The executive producers on this new first-run syndication series talk about bringing the fantasy genre back to the small screen.
Once upon a time in the 90s, first-run syndication was big. Baywatch, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess were all big hits in the format, but it, and the fantasy genre on the small screen have since faded away, until now. Rob Tapert, who was behind both Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess has now teamed up with genre icon Sam Raimi for a brand new first-run syndication series entitled Legend of the Seeker, which will premiere on Saturday, November 1 (CLICK HERE to find out the times and channels this series will be broadcast in your area). I was in on a conference call with Raimi and Tapert, the two executive producers of this new series, and here's what they had to say about their new foray into fantasy.
You were one of the first, with Xena: Warrior Princess to show really strong women on TV. What have you noticed about television since then and also, this woman seems to be the same kind of action hero, but maybe in a different way. Xena was bigger and stronger than some of the guys she was fighting and this one doesn't seem to be. Can you describe this new female hero?
Rob Tapert: Well, frankly, I think we were very fortunate with Xena, the right place at the right time, with the birth of the Internet. It was the first female action hero, really to be on TV at that time since Cagney & Lacey or The Bionic Woman or Wonder Woman in the 70s. Universal took a real chance. We were fortunate. It really opened the door, at that time, for the woman as the hero and as the protagonist and that really mushroomed and we've seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias and numerous shows in the league of very strong characters that have come since then.
Regarding this, this character, Kahlan, is very different than Xena. Kahlan is drawn from the great books that Terry Goodkind wrote. Sam and I fell in love with this character and she's a female action character for 2009. She has a different complexity, a different secret, a different reason for doing what she does. She's perhaps more feminine, at the same time as being more ruthless than Xena was.
In keeping with Kahlan, what was it that drew you to Bridget (Regan) for the role?
Sam Raimi: Rob was the one who found Bridget and showed her to me. When I saw her, I just thought she was... I believed her. I believed the things that she said. Obviously, she's striking and quite beautiful to look at, but she made these fantastic situations, these fantasy situations, she grounded them by being very human and real. I was moved by her and I believed her and I thought we couldn't ask for anything more, because these are stories of friendship and loyalty and self-sacrifice and if you don't really believe the people in the center, if you don't really believe that they're rooted in someone who really exists in a three-dimensional way, those stories won't have the weight and they won't work at all. Rob, how did you come upon her?
Rob Tapert: I couldn't have said what appealed to us about Bridget, more eloquently than Sam did. It was just a casting call. She was in New York and she showed up on the tapes that we got and myself and other people involved really liked her and I went over one Sunday afternoon and showed her to Sam and we all kind of concurred that she would bring the life of the Kahlan that we had read in the books and loved.
Are any of the Renaissance Pictures regulars going to be making cameos in this?
Sam Raimi: Ted Raimi is in the next episode after this. If Bruce Campbell... his show is so successful, Burn Notice, it's a great success, but if they ever gave him a break, Rob and I would love to have him on Legend of the Seeker.
Aside from their popularity, what was it about these books that made you want to turn them into a series?
Sam Raimi: I didn't know how popular they were. They have an intense following of people that are really dedicated and in love with the characters. I guess it wasn't the popularity that I knew about when I read the books. Our other partner Josh Donen, said to me one day, 'My son has read this book and he just loves it. He can't put it down. Would you take a look at it?' So I said, 'Yes, please.' I read it and I was just swept away like I am during the original William Shatner Star Trek episodes. It has all the classic elements of sword-and-sorcery types of adventures, but I just was so attracted to the characters that Terry Goodkind created. When he tells the story of this young boy, who is thrust into this world that he's unfamiliar with and he tells the story of how this boy has quickly adapt and matching these skills to survive and help others. It's how you connect with the boy and how you really respect him in the writing. I really liked the person that is the hero. He has a good heart and a good soul and he strives to do the right thing. He falls very much in love, throughout the course of these books, with Kahlan, the character we were just talking about. She has a secret that will prevent this love and I just got swept up in the love story between the two of them. It's such a noble character and I wanted each of them to be together and I wanted to know what this terrible secret was that kept them apart. What was she hiding that wouldn't allow them to be together? Also, they do have a great villain and Terry came up with Darken Rahl, just the most nasty, terrible villain. I really felt threatened. I felt our main character was threatened when Darken Rahl was coming after them. So, I think that all the reasons why we love a great, classic story, great characters, great friendships, that's one of my favorite aspects, actually. The friendship between the wizard, Zedd, the older man who's the father figure in the story and to our hero. I like the love story, the adventure, whether he'll survive his next terrible trap, so that he can succeed so he can give us the love story I'm so interested in.
Are you planning to diverge from those books and taking those characters in another direction, or are you following them pretty closely?
Rob Tapert: We've actually stayed true to the characters and what we've done is we've taken aspects of the book, even storylines from the book, and blended those into episodes that differ from the book. We've had to, in the world of television, create the events that were not portrayed in the book, but still remain true to the characters, the theme and what's happening within the overarching story within the book.
