Tuesday, July 22

Young Hercules

When their are no references or citations, Wikipedia will take off what is there. So I decided to post what was written, if not true, it is a pretty interesting story.

Ryan Gosling, replacing Ian Bohen from the pilot movie as the title character. Ian Bohen was offered the part, but opted not to spend an entire year in New Zealand where the series would shoot principal photography. Although [a] Network Executive worried at the time that his physique at 6'2" and only 120 lbs. did not seem fitting of the brawny adult Kevin Sorbo. Producers of the show insisted Gosling's acting would make audiences believe he could grow into Sorbo's broad shoulders. [The Show] was known to be only superficially faithful to Greek mythology, as was its predecessor; it uses similar characters, but in a variety of stories, some of which contain anachronisms.

The series aired on Fox Kids Network at first on Monday through Friday in 1998 at 4:30pm PST and Saturday mornings at 8:30 am PST. Later in the year, the series aired Monday through Friday only at 3:30pm PST. Fans may notice that in earlier episodes, "Young Hercules" story lines were slightly more complex and more human story oriented. At the beginning of the series, Fox Executives thought "Young Hercules" held promise to finally grab a young female audience, a slice of the demographic pie that had eluded them for quite some time (and it did achieve this quite successfully). This was the early direction given to the Producers of the series from the Fox Kids Network Executives. The Executives thought the series would be a good transition series between their children's television block of programming and the local 5pm news. Episodes such as "Amazon Grace," "Lure of the Lyre" and "Herc's Nemesis" were written at this time. However, mid-way through the season, the Fox Kids Network Executives changed the direction rather completely along with the time slot for the series.

Suddenly, Executives of the Network demanded the series focus solely on the attention of a young boy audience. Rather than write human relation along with action and mysticism stories, the writers and producers of "Young Hercules" were requested to completely focus on issues of strength, virility (heh) and action, action and more action. Scripts were quickly changed to meet with Network demands. Episodes including "Adventures in the Forbidden Zone," "Under Siege" and "Apollo" were quickly written to replace other stories that had been otherwise in development.

Although ratings on the Fox Kids Network were strong for the season (2nd top rated live-action series below the Power Rangers), "Young Hercules" was not renewed. Unlike "Power Rangers" and another Saban series called "Mystic Knights" which were owned by Fox Kids Network, "Young Hercules" was owned by USA Studios (division of Universal Studios), resulting in television politics coming before television ratings. "Mystic Knights" which was similar to "Young Hercules" in terms of genre and overall fantasy elements, did very badly in television ratings and was a cause of embarrassment to Fox Network Executives. Fox Executives not wanting to be blamed for "Mystic Knights'" failure, decided to make "Young Hercules" the scape-goat, blaming the series for anything and everything they could to deflect the spotlight away from the failings of their own series. Speculation also has it that this was the reason for the Network's sudden change in creative direction for the series.

Because "Young Hercules" brought in such a heavy young female audience, Fox Kids Network's other more young boy oriented shows were suffering in time slots directly before and directly following "Young Hercules." "Mystic Knights" and "Power Rangers" had been lead-ins and lead-outs for "Young Hercules." Fox Kids Network Executives became more and more loathing of "Young Hercules" towards the end, especially the Fox Executive, Roland Poindexter, who was rumored to highly criticize the series along with its lead actor, Ryan Gosling. Save Young Hercules campaigns began among fan groups and persisted for several years following the end of the series.

Young Hercules' executive producers were Robert Tapert and Spider-man director, Sam Raimi. Liz Friedman and Eric Gruendemann were co-executive producers and former MTV producer, Cynthia Hsiung was producer of the series. In New Zealand, where principal photography was shot, Janine Dickins held down the fort as the New Zealand Producer while three series directors took turns shooting the episodes in blocks of four along with a fourth director for second unit. Chris Graves, Charlie Haskell and Andrew Merrifield shot principal photography and Simon Rabbi shot second unit. Later in the series, Simon Rabbi shot principal photography for the 50th episode, "Valley of the Shadow."

The series has been used in case studies of how to shoot television series efficiently. Traditional television series are shot one episode at a time. "Young Hercules" was shot in blocks of four episodes at a time. The four would be written with this in mind, keeping sets, locations, and actors similar in all four episodes even if story and plot lines might not interrelate. This saved tremendous amounts of money and time allowing the series to be shot on a shoe string budget, but with maximum on-screen dollars. The 50 episodes had a budget of roughly $20 million which includes above and below the line costs. Shooting in New Zealand also allowed the series to circumvent considerable Guild regulations for further savings. Additional monies were saved shooting the series on 16 mm film. Early research was done to see if digital film could be used, but it was determined that technology just wasn't adequate at that time to make digital filming economically viable.

The three main Directors of the series were on a rotation, one Director for each four episode block. One of the blocks included two episodes with the mythical Golden Hind, half deer, half woman. None of the Directors were looking forward to working with these notoriously un=trainable animals. Deer not only could not be trained, they were also known to skiddishly run off set with no warning. The "Golden Hind" block, as it affectionately became known, kept falling later and later into the production schedule for various logistical reasons. As the block fell out of one Director's schedule and into another's, and then into another's, all the Directors quipped as to which "unlucky" Director would finally get to work with the unruly and un-trainable deer which was an integral part of the Golden Hind story. Andrew Merrifield finally got and rose to the challenge of the task of shooting the Golden Hind stories.

