Mysteries Surrounding the Creation of the Syndicated Television Show XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS
Special to WHOOSH
By Kym Masera Taborn (
Content © 1996 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 1996 held by Whoosh!
2352 words


[1] On March 5, 1995, the first media reference made to the internationally syndicated television show XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (XWP) appeared in the DAILY VARIETY. It was not a press release or an announcement (as it later was on May 5, 1995), but appeared in an article as a trailing thought in a paragraph pondering why MCA would be considering international co-partnerships ("Meidel Snaps up McNamara" by Jim Benson, DAILY VARIETY, page 1, XMR008).

[2] What implications did this have? The first HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS (HTLJ) episode with the character Xena was released March 13, 1995, eight days after the DAILY VARIETY article. This is fairly strong evidence that XWP was conceived of from the get go as a series to be ran in the wake of HTLJ's anticipated wave of popularity. That some suit at MCA would give a VARIETY reporter this information so nonchalantly shows that: (1) MCA had already been sold on the Xena idea and it was just business as usual; or (2) MCA wanted to start the hype on Xena by slowly seeping to VARIETY that something was up.

[3] Mr. Benson's DAILY VARIETY article even gave the proper title of the show: XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. The episode yet to be released on HTLJ was named WARRIOR PRINCESS, thus Mr. Benson was not confused by the names. The evidence suggests that either the decision to make XWP a series had been already made by March 13, 1995, or someone at MCA wanted to start the bandwagon rolling so that someone would be forced into making the inevitable decision.

[4] Either way, Xena was blessed from the start.



Friends 4 ever

[5] It is most interesting that the first mention of XWP to the world was made in passing in the DAILY VARIETY as an afterthought from an MCA source (March 5, 1995) BEFORE the release of HTLJ's WARRIOR PRINCESS (March 13, 1995), the first appearance of the character, Xena. It appears that the producers intended from the very start that Xena would have her own show. That WARRIOR PRINCESS was part of "the plan" (to dominate the world? to make an honest buck? to introduce the first modern action heroine to television? to mix up Hong Kong marital arts moves with campy and hip dialogue? to make any kind of buck? to hedge their bets? to make the sets they built for HTLJ go a bit further? to make an obscene amount of bucks? We shall see....).

[6] The record suggests that the decision to convert HERCULES from telemovies to a weekly show was determined sometime between May 1994 and September 1994. (Ah, the conjecture as to the effects of having Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor as co-stars, and then have them pop up with their own show a little over a year later should be fodder for much discussion...just think of the coincidence!) However, the same record does not allow adequate time for XWP to be nothing but conceived from the start as a TV show.

[7] Ponder that!


[8] HERCULES AND THE AMAZON WOMEN was released April 25, 1994, while HERCULES AND THE LOST KINGDOM was released May 2, 1994. AMAZON WOMEN had Ms. Lawless in the cast, and LOST KINGDOM co- starred Ms. O'Connor.

[9] Both movies were part of the syndicated Universal Action Pack (UAP), which began airing in January 1994. It featured TV movies revolving among TEKWAR (based upon William Shatner's book series, 4 movies), BANDIT (based upon the movie SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, 4 movies), MIDNIGHT RUN (based upon movie of same name, 4 movies), KNIGHTRIDER 2010 (based upon the TV show KNIGHTRIDER (1 movie), VANISHING SON (based upon movie of same name, 4 movies), and Xena's forebear, HERCULES (original material, 5 movies). As you can tell, real top-notch stuff.

[10] HERCULES did not debut until the release of AMAZON WOMEN on April 25, 1994, then followed the next week with LOST KINGDOM. HERCULES was not heard from again until October 17, 1994, when AMAZON WOMEN was repeated, yet again followed by LOST KINGDOM. After that, three new Hercules movies followed suit with HERCULES AND THE CIRCLE OF FIRE, HERCULES AND THE UNDERWORLD, and HERCULES AND THE MAZE OF THE MINOTAUR.

