September 08, 2018


(FOX, September 12, 1998-May 14, 1999)

Renaissance Pictures Studios USA

Kevin SmithAres, Timor, Bacchus (2nd time)

            In 1994, Christian Williams created a show that would launch a TV empire. Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was loosely based on the mythological Greek hero Hercules (Kevin Sorbo), and was produced by Renaissance Pictures; the production company formed by Evil Dead creators Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell. The show followed Hercules as he journeyed around a fantasy version of ancient Greece and helped people along the way against warlords, mercenaries, mythological monsters and the gods themselves. Occasionally joining him was his best friend, Iolaus (Michael Hurst), and fast-talking con man, Salmoneus (Robert Trebor), as well as other allies along the way. The series debuted as a series of five telefilms before becoming a full one-hour series in 1995. It aired as part of the syndicated Universal Action Pack programming block.

Hercules, Xena and their sidekicks.

            Hercules became one of the highest-rated syndicated shows at the time, supplanting Baywatch in the number one spot. The show introduced the character of Xena (Lucy Lawless), a former marauder who changed her ways and became a heroic figure looking to make up for her dark past. Initially going to die in her third and final appearance, Xena’s popularity spared the character and landed her a spin-off show, Xena: Warrior Princess. The spin-off ended up becoming more popular than Hercules, and both shows ran for six seasons before their respective cancellations.

Young Iolaus, Hercules and Jason from The Legendary Journeys.

            During that time, a second spin-off was created. Hercules had featured several episodes that explored Hercules’ past adventures from his youth. Ian Bohen portrayed a young Hercules, with Dean O’Gorman playing Iolaus and Chris Conrad as Jason, of Jason and the Argonauts fame (retconning the previous establishment of Jason being their elder as played by Jeffrey Thomas). It was soon decided to expand on these adventures and develop a series around the younger cast.

            Developed by Tapert, Young Hercules saw its beginnings in a made-for-TV movie written by Tapert, Andrew Dettmann and Daniel Truly and shown in February of 1998. Hercules was sent by his mother, Alcmene (Rachel Blakely), to train at the academy run by the centaur Cheiron (Nathaniel Lees). There, he met up with Iolaus and Jason, as well as a female cadet named Yvenna (Johna Stewart-Bowden). However, their studies were put on hold when Jason’s father, King Aeson (Mike McGee), was put on his deathbed, necessitating their questing for the Golden Fleece to save him. It was all a plot by Hercules’ jealous half-brother, Ares (Kevin Smith), the God of War, and his underling, Discord (Meighan Desmond), This telefilm, however, contradicted the accounts of this adventure established just the month prior in the Hercules episode “Hercules on Trial”.

Ryan Gosling puts on the gauntlets.

            When Young Hercules went to series, Bohen declined to continue with the role as it would require him to relocate to New Zealand where it and the other shows were filmed. He was replaced by an unknown Ryan Gosling, and his costume and arm makeup were used to make him appear bulkier and more muscular than he was. The character of Yvenna was also replaced by another cadet, Lilith (Jodie Rimmer), who was described as the first female cadet ever to train at the academy. The series also introduced Kora (Angela Marie Dotchin), a barkeep in the town of Corinth who was secretly a devotee and servant of Artemis (Anna Bernard), goddess of the hunt, and was revealed to possess powers granted by Artemis. Ares, Discord and Strife (Joel Tobeck) served as the main antagonists; constantly attempting to destroy Hercules and his friends with a variety of schemes. Other gods featured were Hephaestus (Jason Hoyte), the god of metallurgy; Bacchus (Anthony Ray Parker & Smith), the god of wine; Hera (Elizabeth Hawthorne), queen of the gods; and Zeus (John Bach), king of the gods and Hercules’ father. Along with those reprising their roles, the series shared many of the same actors that appeared in both Hercules and Xena.

Powered-up Kora and Hercules on the hunt.

            Young Hercules debuted on FOX on September 12, 1998 as part of the Fox Kids Programming block. At the time of its airing, it was one of three shows based around the character of Hercules, along with its parent show and Disney’s Hercules: The Animated Series. It aired on both the weekday and Saturday versions of the block initially before only being shown on weekdays. Episodes weren’t aired in any particular order, ignoring both the production order and series continuity (for instance, an episode where Jason had been crowned king aired before an episode where he was still a prince). Unlike the other shows in the franchise, Young Hercules only ran for a half-hour. The series was written by Mark Edens, Hilary J. Bader, John Loy, Adam Armus, Nora Kay Foster, Jim Fisher, Jim Staahl, Len Uhley, Brooks Wachtel, Shari Goodhartz, Jan Strnad, Steven Melching, Doug Molitor, Michael Edens, Carter Crocker, Michael Reaves, Bob Forward, Paul Sauer, Vanessa Place, Brian Herskowitz, Patrick Phillips, Jessica Scott, Mike Wollaeger, Clark Carlton, and producers Tapert, Eric Lewald, Julia Lewald and Liz Friedman. Franchise composer Joseph LoDuca handled the music.

