Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
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|Hercules: The Legendary Journeys|
Opening sequence logo
Sword and sorcery
|Created by||Christian Williams|
|Theme music composer||Joseph LoDuca|
|Country of origin||United States
|No. of seasons||6|
|No. of episodes||111
+ 5 pilot television movies (List of episodes)
|Running time||41–44 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Renaissance Pictures
Universal Worldwide Television
|Distributor||NBCUniversal Television Distribution|
|Original run||January 16, 1995 – November 22, 1999|
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys is an American/New Zealander television series filmed in New Zealand. It was produced from January 16, 1995 to November 22, 1999, and was very loosely based on the tales of the classical Greek culture hero Heracles (Hercules was his Roman analogue). It ran for six seasons, producing action figures and other memorabilia as it became one of the highest rated syndicated television shows in the world at that time. Later it would be surpassed by its own spinoff show, Xena: Warrior Princess.
It was preceded by several TV movies with the same major characters in 1994 as part of Universal Television's Action Pack: in order, Hercules and the Amazon Women, Hercules and the Lost Kingdom, Hercules and the Circle of Fire, Hercules in the Underworld, and Hercules in the Maze of the Minotaur, the last of which served mostly as a "clip show" of the previous movies as a lead up to the series. The show was cancelled midway of filming through the sixth season, and only a total of eight episodes were produced after Kevin Sorbo initially declined to renew a three-year extension contract to continue his role as Hercules.
The series was set in a fantasy version of ancient Greece supposedly not precisely located in historical time although particularly from Season 3 episodes became more points-in-time focused, which caused incompatible continuity: in Season 3x2 Love Takes a Holiday Iolaus meets his paternal grandmother Leandra, whose village is unwittingly trapped in one point in time (a spoof of Brigadoon) for 50 years; his grandfather was killed in the Third Punic War "50 years ago"; that ended in 146 B.C., setting the episode in 96 B.C. However, then S3x9 episode A Star to Guide Them has Iolaus witnessing the birth of Jesus Christ, fixing the date as the beginning of October, 2 B.C., a leap of 94 years into the future. Though much more prominently featured in Xena:Warrior Princess the spin-off which was supposedly contemporary, HTLJ also briefly portrayed Julius Caesar who had been 4 years old in 96 B.C., when the events of Love Takes a Holiday supposedly happened, and who was assassinated in 44 B.C., 42 years before the events of A Star to Guide Them.
Although purportedly set in ancient Greece, the show also has a mixture of Oriental, Egyptian and Medieval culture/themes; even modern elements appear in various episodes, most often played for laughs or tongue-in-cheek, such as an ancient Greek version of fast food in the early seasons and the automatic musical instruments of Season 4's And Fancy Free. The British tradition of Christmas Pantomime with the male dame is unknown in America, but remains popular in New Zealand due to its British Empire history. During HTLJ Season 2 the producers saw Michael Hurst, already a classically trained and successful theatre actor-director, appear in an Auckland Pantomime as the outrageously flirtatious Widow Twanky to rave reviews, and they immediately insisted Hurst had to reprise the role on the show, despite Pantomime being a 16th Century English creation. The character appears in Season 4x8 And Fancy Free, which Michael Hurst also directed; the fact that Iolaus did not appear in the episode enabled him to don the make-up/prosthetic for Widow Twanky without having to revert for scenes with Iolaus as well as directing. Hurst would reprise the role again in 4x12 Men in Pink and 5x15 Greece is Burning- Hurst was born in Lancashire, England and was able to reproduce the Northern English accent that gave the Widow Twanky authenticity to British viewers. Since the end of HTLJ, Hurst has also appeared at genre fan conventions in character as Widow Twankey and given interviews as her.
The show starred Kevin Sorbo as Hercules; Michael Hurst, who had become a naturalized New Zealand citizen, first guest-starred in Season 1 to 2 as his sidekick Iolaus, and became a series regular from Seasons 3 to 6. Rotating as Hercules' other regular companion, particularly in the first three seasons, was Salmoneus (Robert Trebor), a wheeler-dealer ever looking to make a quick dinar. In the later seasons, particularly after Kevin Sorbo suffered a serious health issue in Season 4, Michael Hurst, Robert Trebor and Bruce Campbell as Autolycus, King of Thieves, featured prominently along with the late Kevin Smith (1963-2002) as Ares, to ensure Kevin Sorbo could reduce his front of camera workload.
