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Fun with fantasy
FEBRUARY 22, 1997

Scanned/transcribed by MaryD

LOS ANGELES (AP) If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the heroic TV fantasy series Hercules must be getting a swelled head. In recent months, such fantasy adventure shows have popped up faster in syndication than Friends clones hit the networks.

Following the path of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys are new offerings drawn from such staples of the old cliffhanger genre as Robin Hood, Tarzan, and Sinbad, each circulating in the off-peak hours TV spectrum that syndication serves. How much mythical traffic will the system bear? Well, any show survives on its ability to hold an audience.

On the successful side, Highlander, a heroic predecessor of Hercules, recently wrapped its 100th episode, and its global audience can order from a catalogue of licensed goods that range from $10 T-shirts to lethal swords that cost hundreds of dollars.

In audience pull and popularity, Hercules, in its third season, and its companion spin-off, Xena: Warrior Princess, have already shown their rippling muscles.

Rob Tapert, executive producer of both series, describes his creations as "a guilty pleasure for professors, relevant for kids" and populated with scantily clad women "for the guys who can't find the keys to the pickup."

"We knew we could make a better show than Baywatch," Tapert said.

The popularity of Here and Xena isn't related to nostalgia for corny 1950s gladiator movies or the Conan the Barbarian mould. They just don't look, or sound, like a bunch of stuff that happened on TV in an earlier life. The Hercules character played by Kevin Sorbo talks like a surfer guy and makes his warrior move with the ease of quarterback Joe Montana.
The Associated Press TV super heroine Xena, played by New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless, wields a chakram, a razor-sharp discus, during one of the episodes. Along with Hercules, Lucy Lawless, who plays Xena, is a kind of she-hunky leather queen who sails through the air like Bruce Lee and could be a dream date as long as you surrender the car keys.

"We wanted action, we wanted monsters and, for those who catch on, they'll find it funny," Tapert said.
Shot in the lush, forested locale of New Zealand, Hercules and Xena offer a fantasy universe populated with dragons, harpies, cyclops and sand-worms. The special effects created by Flat Earth productions rival those of the big screen.
Tapert and his colleague, executive producer Sam Raimi, vaulted into the mythic countryside of Hercules from the universe of action movies. They launched their careers with a cult horror flick called The Evil Dead. Together, they created macabre, action movies that included Darkman and Army of Darkness.

When they were approached to create an action TV movie derived from the Hercules legend, they hooted.
""Nobody cares about Hercules,' we said. "Give us Conan.' They told us Conan's not available," Tapert recalled.
Antecedents of Hercules and Xena were uncool even as camp. Gladiator movies? Ugh. Barbarian flicks with leaden dialogue.

But in a recent Xena episode, the warrior princess gushes, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful!" Then she tosses a bad guy with a full-arm twist and sends up the old hair-dye commercial in the same instant. Hercules regularly dispenses lines like "Come on, guys!" or observes sagely, "That's a big dragon." The tone delivers a show adults can laugh with and kids can revel in.

"I just wanted to make the kind of show that I would have watched," Tapert said. "The kind of show I would have fought my parents to watch."

But adults are watching, too. A recent fan convention in Burbank drew 4,000 people.  Plenty of adults, many in costume, turned out to see their heroes, test their steel and swarm for autographs from Sorbo and Lawless