Once shot, these episodes were especially interesting to the Producer and Writers who intended for Young Hercules' character to fall in love with the Golden Hind. Instead, in one scene between Hercules and Kora, played by Angela Dotchin, the actors decided to interpret the script a little differently. Rather than express affection for the Golden Hind, Ryan Gosling and Angela Dotchin's interesting read of the script displayed an unusually close relationship and bond between them that was unintended by the writers. The final scene was so profoundly touching between Hercules and Kora, that it unfortunately took away from the theme of the episode. Alas, the scene had to be cut from the final air version for continuity purposes.

Ironically, the "Power Rangers" which was in direct conflict with "Young Hercules" in 1998-1999, is now shooting in, of all places, New Zealand (Until 2009) and under the same New Zealand Producer, Janine Dickins, and several of the same Directors including Charlie Haskell and Andrew Merrifield. The Network Executive at the Disney Channel (Disney now owns "Power Rangers") is Susette Hsiung, the sister of the Young Hercules Producer, Cynthia Hsiung. The series was produced by Renaissance Pictures and USA Studios for Fox Kids Network. Bill Hamm and Patricia Wells were the Studios USA Development Executives assigned to the series. From the Fox Kids Network, the Executives assigned at the beginning of the series were Sidney Iwanter, Karen DiNoto and Nancy Redford. As the series progressed, Nancy Redford left Fox Kids Network to join the then Fox Family Channel, Sidney Iwanter also stepped off the series and Karen DiNoto was then the sole Fox Kids Network Executive to the series.

The 51st episode that was never produced was also written by Patrick Phillips but was replaced when the Fox Kids Network mandate of increased action was put forth to the production team. Principal photography took place in New Zealand while post-production elements including visual effects and music were all edited and integrated together in Los Angeles. Early on in the series, special visual effects were conceived by Richard Taylor's Weta Workshop, the then little known visual effects company that went on to do the Lord of the Rings. Weta and Richard Taylor stepped off "Young Hercules" early on to work on Lord of the Rings. In fact, the early production days of "Young Hercules" saw many of its crew leave to work on it.

Many fans and Network Executives alike believed throughout the shooting of the series that because "Young Hercules" was a spin-off of "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena: Warrior Princess"; that the newer series would have access to the other two series' sets, props, costumes, etc. In actuality, this didn't really happen. Actors did cross-over the three series frequently, such as the late Kevin Smith as Ares, along with many others. However, because the three series shot simultaneously in New Zealand, the logistics of sharing sets and costumes never really worked out. There were one or two exceptions, such as the Chariots that were used in the episode "The Beast Beneath." Those Chariots were borrowed from the Kevin Sorbo "Hercules" series.

Ryan Gosling was only 17 when he was cast in the lead role. And if it weren't for his Canadian status, he would have not been allowed to play the role under US Guild regulations. He was a veritable unknown actor at the time. Prior to Young Hercules, Ryan had been a Disney Mouseketeer in the same bunch that delivered to the public Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. To train for the role, Ryan took intense martial arts classes by the same trainer who taught Lucy Lawless and Kevin Sorbo. He was so tall and thin that his costume had to be reworked to minimize the look of how thin he was. Original costume sketches showed a darker upper body costume. When Ryan was cast, the costume designers made the upper body of his costume lighter in color and broader in the chest to help create a more bulky look. Make-up was used on Ryan's arms to help add muscle contours. Similar tricks were used for both Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless for their characters.

When the series ended, the then 18 year old Ryan Gosling was quite upset, even calling himself the "kiss of death" for any television show he was in. Gosling even contemplated leaving acting and going into music for a brief period following the end of Young Hercules. With encouragement from family and friends, and from those who had become very close to him on the set of Young Hercules including Dean O'Gorman (who played "Iolaus"); Gosling continued on in acting and today can be seen playing opposite the likes of Anthony Hopkins on the big screen in "Fracture."

The Producers of the series never meant for it to be faithful to Greek Mythology, rather, to borrow from it and to expand on the cryptic nature of the myths. The Greek mythology elements were used almost as camp adornments to otherwise very real life human stories. For example, in the series, a teenage Hercules has never met his father. Alcmene, his single mother, faces the same types of difficulties any single mom would face, albeit with the added dysfunction of Zeus, King of the Gods, being Hercules' father. Originally, the series was never meant to have Young Hercules meet his dad. That changed when Fox Kids Network canceled the series.

In the final episode of "Young Hercules," unknown to Hercules, Zeus does appear to him, in disguise as an old man who sends Hercules and his friends into the "Valley of the Shadows." Here, Hercules is tested, not only for his strength and courage, but most important of all, for his character and love of his friends. He passes the test to Zeus' satisfaction. Although the series ends with Hercules thinking his father, Zeus, has never and will never care about him, the audience knows different. The last scene of the 50th episode was meant to be a gift to all the loyal fans - unknown to Hercules, the audience watch the last scene of the series with Zeus speaking proudly and lovingly of his very special son.

Episodes available on Hulu.com