[11] MCA knew it had a potential hot property. It clearly was determined by those first two movies: movies in which appeared Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor. Is this mere coincidence? Can we detect a pattern? The timeline dictates that the decision had to have been made around May 1994. Else how could Renaissance Pictures have created three new movies which showed from October 31, 1994 to November 14, 1994, then to be followed a mere two months later with the first released episode of HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS (January 16, 1995)? Either the producers were shooting these episodes out a back of a car the week before release (highly unlikely no matter how romantic it sounds) or there was a calculated move to produce HERCULES as a series almost immediately after the first two movies were released.

[12] It's all in the timing.


[13] Robert Tapert, one of the executive producers and developers of HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS and XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, was quoted as saying, "Xena is a long story, all about ratings and budget. What it boils down to is Vanishing Son, which is a very good show in its own right, was probably not the proper show to follow directly on the heels of Hercules. The studio made a decision that they wanted to move forward with something more compatible. We had done one of the episodes with Xena, so we said, 'Hey, maybe we can do something with this.'" ("Xena: Warrior Princess follows Hercules into the treacherous ground of first-run syndication this fall" by Dan Vebber, SCI-FI UNIVERSE Vol. 2, No. 10. page 27, XMR050.2).

[14] Mr. Tapert's comment that the decision to go with XENA for a series was made after HTLJ's WARRIOR PRINCESS had been filmed (not aired) jibes completely with the timeline described above. The first media reference to XWP as a series was made in the DAILY VARIETY on 03/05/95 (XMR008). This was after HTLJ's WARRIOR PRINCESS, THE GAUNTLET, and UNCHAINED HEART had been filmed (the HTLJ's "Xena Trilogy"), but before the WARRIOR PRINCESS' release on March 13, 1995. The article, curiously enough, was not a promotional mention, but as an aside in an article about MCA hiring a new president.

[15] Apparently the role of Xena had been developed as part of a story arc to be played over a single episode which would introduce her and then be concluded two months later in a dramatic two-parter which would conclude with the warrior princess' fiery death. It was to be a "big event" for the season's last half.

[16] The role of Xena was offered to at least five other actresses who all showed great interest and intended to play the role except other events barred them last minute from starting. Finally, an actress was hired, and they began pre-production on the first of the "Xena trilogy". Three days before filming was to start, the actress was taken ill and could not appear for the filming ("TV or Not TV", by Mike Hughes, 12/29/95, GANNETT NEWS SERVICE. XMR117. Interview with Lucy Lawless).

[17] The producers remembered the actress, Lucy Lawless, who had played an Amazon in the HERCULES movie, HERCULES AND THE AMAZON WOMEN. and had played a part as a "centaur's moll" in HTLJ'S first season AS DARKNESS FALLS" ("A Woman Wielding Many Weapons, Among Them a Sneer and a Stare" by William Grimes, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 05/19/96, page 4, XMR282a). The producers were convinced that Ms. Lawless could rise to the occasion of taking on a role so quickly. They called her only to find out that she was camping in the wilderness over the New Year's weekend. Ms. Lawless was eventually found and immediately accepted the role. ("The Savage Sword of Xena" STARLOG, January 1996, No. 222, page 50). So, they hunted her down in the wilderness ("TV or Not TV" by Mike Hughes, GANNETT NEWS SERVICE, 12-29-95).

[18] Ms. Lawless took to the part so well in WARRIOR PRINCESS, that a decision was made to keep Xena alive at the end of the following two-parter. While filming the two-parter in January of 1995, Robert Tapert began discussions with Ms. Lawless about the possibility of a series for Xena starring Ms. Lawless. Ms. Lawless, at first thought it was a joke, but as soon as she determined Mr. Tapert's seriousness, she again accepted immediately. She was no fool. ("Lawless' Success All Greek to Her" by Christy Slewinski, DAILY NEWS (New York), 11-23-95, page 109, XMR084a; "The Savage Sword of Xena", STARLOG, January 1996, No. 222, page 50).

[19] The rest is history.


[20] Four days after the DAILY VARIETY's first reference to XWP and four days before the release of the HTLJ's WARRIOR PRINCESS, what is leaked to the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Gossip section? Is it MERE COINCIDENCE that author Mike Fleming used the phrase "trying to spin off a pilot"? ("Carvey Could Make 'SNL' Precious Again" by Mike Fleming, DAILY NEWS (New York), 03-09-95, XMR009).