Typical plot lines involved Hercules and Iolaus saving various villagers, townsfolk and general innocents from monsters, evil warlords or the selfish, egotistical gods - initially the Greek pantheon but in Season 5 and 6 you had the Sumerian deities and Christianity, with the Archangel Michael and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. There was also a general comedy theme, particularly through Seasons 1 to 4, and episodes often had "in-jokes" about modern themes (e.g., equal rights; rule of law) or a slant on ancient historical figures, for example, Pythagorus and Julius Caesar. The series was generally more standalone episodic than overarching plot lines until mid-Season 4, which gradually built up through Seasons 5 and 6 to deal with an overarching plot of defeating Dahak, a sort of elemental, universal evil and the ascendancy of original Christianity over the Greek gods. Particularly in the first four seasons, especially seasons 1, 2 and 3 the standalone nature meant episodes often jumped week-by-week between campy, in-joke humour to dark, angst-oriented/moral conflict and back again, sometimes in the same episode. However, some "gags" were ever-present, such as the one that ran for the entire series being the indestructibility of the main characters' wardrobe: Hercules' brown leather pants and sleeveless beige tunic top, and Iolaus' black leather pants, purple crocheted vest and the polished stone medallion he wore, always survived whatever mayhem ensued without so much as a pulled thread or torn seam. This also affected other characters: Autolycus' outfit of Lincoln Green was similarly impervious to fire, flood, mud, sword-slash et al., as was Xena's iconic leather bodice/skirt outfit.
Any real depth of character development and in-universe plot continuity was affected by the standalone nature of the majority of the seasons as has been mentioned above; for example, the series proper had few of the usual "origin story" or "first meeting" episodes showing how certain key characters met and interacted with each other (e.g., Hercules and Iolaus) or how and why they came to be the people they were when the viewers see them as adults (Xena, Iphicles, Salmoneus, Autolycus et al.). Some fans have suggested this was for the best, given the even greater continuity problems such specific allusions to past (or future) events would have caused in canon to what were already there. As one further instance, in the first movie Hercules and the Amazon Women, Iolaus is about to marry; in Hercules and the Maze of the Minotaur which was added later to prequel the series pilot proper, he is a widowed single father, yet the series proper (Seasons 1-6) make it clear Iolaus is a perennial (and childless) "playboy" bachelor who never settled into domesticity as Hercules once did.
The episodic-nature causing continuity issues particularly affected the spin-offs Xena: Warrior Princess and Young Hercules. For example, in HTLJ S:4x2 Hero's Heart The Goddess Fortune wipes all memory of meeting Hercules from Iolaus' mind; a confused Iolaus says his last memory was of being age 15 and just having robbed a jewellery stall, implying that was the moment he encountered Hercules who stopped him getting away (their initial encounter was indicated to be acrimonious in the TV show canon and played that way in the Young Hercules movie starring Ian Bohen which became the pilot for the Young Hercules spin-off season.) In Young Hercules the one-season TV show, set shortly after the movie's events, Iolaus and Hercules' friendship does not become solid until they attend Cheiron's Academy; but in HTLJ, both characters imply it was the influence of Hercules, and his mother Alcmene who took Iolaus in from that pivotal first encounter, that persuaded Iolaus to stick with Hercules from then on. Yet again in S4x14 Armageddon Now Part 2, the younger Alcmene, pregnant with Hercules, tells the present-day Iolaus that there is a 2-year old boy in her village who is always stealing pastries, yet the series has already established that Iolaus and Hercules did not grow up together until they met in their mid-teens when Hercules persuaded Iolaus to become a good person (Hero's Heart was the Iolaus's Its A Wonderful Life take on how Iolaus would have ended up - like Xeno, the Mafia-style crime boss - if he had not met Hercules).
Other episodes, for instance Season 4x22 Reunions, confirmed that Iolaus ran away from home (Greek Thebes) and lived as a vagabond/street kid, by his wits, becoming a skilled hunter to eat, stealing to get gold and hiring himself out as a general henchman to anyone who would pay. This sets up further character development issues in that a constant theme of the show was how Hercules most valued the meaning of family togetherness, and was always trying to reconcile people with estranged family members, or repair estranged friendships, yet it is only after Hercules ascends to Mount Olympus with Zeus (supposedly permanently) in the Season Four finale Reunions that Iolaus finally goes to visit his estranged mother Erythia and stepfather, Pandeon, after having been gone for at least 25 years by in-canon reckoning (i.e., before age 15.) Although Iolaus is Hercules' best friend, in canon Hercules never tries to persuade Iolaus to reconcile; nor does Hercules ever take direct action to bring about a reconciliation between Iolaus and his family; nor, in the TV show, does Hercules ever actually meet Erythia and Pandeon.
