Hercules: The Legendary Journeys -- 2 Season


Daily Variety
by Brian Lowry

MCA unleashed an unlikely firstrun hit in H:TLJ <> mix of action, goofy dialogue and nifty special effects. H:TLJ stumbled into a formula that incorporates plenty of action, reasonably good effects on an obvious budget, a self-effacing sense of humor, California surfer dialogue that for some reason doesn't seem out of place and enough scantily clad flesh to qualify as a sort of mythological "Baywatch."


New York Times
Syndication Gravy Train Adds Cars

by John J. O'Connor

"Hercules" and its spinoff "Xena". <...> Part 1930's Robin Hood movies, part Bruce Lee karate romps, these campy comix are made in New Zealand. Special effects and a carefree looniness keep the action diverting. H:TLJ, starring Kevin Sorbo, quickly rose to the top levels of syndicated ratings. The producers say they were aiming for humor and a "Butch-and-Sundance mentality." The time is supposed to be long before ancient Greece and Rome in a fantastic mythical world. There are, however, no togas. Sets and costumes, the producers note, "incorporate style elements from a wide range of historical periods and geographical locales." In other words, use anything you can find in the flea market.
Unlike Steve Reeves, Mr. Sorbo is tall and compact. His Hercules is a good and honest man who attempts to work things out peacefully. <...>


Tampa Tribune
by Mike Duffy

H:TLJ, the tongue-in-cheek comic book adventure that created a splash in syndication last year and displaced "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" as the top-rated one-hour series in syndication. Herc, played with wry, dashing affability by handsome Kevin Sorbo, is back for a new season this weekend. <...> "Xena" doesn't yet match H:TLJ in mixing the comedy and action elements.


Chicago Tribune

by Allan Johnson

"Hercules" works as a campy romp because star Sorbo is having fun with the role, and neither he nor the producers are taking the character and the setting seriously. <...>


Sci-Fi Universe #10
Herc's So Good

by Dan Vebber

<...> On Sorbo's latest acting gig, togas are few and far between, the most surprisingly popular reshaping of the Hercules mythos in years. In fact, the show's success is undoubtedly due at least in part to its smarmy refusal to appear in any way to be an accurate Greco-Roman period piece. The columned temples, flowing robes and poetry drenched dialogue of past mythology spawned programs and movies are conspicuously absent from this Hercules, replaced with ranch-style huts, tailored West Hollywood-ready fashion ensembles and snappy buddy-picture banter. Fans of the show seem to revel in the fact that even its title is a misnomer - these aren't the "Legendary Journeys"; they're journeys based loosely-if at all-on the legends, and converted into something with far more entertainment value and media savvy by executive producers Robert Tapert and Sam Raimi. So much media savvy that the show became the highest rated new program in syndication last season. <...>
Raimi's personal involvement in Hercules has varied since the project's inception, and as result Tapert was left to oversee production of the bulk of the movies and the show's first season. "Once we had the tone, the character and what we were doing down, after we were pretty far along planning the movies, [Raimi] got involved in "The Quick and the Dead," Tapert says. "But when he was done with that, he jumped right back in, and he's been heavily involved with this upcoming season." Ambitious movie-style angles and crane shots abound, and camera movement - especially during fight sequences - is extremely kinetic for a television show. According to Tapert, "We don't tell the directors to direct in any particular way, it just boils down to what we like. We like those things flying through the air, and the directors we get are usually after the same effects as we are."

