Fun with fantasy
THE OKANAGAN SATURDAY,
FEBRUARY 22, 1997
Scanned/transcribed by MaryD
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
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
"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