Again, throughout seasons 1 to 4 in particular, primarily Iolaus but other characters also were either awesome or inept depending on the demands of the particular episode script: Iolaus was a fierce, highly skilled warrior and war veteran or else an easily defeated barfly bumpkin; a skilled hunter and/or thief or else a clumsy, bumbling amateur; proud of being Hercules' best friend and secure in his own identity or an else victim to resentment and fears of inadequacy. Likewise Salmoneus veered from successful self-made businessman to inept, venal comic relief and back again. Autolycus gained and lost his thievery and escape artist skill sets from episode to episode; an example is the inept Autolycus of HTLJ S4x17 One Fowl Day to the suave, master-thief Autolycus of XWP 2x13 The Quest. Character interactions were also affected - in HTLJ S3x5 Not Fade Away a distraught Hercules gets Iolaus resurrected after his friend is murdered by the Enforcer Mark II Cynthia Rothrock. Yet in XWP S1x8 Prometheus when Iolaus is dying of a sword-wound that will not heal because Hera has captured the Titan Prometheus Hercules is almost callously indifferent to that fact that he and Xena may not be able to rescue Prometheus in time. However, through its run HTLJ was much more family-oriented and lighter in tone than its spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess, the latter having darker themes, controversial plot lines and even from early seasons, edgier on-screen events. For example, throughout HTLJ the vast majority of fights had the antagonists staggering off bloodied and cowed but whole and hale, and most deaths are off-screen. In XWP S2x13, a female Amazon is shown having fallen to her death by impalement on deadly spikes, something that would not have been shown so blatantly on screen in Hercules.
In the earlier episodes, as mentioned in the show's opening title, Hercules' main nemesis is his evil stepmother Hera, the powerful queen of the gods, who seeks to destroy Hercules using various monsters, because he is a reminder of her husband Zeus' infidelity. Since in the actual mythology Zeus had at least 70 children by nearly as many females (not all human), the show's slant was that Hera's hatred was personal in that she realized Zeus had genuinely fallen in love with Alcmene. As the series progressed, a wider range of enemies was used; notably Hercules' half-brother, the malicious god of war Ares, replaced Hera as the show's primary antagonist - primarily because the producers and the principle cast wanted to showcase the impeccable comic timing and screen presence of "their" discovery - a local actor, Kevin Smith, who bonded well with Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst. Towards the end of the series Ares is himself replaced by the evil god, Dahak, who is the main villain in the show's fifth season and sets off a story arc that has Hercules traveling to Sumeria, Norseland and Éire. Although Zeus, Hercules' father, is frequently cited by Hercules as a neglectful father, Zeus' love for Hercules is well documented in the show (In one episode, Hercules explains to a friend that he looked to father figures because Zeus was never around when he was younger. When confronted about this by Hercules, Zeus revealed that he specifically chose Alcmene to be Hercules' mother because he, unfortunately, knew that he could not be there for his son and knew that she would provide him with the love, strength, and support he deserved, thus revealing he had put more thought into Hercules' birth than any other child he ever had). Indeed, Hercules is often referred to as "the favorite son of Zeus". Zeus makes several appearances on the show, even saving his son's life and restoring his superhuman strength on one occasion when he needs it the most. Hercules, for his own part, is always there for Zeus when his father needs him, and in the end, Hercules reconciles with his father and buries whatever issues he has with the father he has come to understand and love. This, however, is changed in Hercules' last appearance on Xena: Warrior Princess, when he is forced to kill Zeus with the rib of Cronus to protect Xena's baby, however, Zeus uses his last breath to say he is proud of Hercules.