<...> The show may not feature many gods, but it certainly isn't hurting for freakish mythological monsters. Cyclopes, Hydras and (perhaps most impressively) half-human, half-horse centaurs appear on a regular basis, created through a combination of makeup, mechanics and computer animation. The increasing financial and technological feasibility of computer effects has birthed creatures that are far more lifelike than their stop-motion-animated predecessors, and these provide the cornerstone of the show's fantastic visual style. Unfortunately for Tapert, such effects are very time-consuming, and fitting them into the harried schedule of a weekly series has proven to be the most difficult aspect of producing the show. For now, the producers make a conscious effort to have one spectacular monster every two or three episodes. "The monsters we've used so far have been kind of single-minded, nasty things, with only a plan of eating or killing," he says. "To have monsters with a more interesting plan or motivation will be more satisfying for the audience." <...>

Though Tapert has never pursued any great expertise in mythology, he has always respected it as an interesting way of framing morality tales. Each episode, therefore, has a very definite life lesson (extolling virtues like friendship, honesty and selflessness) hidden within an easily digestible story. Explaining the morality inherent in the series, Tapert admits to being inspired by the original Star Trek. "That show had simple morals, heroic main characters and good guys winning, all the while maintaining a balance between humor and drama. That's what we hope to do with our show."
Sorbo agrees, but stresses that the show tries to frame the morality in ways that won't send virtue-overdosed viewers fumbling for the remote. "The way the show was written, I think there's a lot of diversity involved in it. There is some heavy drama and morality, but what makes it interesting for people is that the action and fight scenes have so much humor in them that it's easy to see that this isn't supposed to be weighty. I don't think it's intended to be taken as seriously as classical written mythology was. The scenery, the way we dress, the way the dialogue basically pops from century to century, I think that's what makes it fun." Sorbo also finds humor in the fact that his show is as close to a mythology lesson as many of his viewers will ever get. "There are a slew of people who have never even seen or heard of Hercules," he laughs. "This is their first exposure to the character, so to them, I am him."

<...> Whether the show has marketability outside the television arena will be tested this holiday season when a gaggle of Hercules action figures and related merchandise hits the toy shelves. Strangely, this wooing of the younger viewer is one of the things Tapert fears could lead to sticky situations in the program's future. "Right now we only have one target audience: people who like entertaining stories," Tapert says. "But with the toys and all, I can see that on the horizon they'll want us to keep the show 100% family. We might have to battle once in a while to spin those different types of stories that keep the audience on their toes."
Tapert's vision for the show may seem haphazard and nebulous, but none can deny that it's worked thus far. H:TLJ is perhaps most remarkable in its total lack of cynicism. People like the show for no-brainer reasons: it's simple, moralistic, and it's just plain fun to see a good guy beating up bad monsters.


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Hercules, Xena give legends a loony charm
by Joanne Weintraub

You wouldn't confuse this hourlong adventures with a BBC adaptation of "Bulfinch's Mythology," but H:TLJ after just a single season in national syndication, displayed enough loony charm to end up on both Rolling Stone's "Hot List" and Entertainment Weekly's annual canon of Cool.
Shot in New Zealand by American TV and film monstermeister Sam Raimi ("The Evil Dead," "Darkman," "American Gothic"), the show employ a mix of Yanks and Kiwis, so that when half the actors are going around yelling, say, "Join our party!" the other half are bellowing, "Jawn air paddy!" Played by an astonishing hunk from Minnesota named Kevin Sorbo, Herc goes everywhere in tight breeches and a distractingly teeny tunic. The gods have endowed him with not only a blinding smile and a totally buff bod, but a working sense of humor as well, so that, unlike Hercules-es of the past, he actually has more charisma than a tree. Our hero despises violence but is forced by an endless parade of warlike barbarians to engage in long, exhausting bouts of self-defense.
Unfortunately, the creators seem to want to have their cake and beat it, too, giving Hercules ample time each week to commit mayhem on other people (and the occasional god or Gorgon) so as to teach them that mayhem is bad. It's a shame these good guys can't go for five minutes without having to teach some bad guy a lesson by means of a pre-Greco-Roman knuckle sandwich, because in other ways H:TLJ would be good fun for families. The jokes are light-hearted, the slapstick is nimble, the scenery is groovy and the odd giant serpent or many-headed horror is more than adequately animated. If the fisticuffs and spear-slinging don't bother you too much, you may want to look in on this once or twice. Or even Thrace.