[21] This "coincidence" suggests that WARRIOR PRINCESS was originally conceived of as a pilot from almost day one, if not day one.

[22] This "pilot" portrayed the evil Xena. The ending of WARRIOR PRINCESS clearly implied a sequel, even though the words "to be continued" were not plastered across the screen. A sequel where Xena saw the light and was rewarded with a quick, yet meaningful, fling with Hercules [you know it's meaningful because Herc starts to make those sensitive looks and brings up his deceased wife in conversation; he only does that about once a month!] was definitely the career move Xena needed to carry her to her own show.

[23] At last! No more innuendo! No more gossip! On May 3, 1995, the DAILY VARIETY finally announced that MCA would begin production on 22 Xena episodes (later expanded to 24) starting in late June 1995 and to be released September 9, 1995. They also reported that the character Xena would appear in a total of three episodes of HERCULES in the 1995 season ("MCA Sets 'Hercules' Spinoff" by Jim Benson, DAILY VARIETY, 05/03/95, page 3, XMR011).

[24] THE GAUNTLET, the second Xena episode in HERCULES first season, was released May 1, 1995. It was followed a week later by UNCHAINED HEART, released May 8, 1995. This official announcement therefore came out between the two episodes: before Xena's new leaf had been consummated which was to become the dramatic basis of her new series.

[25] Xena: Battle On.


[26] Some critics almost immediately picked up that XENA was not going to be their father's HERCULES. The obvious explanation for this was that Xena was inherently dark while Hercules had no fundamental internal conflict. Some critics found it a strength while others a weakness.

[27] When reviewing the XWP series, many critics referred to Lucy Lawless' previous Hercules appearances. The non-Xena shows which Ms. Lawless appeared on in HTLJ were HERCULES AND THE AMAZON WOMEN, AS DARKNESS FALLS, and THE OUTCAST. Ms. Lawless appeared as Xena in WARRIOR PRINCESS, THE GAUNTLET, and UNCHAINED HEART.

[28] Along with the XWP episodes airing between these appearances, I have prepared a schedule in chronological release order, which gives the release date, the title of the episode or telemovie, and the character Ms. Lawless played:

04/25/94 HERCULES AND THE AMAZON WOMEN (Lysia, an Amazon)

02/20/95 AS DARKNESS FALLS (Lyla, future partner of centaur, Deric)


05/01/95 THE GAUNTLET (Xena)

05/08/95 UNCHAINED HEARTS (Xena)

[09/04/95] SINS OF THE PAST XWP episode #1

[09/11/95] CHARIOTS OF WAR " #2

[09/18/95] DREAMWORKER " #3

[09/25/95] CRADLE OF HOPE " #4

[10/02/95] THE PATH NOT TAKEN " #5

10/02/95 THE OUTCAST (Lyla, partner of Deric, mother of Kiefer).

[29] Not including HERCULES AND THE AMAZON WOMEN, Ms. Lawless appeared ten times in a seven and a half month period (not including re-releases). What is the meaning of all this? Who knows? Perhaps merely more XenaTrivia. Or is it more evidence of a conspiracy? You decide!


[30] From the initial mysterious reference in the DAILY VARIETY, to the full-blown announcement, and finally to the scurrying of the trademongers as they determined amongst themselves what kind of show and risk XWP had to offer to them, XENA WARRIOR PRINCESS came with a whimper but within two months hit the market like a sledge-hammer.

[31] The powers that be knew it had a potential winner and it peaked the trade journals' interest. From there, it was a proverbial piece of cake getting 94% national coverage and a commitment to run the episodes to September 1996 (and eventually snag a two year renewal and the USA Network purchasing the lucrative stripping rights to begin in 1998). None of the subsequent STAR TREKs had that high of an initial coverage at their debuts.

[32] As the march of time showed, MCA's and Renaissance Pictures' expectations were not only met but far surpassed. It is illuminating to see how their path to success was tread.


A posed, but appreciated, shot

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