Sam Raimi: We wanted to satisfy the viewers completely, in the sense that we need to have a beginning, a middle and an end in each hour story that the viewers come to see. Yet, no novel is really constructed that way. Obviously we had to take some license with the book, as far as plot events, so that each episode had a conflict for the main character, each episode had a theme, and a beginning, a middle and an end, whereas linear novels have one beginning, middle and end through the course of the book. That is to be expected. I think there is no television program that could work any other way, with a closed format. But, I think the most important thing, at least for me, is that we remain true to the heart and soul of the characters, what they represent, what they stand for, the good things that they're fighting for, what are they're weaknesses and how to overcome them, what the villain represents to the hero, the love story. Those will all be intact and brought as close as possible by our writers to the screen. The actual plot of it, though, happens in a slightly different order and sometimes different stories will be told, as depicted in the series of novels.
The show seems a lot more straight-forward than Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. It's not really being played with any sort of a campy factor. Is that how you intend it to be going forward, or will that change as time goes on?
Rob Tapert: Herc and Xena were never campy, were they?
Well, maybe just a little.
Rob Tapert: We've gone out of our way with the directors and the writer Ken Biller to take that 90s, post-modern aspect out of the show. It's been a very deliberate attempt to play this as real and urgent and, that's not to take away what's happened with Herc and Xena, but we weren't afraid at that time to embrace the post-modern aspects of it. This is trying to be as honest as it can to the books that Terry Goodkind wrote.
Sam Raimi: That's really what we sought was Goodkind's characters and his tone. That's what we're going for. It's not at all tongue-in-cheek. I don't think it will ever get into that tone. It's really just about telling these stories about these characters and the sacrifices they make for each other and it's about the meaning of real friendship and the hero's journey.
Why are you coming back to television now with this story? Did you think it was a good time?
Sam Raimi: I just so loved Terry Goodkind's books. Wizard's First Rule is really just the first in a series of this series. I think he's got 11 books in this series. They are so gripping and you can't put them down. I just wanted to bring this to the screen, this material to the screen. I was thinking with Rob and Josh Donen, should we make it a movie, because just with the first book we'd have to cut out so much. That would be terrible. Then we said could we make it a five-part mini-series? That wouldn't touch all the great stories. What should we do? It was really Terry Goodkind who decided that he wanted to do it as a television program, a weekly television program because he felt that we could relate most of the important aspects of the series of books through that format. There was enough time to touch on enough of the ideas that it could be more satisfying than the other alternatives. I think in any translation of film medium or television medium, there are going to be some things lost and I think he knew that. I don't want to speak for Terry, but I think he felt that this would be the best chance at getting the most important aspects of the books. What do you think, Rob?
Rob Tapert: I think that's exactly right. Sam came in and said this is the material we should be returning to the television business with. An old executive, when we were doing Herc and Xena, Ned Nollen, came to us and said that Tribune may be able to get back into the first-run syndicated action business and things kind of all fell in place, as they do when they're meant to happen. It was fortuitous on many fronts.
So does this series kind of extend the universe that Terry Goodkind created?
Rob Tapert: That's right. We used the book as tentpoles, as the fort. The book had six or eight big events, we use those big events as the tentpoles within the seasons and then there are episodes that happen between those big tentpole events.
You talked about wanting Bruce Campbell to guest star earlier, but are there any guest stars that you can tell us about in this series?
Rob Tapert: There are quite a few people because we're shooting in New Zealand. There are some relatively famous Australians in that. For right now, I can't say. George Clooney is not in it. He turned us down.
Someone asked you earlier what you saw in Bridget, so I'd like to ask what you saw in Craig Horner that made you think he could be an action hero?
Rob Tapert: We saw Craig on tape and we absolutely thought he was the guy, instantly. He had a quality, he was likeable, he was handsome. Then, in the world of television, we actually couldn't get him. We couldn't get a deal with him. It was just one of those things, for whatever reason, that we couldn't get a deal closed, so we went to the studio with other actors and they said they didn't see what they saw in him. We said he was down in Australia and we couldn't close this deal and they came back and said yes, he's the guy. They closed his deal and got him on a plane. We saw him and instantly fell in love with him and he's a wonderful actor to work with and he never took off his shirt the entire time we were doing that. We got on set and it was like, 'Oh my God.' He's quite ripped. He's a lovely individual. We brought him to Los Angeles, we got him in the room with Bridget and had a chemistry reading and we said that's our pairing.
Sam Raimi: He's a very good actor. He can make scenes very believable. He's older than the character he plays and he makes you believe he's only 18 years old, 19 years old. That's good. I believe he's somebody who I'm going to enjoy watching grow, because a character really matures throughout the course of these books. He is a boy who becomes a leader and a fighter for what's just and the equivalent of the only thing that can save the land. Everything comes upon his shoulders and I think he's got enough good qualities in him, in real life, and he will probably make the audience believe that he's taking that ride towards making a responsible person and that growth of character that's so important for me in the stories of Terry Goodkind.
Legend of the Seeker premieres on Saturday, November 1. For information on the time and channel you can view this brand new first-run syndication series, visit LegendOfTheSeeker.com for the listings in your area.