20/20 "Hits and Myths" (New Zealand TV)

Reporter: New Zealand has a growing reputation worldwide for quality films and for being a great film location. Now there's a new production: a TV series watched by millions of Americans every week. It may not be an intellectual giant, but it's huge in every other way. Characters larger than life, monsters, breasts and biceps, and for it's makers, most important, ratings. <...> It's the "Lord of the Rings" with muscles; an ancient Greece with a nineties twist. It's "Star Trek" with chariots. It's out-racing "Baywatch" and it's shot in Auckland. <...> The Kiwis' production of H:TLJ and X:WP has pumped more than fifty million dollars into Auckland. Few people outside the film business realize the scale of the production. More than 500 crafts people work full-time on the productions making the props, costumes, and sets.
Eric Gruendemann (producer): We wanted to do something very different with the Hercules theme. It's normally done in a sword-and-sandal manner and which means arid landscapes. We wanted to turn that completely on it's ear and go lush primordial. This country has an amazing array of distinctive beautiful locations that we've been utilizing. That combined with the fact that it's more financially advantageous at this time to shoot down here and also I found there was an amazing pool of talent not only in cast, but crew.

<...> Michael Hurst: I think it might be a Kiwi thing that we don't think about that. We did one episode where I had to dive off a little jettie and wrestle with a sort of foam rubber eel and it was really exhausting, and I got a call back from the States saying, "My God, that's actually you in there." And I think we just don't even think twice about it. With "Hey yeah, I've got do this. All right."
<...> Reporter: "Hercules" and "Xena" are giving the New Zealand acting profession more work than they've had in years. So far there have been 800 roles, 350 of them with dialog, and that's not counting the extras.
Diane Rowan (casting director): Well, every week I have to find 40 actors for X:WP and H:TLJ, 40 American-speaking actors! For every episode I think, "We're not going to make it. This isn't going to happen this time. This is it. The last episode being made." And somehow we pull through and then we sort of take the next script which usually comes about seven days before we get to shoot it, so we have roughly six or seven days to cast each episode. <...>

Kevin Sorbo: The crews down here are fantastic. I mean this show, I think, is second to none in production value. It's filmed like a major motion picture. You know, they came down here to save money; they didn't come down here to save production value. The production value down here is fantastic. I know we got the best people in the country.


20/20 "Hits and Myths" (New Zealand TV)

Kevin Sorbo: We have dolls coming out in November.
Reporter: But the dolls haven't turned out entirely as expected?
Sorbo: I think the dolls kind of suck, okay. Next time put our real bodies on the doll.
Hurst: They put them on kind of stock bodies is what they did
Sorbo: They put us on "Masters of the Universe" bodies.
Hurst: It's totally unrealistic. I mean our show is about reality, let's face it.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Beefcake, Cheesecake on TV's Myth Menu

by Ellis Widner

Since Herc and Xena hit the airwaves, Saturday night TV's a lot more fun. Both shows have simple, good-vs.-evil story lines. Good always triumphs, but not without a struggle that can involve swordplay, wordplay and goofy martial arts battles with beasts - human and mythological. Special effects are darn good, too. Then there's the beefcake and cheesecake factor. Hercules is a muscular, handsome hunk who runs around in the same outfit all the time: skin-tight pants and a shirt that never seems to be fastened. No buttons back then, I guess. The gods play rough, but Herc triumphs, his sunny disposition and sense of humor intact. Herc is the classic good guy seeking to right wrongs, to help protect humans against the gods' whims. He's a sensitive, New Age kinda guy.
Sounds like adventures in bimbo//himbo land, doesn't it? But what sets these shows above programs like "Baywatch" are the story lines. There's a moral. The dialogue is often tongue-in-cheek, with good-natured jabs at everything from New Age philosophies to relationships set in plots involving cyclops, centaurs and cranky deities. Both shows play loose with mythology. To Hollywood, even the gods are not sacred.
Hercules is played by Kevin Sorbo, a Minnesota native who's 6 feet 3 inches tall, weighs 215 and does most of his own stunts.


