The team of Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert that ruled first-run syndication a decade ago (Hercules, Xena) is trying to make a great big comeback. On November 1, they’ll premiere their attempt to bring back first-run syndicated series, Legend of the Seeker, a cleaned up version of Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” books. It’s the subject of a big New York Times article that allows the phrase “sweaty, half-naked hunk” to appear in the first paragraph of a Times piece. And they’re also working on a series for the Starz cable service “and its suite of channels” (kind of the cable equivalent of first-run syndication), a TV version of Spartacus. No word on what the subtitle will be, but you know that a Raimi/Tapert series has to have a cool subtitle like “The Legendary Journeys” or “Warrior Princess.” I suggest “Spartacus: Non-American Gladiator.”
The Times article explains that although the syndication market once seemed to have been completely killed off by the many failed imitators of Raimi and Tapert’s shows — with their blend of exotic mythical adventure, tongue-in-cheek humour, heaving bosoms (male and female) and New Zealand production facilities — they’re betting that things are different now: the collapse of the WB and UPN, and the looming collapse of the CW, means that there are more stations that need original material in prime time, especially on weekends.
There’s so much to like about Raimi/Tapert shows that it’s almost impossible not to root for them to make a successful comeback. (Besides, Raimi needs to do something other than Spider-Man movies once in a while.) I don’t know if their openly cheesy style can succeed any more, even in syndication. They were already looking a bit worn-out by 2000 when they did Cleopatra 2525, the answer to the trivia question: “How can a show flop if it’s about hot girls kicking ass in the future?” Hercules and Xena came along at the right time, when the cheesiness and corniness of syndicated TV was well-established (remember Renegade?), so they could lightly mock the conventions of first-run syndication shows while also fully embracing those conventions. They were shows that you could enjoy on two levels at once. But now that first-run syndie adventures are dead, Legend of the Seeker can’t position itself as a better-made antidote to bad shows in this style; it is trying to revive a style that no longer exists. That’s harder than just having Kevin Sorbo engage a centaur in a conversation about prejudice.
Oh, and Raimi and Tapert also did Jack of All Trades, which allows me to post this theme song again!
I will never get tired of that.