Entertainment Weekly

October 2000

''Xena'''s influence will outlive the canceled show. The syndicated action heroine has always been TV's toughest woman, says Kristen Baldwin

Before ''Xena: Warrior Princess'' debuted in 1995 (as a spinoff of ''Hercules: The Legendary Journeys''), television paid a lot of lip service to presenting ''empowered'' female characters -- but there was always a catch that kept these otherwise strong women down. Sure, Angie Dickinson was taking on bad guys as the titular ''Police Woman'' in 1974, but because her character, by the book Sgt. Pepper Anderson, worked on the vice squad, she did most of her job posing as a hooker or a tramp.

Two years later television was teeming with shows about tough women; unfortunately, they were all filtered through a '70s T&A lens. The women in ''Charlie's Angels'' got by on their looks and ''feminine wiles'' rather than their wits or brawn, and their relationship with the unseen Charlie always had a seedy subtext.

Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter) may have been able to deflect bullets with her Feminum bracelets, and force confessions with her truthtelling lasso, but at the end of the day her alter ego, Diana Prince, still had to work for an often condescending male boss, Major Steve Trevor. Even the Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner) didn't represent true girl power, as all of her strength came from spare parts supplied by the government.

Lucy Lawless' Xena, on the other hand, represented the first time a female TV character got to be strong, independent, and accountable to no one. Before she could get her own series, Xena -- who appeared as an evil fighter in ''Hercules'' -- had to renounce her sinister ways and vow to help people with her butt-kicking prowess. Even so, the warrior princess was never forced to give up her anger, and she was always allowed to be mean.

Not ''steal your boyfriend'' or ''dis your outfit'' mean -- which had been the usual lot of the TV tough girl -- but ''mess with me and I'll crush your skull'' mean. Thus, ''Xena'' paved the way for current series about butt kicking babes like ''Buffy the Vampire Slayer'' and ''Dark Angel.'' The leather clad Amazon was even allowed to relapse into her baddie ways every once and awhile -- and darn if she wasn't just as appealing as a villainess.

Though the production company, Studios USA, has announced that the show is going to end next summer (due to a shrinking number of available time slots in prime time), I think it's highly doubtful ''Xena'' will go away for good. Fans have already launched a ''Save Xena'' letter writing campaign -- encouraged, no doubt, by the revival of the once canceled ''La Femme Nikita,'' and Studios USA will likely keep looking for a buyer for the No. 1 rated action hour. Are you listening, Sci Fi Channel? Yi yi yi yi yi!

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