Lynette Rice
October 24, 2008 AT 04:00 AM EDT

‘Legend of the Seeker’

In the mid-’90s, mythical heroes Hercules and Xena ran wild on the small screen, slaying enough monsters and spewing enough one-liners to earn their rightful place in TV history as the true titans of cheesy syndicated action-adventure. Though the leather-clad warriors had disappeared by 2002, executive producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert never believed their fans went away: On Nov. 1, the duo hopes to bring all those dragon-digging, swashbuckle-jonesing viewers back under their spell with Legend of the Seeker, a syndicated drama based on the best-selling fantasy novels of Terry Goodkind. Set to air on independently owned stations on Saturday and Sunday nights, Legend should be TV nerdnip: It’s the story of woodsman Cypher (Australian newcomer Craig Horner), who, after discovering his birthright as a magical protector to the masses, battles apocalyptic villain Darken Rahl (The Lord of the Rings‘ Craig Parker) with the help of knockout Kahlan (Sex and the City‘s Bridget Regan). ”There’s an absence of anything like this in the marketplace,” insists Raimi, the director behind the Spider-Man franchise, who’s remained passionate about his work in TV (The CW will also air his and Tapert’s horror reality show 13 — Fear Is Real midseason). ”The audience is still there and still interested,” adds Tapert. ”They’re just underserved.”

UPN and The WB popped the adventure syndication bubble in the late ’90s, as most of the indie stations joined the new networks and had less room for Velveeta-dripping pleasures like Queen of Swords and Relic Hunter. Old films and network reruns have long helped to fill the void that remained on weekend nights, but some station owners have realized that rehashed programming can quickly play out. ”I’d much rather get back into the first-run business on Saturday nights than continue with the same old movies that are so powerful on cable now,” admits Sean Compton, senior VP of programming for Tribune Broadcasting, which will air Seeker on Saturdays in some major markets.

Launching the drama won’t be easy; viewership is traditionally low on Saturdays. To increase their odds, Raimi and Tapert — who are shooting the series in New Zealand, where they did Hercules and Xena long before hobbits took over the forests — are simplifying Goodkind’s dense novels (there are 12 in all) and will make the episodes more closed-ended and family-friendly: No graphic depictions of sex, a staple in Goodkind’s tomes. However, there will still be plenty of action to lure the fantasy fanatics, including all the old go-to moves of classic ’90s syndication (like ridiculous sword battles that allow our hero to show off his pumped-up pecs, and, of course, gorgeous women racing on horseback from a group of bow-and-arrow-wielding foes). ”In some regards, it feels like old times,” says Tapert. ”I think when people see the pilot, they’ll feel they’re finally seeing the return of syndication.” And if Lorenzo Lamas reemerges in Renegade: The Rascal Scooter Years, you’ll know it’s really back.

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