The Straits Times (Singapore)
By "Sunday Plus" pages 1-2
2 Photos: "Here's to higher ratings and more spin-offs ... Kevin Sorbo (left) as Hercules and Lucy Lawless as Xena." (Page 2) "Made-for-TV mythology made easy"
WHOOSH mention in a overview of the HERK/XENA phenom as it existed at the beginning of 1997.
ME HERCULES, SHE XENA He is Hercules, as a SNAG (sensitive New Age guy). She is the Wonder Woman of the '90s. They cheerfully mangle Greek myths and fight computer-generated monsters every Sunday, and in Singapore, they have won followings of about 333,000 and 200,000 viewers respectively. ONG SOR FERN finds out what their appeal is, on Page 2. A HERO who is, literally, a Greek god -okay, half a god if you want to be picky -goes around battling mythic monsters and vengeful gods. A leather-clad heroine who can beat the living daylights out of half-a-dozen thugs before breakfast, dreaded "A-yi-yiyi-yi-yi-yi!" war-cry and all. If you have no idea what this is all about, then you have not been watching Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (Sundays, 7.30 pm) and Xena: Warrior Princess (Sundays, 1 pm). Purists may scoff at the shows which mangle Greek myths cheerfully on a weekly basis, but the ratings for Hercules and Xena are not to be sniffed at. In the United States, Hercules made the headlines when the muscleman beat a heavyweight in the ratings war, the top-rated Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Even the ultimate babes-and-hunks fest, Baywatch, sank in the wake of the mythic hero's popularity. At home, Hercules brings in the highest ratings for an acquired show on Channel 5, according to a spokesman for the Television Corporation of Singapore. It gets about 333,000 viewers every week and Xena follows hot on Hercules' leather-booted heels with about 200,000 viewers per week. No mean feat for shows with tongue-twisting names like Salmoneus and Deianeira, and a mind-boggling array of Greek gods, hitherto familiar only to dusty academics toiling away in libraries on obscure theses. Mythic appeal ALTHOUGH both shows boast good-looking leads with plenty of bronzed flesh, displayed impressively in a tattered vest or a designer armour with bustier and mini-skirt to match, the hunk quotient is relatively low. Maybe shooting the series on location in New Zealand limits the talent pool. After all, Lucy Lawless, who plays Xena, actually appeared in Hercules twice as different characters before dyeing her blonde hair black to play the warrior princess who kicked her way into a spin-off series. Hercules actually started out as a series of made-for-television movies. MCA/Universal approached film-makers Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert in 1993, and their movies were so successful the studio ordered a weekly drama spin-off. Given the credentials of director-producer Raimi and producer Tapert, a cult hit, in retrospect, was inevitable. The duo's Renaissance Pictures company is responsible for cult movies like The Evil Dead and Army Of Darkness. More recently, Raimi's name has been seen headlining another show, American Gothic, also being shown on Channel 5 (Sundays, midnight). When Raimi and Tapert came on board, they studied the competition -all those old strongman movies, starring everyone from Steve Reeves to Lou Ferrigno to Arnold Schwarzenegger -and realised they had a Herculean task ahead. In an interview with the magazine Satellite TV Week, Tapert said: "The problems with those movies are the bad, stilted dialogue, togas and people running around in Greek ruins. "So, we came up with our own universe of no togas, no ruins, and we wanted to get a Hercules who was more a quarterback than a muscleman." Enter Kevin Sorbo, better known then as the guy in the Jim Beam whisky commercials. Unlike the Greek hero of yore, who went about slaying monsters left, right and centre, Sorbo's Hercules prefers to talk his way out, if possible, before he clobbers the enemy. And the clobbering is done Hongkong gongfu-style, with plenty of kick-boxing and leaping, resulting in assorted thugs getting flung halfway across the village square or crashing through the stick-thin walls of the nearest hut. Then there are the slick, computer-generated monsters, including a snake woman, a three-headed dog and the multi-headed serpent Hydra. The dialogue got an update too. The result: a Hercules who not only looks like, but also talks like, a California surfer. When confronted with glowering goons in one episode, Hercules comments drolly: "Look ugly, dress funny, smell bad ... You must work for Hera." Which brings us to the heart of the show's appeal -its sense of humour and high camp quotient. Its producers make no pretence at profundity and admit happily that they play fast and loose with Greek myths, which provide the basis for many stories. Last week's episode is a case in point. The story revolved around Persephone, the beautiful daughter of Demeter, the Earth Mother. Persephone is kidnapped by Hades, the king of Hell, and Demeter goes into a rage. In the original myth, it is the gods who intervene. Here, the scriptwriters give the task to Hercules. And the way they write up Persephone will probably have Homer spinning in his grave. Persephone is a blonde bimbo who picks flowers and wants to save a piglet from being eaten by Cheiron, Hell's ferryman. She thinks Hades is "sexy" and digs the "wild chariot ride" which happened when she was snatched from the world of the living. '90s heroine THE comedy which plays such a crucial role in Hercules is less evident in its sister series, Xena: Warrior Princess. Lucy Lawless stars as a lean, mean fighting machine. This is one woman you do not want to mess with, as she racks up a higher body count than Hercules. In fact, she first appeared on Hercules as a warrior bent on killing the big guy himself. In the course of the three-episode story, she soon sees the error of her ways and becomes an ally, and his love interest. As the first action heroine on primetime television since Wonder Woman back in the late '70s, she has won a bona-fide following of her own. The number of websites devoted to her is far more than those dedicated to her hunky counterpart. There is even an International Association Of Xena Studies, a group of Xena-philes on the Internet, who publish an e-zine Whoosh, devoted to all things Xena. As the ultimate proof of the hit status of the two shows, other studios are hunting up other legends feverishly to turn into shows. In the pipeline are two weekly dramas based on Tarzan and Sinbad. So get out your Bullfinch's Mythologies or Edgar Rice Burroughs and study your legends, because more hits-and-myths are headed your way.
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