Ares, god of war, plotting his next scheme.

The series became a case study in efficiency in television production. As it only had a $20 million budget in total, a number of cost-cutting measures were employed. It was filmed in four-episode blocks with scripts designed to utilize the same sets as much as possible. Each block was rotated between directors Chris Graves, Charlie Haskell and Andrew Merrifield; with Simon Raby handling a couple of episodes. They had toyed with the idea of using digital cameras, but after determining it wasn’t economically viable at the time went with the cheaper 16mm film. Filming in New Zealand also allowed the production to circumvent costly Screen Actors Guild regulations. Initially, visual effects were handled by Weta Workshop until they and a good portion of the crew went to work on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The other effects were handled by the franchise’s own Flat Earth Productions.

Hercules and Lilith narrowly escaping death.

Young Hercules proved to be a success for FOX, becoming the 2nd top-rated live-action series on the network just below Power Rangers. It was also nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award in 1999 and a Writers Guild of America Award in 2000. Despite that, however, FOX ultimately chose not to renew the series for a second season and it ended its run after 50 episodes. The series was given a bit of a coda in the Hercules episode “The Academy” which saw Hercules, Iolaus and Jason travel to the academy to help take it back from mercenary students currently running the place. It was the first time Lilith, played by Susan Brady, was mentioned outside of Young Hercules. Gosling portrayed the antagonist, Zylus, and Rimmer was Seska, the daughter of Lilith and Jason from a dalliance during the Young Hercules years before Lilith went on to become an Amazon. Later that year, adult Lilith and Seska would make another appearance in the episode “A Wicked Good Time”. Rimmer, Conrad, O’Gorman and Dotchin would continue to make guest-appearances in Hercules and Xena, with Dotchin landing a starring role in another Renaissance production, Jack of All Trades.

The DVD cover.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment released the pilot film to DVD in 1998, and re-released it again in 2006. In 2015, Shout! Factory released the complete series to DVD. The episodes were placed in production order, although the series’ personal continuity was still inconsistent. 

“The Treasure of Zeus – Part 1” (9/12/98) – Ares has Strife trick Hercules into stealing Hera’s chalice in an attempt to invalidate Zeus’ protection order on him.

“Between Friends (The Treasure of Zeus – Part 2)” (9/16/98) – After they survive stealing the chalice, Strife frames Iolaus for theft.

“What a Crockery (The Treasure of Zeus – Part 3)” (9/17/98) – Until the chalice is returned, Zeus’ protection is lifted and leaves Hercules a target for Ares.

“Herc and Seek” (9/22/98) – Iolaus’ former gang steals the academy’s tuition money.

“Girl Trouble” (9/19/98) – Hercues, Jason and Iolaus discover enslaved Amazons on their ship and free them.

“Teacher’s Pests” (9/26/98) – Doing chores for punishment, Hercules and Jason cover for Iolaus so that he can start his new job.

“Inn Trouble” (10/1/98) – While Kora is on a mission for Artemis, Hercules and his friends watch her restaurant.

“Keeping Up with the Jasons” (10/2/98) – Hercules has Hephaestus make him unbeatable weaponry so that he can defeat Jason.

“Amazing Grace” (2/4/99) – Hercules invites Amazons to the academy.

“Cyrano de Hercules” (2/23/99) – Hephaestus builds himself a woman out of metal, but she ends up falling for Hercules.

“Battle Lines – Part 1” (11/11/98) – Discord reignites an old hatred between the centaurs and Amazons.

“Battle Lines – Part 2” (11/13/98) – Hercules tries to prevent the war between the centaurs and Amazons.

“Forgery” (10/10/98) – Tired of being known as “boring”, Hercules uses Hephaestus’ forge to change himself.

“No Way Out” (9/25/98) – Trying to keep her from finding out about her surprise party leads Hercules and Lilith to be trapped in a cave.

“Ares on Trial” (9/29/98) – Ares is put on trial by the gods when he tries to kill Hercules.

“Down and Out in Academy Hills” (10/3/98) – Hercules and his friends rescue an amnesiac man who fell from the sky.