The show had a successful spin-off, Xena: Warrior Princess, with which it shared recurring characters such as Ares (Kevin Smith), Autolycus (Bruce Campbell), Salmoneus (Robert Trebor), Aphrodite (Alexandra Tydings), Deimos/Strife (Joel Tobeck) and Callisto (Hudson Leick). Both shows, although produced in New Zealand using mostly local actors who put on American accents, were syndicated worldwide. This helped it to be the breakout show for Kevin Sorbo and other members of the cast/producers - writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci went on to Alias and the rebooted Hawaii 5-0 series in 2010. Already a successful actor, Michael Hurst was able to move more into directing and writing. Actor Kevin Smith had played both Hercules' half-brother, Ares God of War and Hercules' other half-brother King Iphicles despite the genetic conflict - Ares and Hercules shared a father, whilst Hercules and Iphicles shared a mother, so should have looked nothing alike. A talented New Zealand actor of both white British and Maori ethnic ancestry, HTLJ propelled Smith to mainstream TV and film roles until he was killed in a fall whilst filming in China in 2002.
HTLJ also showcased New Zealand as a place that could support a major show business infrastructure, leading to the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy being filmed there; a considerable number of the local actors and production crew members were head-hunted by the Lord of the Rings production, or talent-spotted by Peter Jackson, e.g., Dean O'Gorman, who played young Iolaus and was cast as Fili in The Hobbit. It also enabled New Zealand writer-producers James Griffin and Rachel Lang to secure development for their script The Almighty Johnsons which was produced by South Pacific Productions as a home-grown New Zealand TV show and which ran for three seasons as The Almighty Johnsons starring largely New Zealand native/based actors such as Dean O'Gorman who had played teenage Iolaus in Young Hercules as Anders Johnson/the Norse God Bragi and guest-starring Michael Hurst in several episodes as the Norse God Kvasir - Hurst also directed several key episodes. The modern day show about Gods living amongst men owed its development and viability directly back to Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
The success of the show also saw a number of similar ancient-set series being commissioned, such as The Adventures of Sinbad, Conan the Adventurer, The New Adventures of Robin Hood, BeastMaster, Tarzan: The Epic Adventures, and Jack of All Trades. A sci-fi series, Cleopatra 2525, was also produced as a result of the series' influence. Thirteen years later, Legend of the Seeker was produced by the same team.
A further legacy were the several practical production innovations that Hercules The Legendary Journeys utilized or invented, which had not been done in Television prior. The banter and 'bromance' concept between characters evolved organically from the fact that the writers (particularly Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci) were not precious about their script dialogue and the actors had great freedom to make suggestions and improvise dialogue - Michael Hurst unintentionally used modern words like 'cool' and 'Herc' that were kept in; Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst amongst others were allowed to improvise dialogue that was witty, snarky and quip-laden.
The production crew also came up with the innovation of shooting through a purple camera filter to give the show a richness of colour and a screen tone that other shows did not have, which also emphasised it as a fantasy show set in an ancient 'Greece that never was'. The show supported various of the actors, including Kevin Sorbo, Michael Hurst and Bruce Campbell, to move into or move more into director work; Kevin Sorbo also wrote at least one episode of the series (Two Men and a Baby) The show's long-term stuntman team worked with Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst on ways to make each fight scene 'different', and invented 'the Thermopylae' stunt fight move where 6'3" Sorbo (as Hercules) clasped 5'6" Hurst (as Iolaus) by the wrists, turned them around and rolled him over his back in a half-somersault whilst Hurst used his legs to kick away the surging antagonist stuntmen and land on his feet so Hercules now faced the attackers who were aiming for Iolaus and vice versa. The show's repertoire of two men versus eighteen in the fight scenes (often two extended fight scenes per episode) became renowned for the non-standard fight moves and deliberately funny 'weapons' utilised - Iolaus in particular often used a pair of skillets [frying-pans] or large wet fish grabbed from the nearest market stall to great effect even against attackers with real swords and wearing armor.
The show also pioneered the concepts of the musical, alternative reality and meta episodes, with Yes, Virginia there is a Hercules and For Those of You Just Joining Us both set in modern day, with the cast portraying (and sending up) various members of the production crew and executives up to and including the executive producer, Robert Tapert. Following in the footsteps of HTLJ, later series, including such varied shows as JAG, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Supernatural and Hawaii 5-0 as examples would follow with variants on these, with musical, meta and alternate reality episodes where actors played exaggerated, inverted or alternate versions of a show producer and/or canon character's primary characteristics - one summary example would be Hawaii 5-0's 100th episode where Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin) hallucinates that Danno Williams (Scott Caan), who hates Hawaii, loves living on the islands and dresses in surf shorts and Hawaiian shirts.