Evening Post (Wellington, NZ)

by Phil Wakefield

The US syndicated TV hit "Hercules" has been shooting in Auckland since 1993, and this year spawned a sister sandals-and-swords romp called "Xena". Both shows are widely watched in the US, where Hercules has been out-rating "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Baywatch". <...> The shows have been a boon to the local film and TV industry, employing dozens of actors, 300 permanent crew and up to 100 casuals. By March they will have pumped $ 74 million into the economy. Among the faces viewers will recognize are Herculean star Kevin Sorbo, who was in the "this ain't Jim Beam" ads, and local leads Michael Hurst and Lucy Lawless.


Science Fiction Explorer (Starlog) #10

John Schulian (head writer): Michael Hurst is gold. He's a wonderful Shakespearean actor from New Zealand, and he's lovely guy who takes great joy in doing the fight scenes, which is probably something he has never been asked to do before. He's just great fun, and he really helps bring Kevin up as an actor. The two of them have a real rapport on screen that's so wonderful. They really like each other in real life, which isn't always the case, and it comes across on-screen as well.


Austin American-Statesman
Hercules' star Sorbo plays it cool

by Kinney Littlefield

"When the first movie came out, critics weren't exactly getting what we were trying to do," Sorbo says of Herc's great Greek goof, spawned by the twisted minds of producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. "Now I guess I'm Hercules for an entire generation of people under 20 who were never exposed to him before. If you compare this Hercules to the old Hercules films (among them 1959 and 1960 Steve Reeves flexflicks 'Hercules' and 'Hercules Unchained') this one's more affable, more intelligent. He laughs, he stumbles. And he isn't afraid to make fun of himself."
But stunts are Sorbo's biggest rush. They happen often, because someone's always chasing Herc. Sorbo does most of his own fight scenes, although "falling down five flights of stairs I leave to the stunt guys." <...> You wouldn't think it to watch pumped-up action, but Sorbo's concern is making sure the show's writers don't turn Herc into a wimp. "They'll have me fighting just one guy one week, after I moved a 100-ton boulder or mowed down 40 to 50 guys the week before. I tell the writers that doesn't make any sense. I mean there's got to be an element of danger."


TV Guide
A Sensitive Superhero Classical mythology takes it on the chin in Kevin Sorbo's tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the buff, bronzed demigod

by Glenn Esterly

Darn those thieving hoodlums, the Ugly Brothers. Drat, not the wicked Darphus and his soul-eating dog again. And that pesky demonic Snake Woman? - been there, beat that. All in a day's work for Hercules. What ya gonna do when you're stuck in the Bronze age, and you're a people person, and you have all these expectations from a populace that's sick and tired of getting sacrificed to a multiplicity of gods who manipulate mortals for sport. Add on the dilemma you're not sure whether you're a god like the old man, Zeus, or mortal, like mom. And that the mother of all stepmothers, Hera, queen of the gods, tries to torment you at every turn. It's a wonder poor Herc isn't spread-eagled on the ancient Greek equivalent of a shrink's couch.
Instead, as played by Kevin Sorbo, Hercules is undefeated, untied and largely unperturbed. Sorbo's relaxed, tongue-in-cheek approach to the mythic muscleman is a major reason H:TLJ, which debuted in January, became the surprise syndicated hit of 1995, even beating the world-wide hit Baywatch in the Neilson ratings in the U.S., and spawning a spin-off in "Xena". <...>
"Hercules has empathy," Sorbo says, "He's been a victim himself. He lost his own family, wife and children to an evil god in a ball of fire. So he knows what other people are going through and he'd rather help them than walking around saying, 'Hey, what about me?'"
Even snarly beasts get a break. Asked to share a meal with a half-man, half-horse, Herc replies sincerely, "I'd love to - it's been years since I broke bread with a centaur." Sorbo's sensitive version follows many no-neck, physically intimidating, inarticulate Hercules before him, including Steve Reeves, Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger, at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Sorbo couldn't match their heft, but that turned out to be an advantage. Executive producer Rob Tapert: "This Hercules tries to use reason before he has to resort to force."
Sorbo points out that he had to figure out for himself the overall demeanour that a Hercules for the '90s needed to attract a large audience. "Nobody gave me a guidebook to playing the character in a way that works for today," he says. <...>
Sorbo has no doubt that the lush New Zealand landscape is a co-star in the success of H:TLJ. "The look is great," he says, "and the special effects are great. I think a lot of weeks we look as good as a feature film." It also doesn't hurt that Herc's world is populated with lots of gorgeous women close to popping out of their breastplates. Says Sorbo: "My L.A. friends call it 'Hercules in the Land of Cleavage'."


