to an older woman who can't give him a son, and he falls in love with a younger woman. It's the dilemma of a king, but it's also the dilemma of a guy."

Confused? Titillated? Intrigued? If only history class could have been so much fun.

Showtime's Crown Jewel

With a splashy marketing campaign, an eye-catching cast and a plot scripted by the writer of the Oscar-nominated "Elizabeth," industry watchers say "The Tudors" has the potential to create the sort of iconic drama that could expand Showtime's viewer base and brand the channel as a must-have in the way its premium cable rival HBO has done with "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City" and "Entourage."

"This is a modernized version of a costume drama or period piece," Matt Blank, Showtime's chairman and CEO told ABC News. "You take an extremely appealing actor like Johnny and make him your Henry VIII, and you get a beautiful Anne Boleyn, you have the makings of a very sexy show."

So far, audiences are lapping the show up. More than 1 million viewers previewed the show online or through on-demand before it premiered, and more than 1.2 million viewers caught the official series premiere on April 1, the largest debut for the network in the last three years. Viewership has grown every week, according to Showtime.

The show is set to be the most successful in Showtime's 30-year history, according to Stuart Zakim, Showtime's vice president of corporate affairs. Showtime has already renewed the show for a second season with production set to start in June.

But the show also banks on the star power of Meyers, who checked into rehab today for alcohol addiction. A statement from his representative, Meredith O'Sullivan, said, "After a non-stop succession of filming Jonathan Rhys Meyers has entered an alcohol treatment program. He felt a break was needed to maintain his recovery."

BothO'Sullivan and a Showtime spokesperson tell ABC News that the actor's entrance into rehab will have no effect on the show's shooting schedule.

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