Characters and cast
- Alcmene (Elizabeth Hawthorne, Liddy Holloway and Kim Michalis)
- Aphrodite (Alexandra Tydings)
- Apollo (Scott Michaelson)
- Ares (Kevin Smith)
- Artemis (Rhonda McHardy)
- Atalanta (Cory Everson)
- Autolycus (Bruce Campbell)
- Callisto (Hudson Leick)
- Cassandra (Claudia Black)
- Charon (Michael Hurst)
- Cupid (Karl Urban)
- Dahak (Michael Hurst, Mark Newnham)
- Deianeira (Tawny Kitaen)
- Deimos (Joel Tobeck)
- Dirce (Lisa Chappell)
- Discord (Meighan Desmond)
- Falafel (Paul Norell)
- Gabrielle (Renée O'Connor)
- Hades (Erik Thomson, Mark Ferguson)
- Hera (Meg Foster)
- Iphicles (Kevin Tod Smith)
- Jason (Jeffrey Thomas, Chris Conrad)
- Joxer (Ted Raimi)
- Kernunnos (Stuart Devenie)
- Morrígan (Tamara Gorski)
- Nebula (Gina Torres)
- Nemesis (Karen Witter, Teresa Hill, Kimberley Joseph)
- Odin (Peter McCauley)
- Persephone (Andrea Croton)
- Salmoneus (Robert Trebor)
- Serena (Sam Jenkins, Kara Zediker)
- Strife (Joel Tobeck)
- Xena (Lucy Lawless)
- Zeus (Roy Dotrice, Peter Vere-Jones, Charles Keating, Anthony Quinn).
- Oi-Lan (Lucy Liu)
International broadcast history
Anchor Bay Entertainment released all 6 Seasons of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys on DVD in Region 1 for the first time between 2003-2005. As of 2010, these releases have now been discontinued and are out of print.
On January 12, 2010, Universal Studios Home Entertainment announced that they plan on re-releasing Hercules: The Legendary Journeys on DVD. They have subsequently re-released the first five seasons. Season 5 was re-released on July 22, 2014.
In Region 4, Madman Entertainment has released all 6 seasons on DVD in Australia.
|Season||Ep #||Release Dates|
|Region 1||Region 4|
|Season 1||18||June 24, 2003
April 20, 2010 (re-release)
|September 9, 2009|
|Season 2||24||October 21, 2003
March 29, 2011 (re-release)
|February 17, 2010|
|Season 3||22||March 23, 2004
March 13, 2012 (re-release)
|June 2, 2010|
|Season 4||22||July 13, 2004
March 12, 2013 (re-release)
|November 3, 2010|
|Season 5||22||January 11, 2005
July 22, 2014 (re-release)
|Season 6||8||July 12, 2005||N/A|
|Seasons 5 & 6||30||N/A||January 12, 2011|
- NOTE: The Season 1 release in both regions 1 & 4 includes the 5 tele-films preceding the series. The region 1 re-release does not include the TV movies.
- List of Hercules and Xena characters
- Young Hercules
- Xena: Warrior Princess
- Hercules and Xena: The Battle For Mount Olympus
- West End Games published the Hercules & Xena Roleplaying Game.
- Greek mythology in popular culture
- Hercules in popular culture
- "Research Hercules: the Legendary Journeys". BookRags.com. 2010-11-02. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
- Jenny Hontz (1997-02-26). "‘Xena’ powers to record rating". Variety. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
- "Kevin Sorbo interview". 2007-10-09. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
- "Universal Announces a General Release for 'Season 5'". TVShowsOnDVD.com. 2014-04-30. Retrieved 2014-04-30.
- "Buy Hercules: The Legendary Journeys - Season 1 (7 Disc Box Set) on DVD-Video from". EzyDVD.com.au. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
- "Buy Hercules: The Legendary Journeys - Season 2 (7 Disc Box Set) on DVD-Video from". EzyDVD.com.au. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
- "Buy Hercules: The Legendary Journeys - Season 3 (7 Disc Box Set) on DVD-Video from". EzyDVD.com.au. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
- "Buy Hercules: The Legendary Journeys - Season 4 (7 Disc Box Set) on DVD-Video from". EzyDVD.com.au. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
- "Buy Hercules: The Legendary Journeys - The Final Seasons: Season 5 & 6 (10 Disc Box Set) on DVD-Video from". EzyDVD.com.au. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
- Hercules: The Legendary Journeys at the Internet Movie Database
- Hercules: The Legendary Journeys at TV.com