Boston Herald

by Mark A. Perigard

<...> Kevin Sorbo makes for a skinny Hercules, but the show has a sense of fun and derring-do.


Palm Beach Post

by Larry Aydlette

H:TLJ and X:WP - Take a bad '60s sci-fi movie, really weak acting and gags too stale for Mel Brooks and you've got these two superhero shows. Hercules features an incredible hunk fighting off dinosaurs and fending off comely maidens. Of course, the stars look good, which is wise, since their modern California dialect contrasts hilariously with their period costumes.


Gannett News Service
by Mike Hughes

Kevin Sorbo, a muscular Minnesotan with an articulate charm, stars. <...> Quality, of course, is another thing. There are only so many stories one can tell with amazons or demigods in the woods. Still, viewers like the robust nature of the setting, the stories and Sorbo.


Entertainment Weekly Magazine
Tv's Most Pec-tacular Duo
by A.J.Jacobs

Thank Zeus for those few TV shows free of latte bars and Manhattan apartments. In other words, thank Zeus for buff thespians Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless, who masterfully lord over H:TLJ and X:WP. This year, Sorbo's Fabio-length locks and deadpan delivery snagged him both colossal Hercules ratings. <...>



by Diane Werts

"Hercules". Well. What can we say? This one came out of nowhere to reach ratings heights with its gleeful beef- and cheesecake, daffy anachronisms, cartoon action and all-around zest. Is star Kevin Sorbo a hunk for the '90s, or what?


LA Times
Forget 'Baywatch'
by Steve Weinstein

H:TLJ and its spinoff X:WP have become two of the most popular hourlong dramas in the world of television syndication, out-rating "Baywatch" by a wide margin this season and quite often beating even the "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."
"There is nothing like it on TV in terms of action and special effects. We pack more into every episode than any other show," said Kevin Sorbo. "We're not 'ER.' We don't try to be based in reality. But we're two hours of 'make the popcorn and escape from life's bumps and worries for a while'."
"When we started H:TLJ, our favorite shows were the old Captain Kirk 'Star Trek' episodes," Tapert explained. "They were fun and a little sexy and had Kirk in these weird fights, and we tried to deliver that same kind of entertainment value. But it is different than anything else on television. More like small feature films each week." But they were careful not to replicate the old black-and-white "Hercules" movies that featured a grim and tortured hero embarked on his humorless labors of superhuman strength. Instead, they opted for a more modern, winking, good-guy Hercules, dressed more like Robin Hood, who always saves the day with as little malice as possible.
"The old Hercules myths would have made for bad television because he killed a lot of people," Tapert said. "So we decided the best way to go was to find a Joe Montana type, with no togas and no Parthenons and all that, someone not so huge and stilted as that old movie guy, someone you would always like to have over to your house. He couldn't be malicious or vindictive, because then he isn't your hero. That makes it easier for people to tune in, and we get a lot of fan mail from parents saying, 'It's great to have a hero that my kids can root for who is not an athlete, but someone who actually does good in the world'."
So Hercules fights monsters and gods, all in the good-looking and athletic but far from Herculean body of the long-haired Sorbo, who throughout jokes and laughs and pokes fun at himself. "In 34 episodes or so, I think I've only killed three people, and that was by accident," Sorbo said. "The fight scenes are wild and well-choreographed, but they're always done with a wink in Herc's eye. And I think that's worked. Initially we expected the audience to be boys 12 to 17, but it's turned out to be much broader than that. The ads are everything from McDonald's to BMWs."
And Sorbo admitted that his friends often tease him that he's playing Hercules, not in the land of myth but 'in the land of cleavage'. "Sex sells," Tapert conceded. "And there's no denying this show have a certain eye-candy appeal. But we never focus on boobs or butts like some of the other shows, and if a sexual situation arises, it comes from love as opposed to violence or one-night stands. We maintain a certain morality about that, and I think the visual appeal really comes from the exotic wardrobes and settings."