“Winner Take All” (10/30/98) – Discovering he has previously unknown brothers, Pollux and Castor, Hercules forgets about his friends in his excitement.

“A Serpent’s Tooth” (10/31/98) – Discord and Strife bring a baby monster to Corinth to destroy the city, but Iolaus ends up coming to love it.

“The Lure of the Lyre” (11/3/98) – Hercules and his friends have to defeat Bacchus and keep Lilith from becoming one of his thralls.

“Fame” (11/4/98) – Orpheus is forced to recruit more Bacchae in order to keep Eurydice free.

“Lyre, Liar” (9/18/98) – Eurydice promises to marry Bacchus if he leaves her friends alone.

“A Lady in Hades” (10/9/98) – Hercules and Jason head to the Underworld to try and keep Eurydice out of Tartarus.

“The Mysteries of Life” (10/7/98) – Hercules and his friends try to free the formerly baby monster from a freak show.

“Dad Always Liked Me Best” (9/24/98) – Hercules meets another brother who hunts Pollux in order to put him to death for the murder of Castor.

“Herc’s Nemesis” (10/29/98) – Hercules tries to convince Nemesis to defy Hera when she’s ordered to kill a mortal.

“Cold Feet” (11/5/98) – Fear over his pending kingship leads Jason to pose as a farmhand in a small village that he ends up having to free from a warlord.

“Mommy Dearests” (2/5/99) – Lucius tries to win Zeus’ affections by destroying everyone Hercules cares about.

“In Your Dreams” (3/2/99) – Hercules has to face his worst nightmare in order to free his friends from Morpheus.

“Sisters” (10/24/98) – Jealous over the attention her sister receives, Kora tries to emulate her and ends up in trouble.

“The Golden Bow” (11/6/98) – After Strife has Artemis’ bow stolen, Hercules discovers Kora is Artemis’ servant and helps her try to retrieve it.

“Home for the Holidays” (5/11/99) – Hercules brings his friends home only to discover his mother has fallen in love.

“Cram-Pred” (11/2/98) – Iolaus’ friends try to help him pass his final exam to keep him out of prison.

“Con Ares” (5/10/99) – In order to stop a war, Hercules and his friends have a farmhand who resembles Ares pose as him.

“Get Jason” (11/20/98) – The annual tradition of pranking seniors is darkened by a very real attempt to kill Jason.

“My Fair Lilith” (2/1/99) – Lilith pretends to be Jason’s wife so that he doesn’t have to marry a princess sent to be his coronation present.

“Hind Sight” (11/10/98) – Hercules tries to keep his friends from killing a Golden Hind, which would result in their being killed by Artemis in turn.

“The Head That Wears a Crown” (2/2/99) – Hercules and Jason fight over how to deal with a monster in Corinth.

“Me, Myself and Eye” (2/25/99) – Iolaus and Jason are cursed in an attempt to get a future-seeing eye back from Hercules.

“The Skeptic” (2/3/99) – Strife goes to great lengths to try and convince a skeptic that the gods do exist.

“Iolaus Goes Stag” (2/17/99) – Artemis curses Iolaus after he tries to kill the Golden Hind to impress his uncle.

“Adventures in the Forbidden Zone” (11/19/98) – A chariot race leads Hercules and new instructor Theseus into a land where people never return from.

“The Prize” (11/18/98) – Ares enters a talent contest in order to win the last piece of the Chronus Stone, which will give him ultimate power.

“The Beasts Beneath” (11/24/98) – Some of the cadets enter a land known for having deadly sand sharks.

“Parents’ Day” (2/26/99) – In order to spare himself from his parents’ disappointment, Iolaus hires actors to pose as them for the academy’s Parents’ Day.

“A Life for a Life” (2/22/99) – Ares makes Hercules choose between his own life and that of Chiron’s.

“Under Siege” (2/24/99) – Hercules has to figure out why they Amazons are attacking the academy.

“Mila” (3/8/99) – An Amazon’s dreams lead her to believe her father is a god and she’s come to find him.

“Apollo” (5/12/99) – When Hercules tells Apollo that his friends are only friends out of fear, Apollo attacks the academy in response.

“Ill Wind” (5/13/99) – Amazon queen Cyane comes to Hercules for help in preventing her murder.

“Valley of the Shadow” (5/14/99) – A mysterious old man protects Hercules and his friends from a monster guarding Hera’s Valley where a hunting trip ends up taking them.

“Young Hercules” (2/17/98) – Hercules is sent to Cheiron’s academy to train and ends up journeying with Jason to get the Golden Fleece to save his father’s life.

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