Indianapolis News
Super Swashbucklers
by Marion Garmel

Come with me to a land of myth and legend, where gods play with the lives of men and superheroes protect the innocent. H:TLJ with lean, muscular Kevin Sorbo as a self-deprecating Hercules. The show shares a tongue-in-cheek campiness with a '90s sensibility as this superhero with an engaging sidekick, go about rescuing innocent people from the clutches of angry gods and tyrannical villains. <...> What makes these adventures special is the way they handle modern problems in ancient settings. Just as the original Star Trek confronted contemporary social issues in analogous situations on far-off planets, Hercules confront contemporary social issues in analogous situations in ancient, mythical lands.


Tampa Tribune

Mythical TV Heroes; They're Tan, They're Taut, They're TV Titans
by Walt Belcher

Forget space operas such as "Deep Space Nine" and the bikini-laden "Baywatch." The hottest thing in syndicated television is called "action fantasy." It features stories that take viewers into a mysterious past where wizards and mythological beasts roam ancient Greece. Using exotic locales, computer-generated special effects and dialogue laced with humor, series have emerged as kick-butt kings of syndication. H:TLJ' popularity has inspired others to explore the netherworld.
H:TLJ series manage to mix just the right amounts of action, cleavage and biceps to have large cult followings. Tongue-in-cheek humor comes in heavy doses. "We don't take ourselves too seriously," says Sorbo, who plays Herc as an articulate, good-natured hero. "I wouldn't have taken this role if all I had to do was flex muscles, because I'm not Mr. Universe," he says in a telephone interview from New Zealand. Sorbo, a 37-year-old, blue-eyed, longhaired hunk is 6-foot-4, 215 pounds and in very good shape. "But I'm no Steve Reeves. And I don't take off my shirt that much." However, he does do most of his own stunts, having studied martial arts. "I do most of the fight scenes but when it comes to falling off cliffs, I leave that to the stuntmen."
Previous film versions have portrayed Hercules as all muscle and no brain. This one is different. Hercules is a caring, kindhearted-but-tough do-gooder who battles giants and dragons. He rescues damsels in distress but resists attempts at seduction because he's pure of heart. "And he's intelligent. He laughs, he makes mistakes. And he isn't afraid to make fun of himself," Sorbo says. At times, it's almost a buddy comedy, he says, with Hercules saving his wisecracking sidekick, Iolaus (New Zealander Michael Hurst, an accomplished Shakespearean actor).
Taking the role was a risk, Sorbo says, because if it flopped, he'd be labeled as a loser. But if it succeeded, he might be labeled as Hercules forever. "I want to work in feature films. I'd like to do romantic comedy but I'll probably have to do action adventure now. But I enjoy this role. The action is balanced by the clever dialogue."


TV & Satellite Week #22
Hercules and Xena Take on the Universe
by Jeff Adams

Sorbo says H:TLJ works because it doesn't take itself too seriously. Sorbo is quick to point out that the show is also chock-full of drama and usually packs a moral message with minimal blood loss. He hopes people get a good hour of entertainment from his show. "H:TLJ transports people to a different time and place. I think it's a good hour of escape that hasn't been seen in a long, long time."
Risky is the name of the game on the set. Sorbo have become adept at sword handling and other combat techniques. He have been trained by martial arts master Douglas Wong. He admit he knows just enough to get by on TV. "I'd get my butt whopped by anybody that knows what they're doing," Sorbo says.


Official graphics MCA TV, Universal

2002-2005 KSJAA

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