'Seeker' looks to revive a dormant genre

Fantasy series looking for syndication magic

"Legend of the Seeker" is hoping to conjure up some ratings magic and revive a dormant genre when it debuts in syndication this weekend.

The weekly scripted epic fantasy, about a woodsman (Craig Horner) who discovers he has magical powers and sets out to stop a sinister tyrant, will become the first major action hour to bow in syndication in recent years with its two-hour premiere. The most recent effort, NBC/MGM's "She Spies," failed to generate much interest, lasting only two seasons (2002-04).

Many had left the genre for dead, as such big-budget first-run dramas as "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena: Warrior Princess" were considered to be part of another era. But "Seeker" distributor Disney-ABC Domestic Television and producer ABC Studios believe the time is right for the weekly action hour to make a comeback.

"Entertainment and fantasy and escapism are very important in the world right now," Disney-ABC Domestic Television president Janice Marinelli said. "When we looked at the marketplace, there was very little first-run scripted programming available and thought there would be interest."

Those involved in the show argue that "Seeker" has several things in its favor, including the fact that it's adapted from a popular book series, Terry Goodkind's "Sword of Truth." The 22-episode series also boasts a substantial budget, with lots of action sequences and special effects; it's shot in high-def; and it features closed-ended episodes, so latecomers can easily catch up. Moreover, the fantasy genre has proved it has a huge fan base, as evidenced by the success of the "Harry Potter" books and films and the "Lord of the Rings" movies.

Asked if he considers the show risky, executive producer Rob Tapert said, "I think there are many people who would say that, but the action hour didn't die because the audience (interest) disappeared; it died because the quality of the action hour became subpar."

Tapert and his fellow exec producers -- Sam Raimi, Joshua Donen, Ned Nalle and Ken Biller -- are no strangers to the action hour. Raimi, Tapert and Nalle all boast "Xena" and "Hercules" among their credits, while Biller's resume includes UPN's "Star Trek: Voyager." But Tapert said "Seeker's" exec producers didn't want to bring the same approach to "Seeker" as had been done with "Xena" and "Hercules."

"We wanted to make it much more real," he said. "We didn't want to have the '90s postmodern attitude where the audience is in on the joke. 'Seeker' is much more serious than 'Hercules' and 'Xena.'

Bill Carroll, vp and director of programming at station rep firm Katz Television Group, also thinks the show will reach an underserved audience.

"When you have something that is unique and targeted toward probably the most elusive demographic -- young male viewers -- then (the possibility for success) is pretty good," he said.

Neither Marinelli nor Tapert would talk specifics about the budget, though Tapert insists "it's the most money ever spent on a first-run syndicated hour." Offsetting the production costs is the fact that Disney is selling the series internationally. Carroll said one of the reasons the weekly scripted offerings dried up is because the overseas marketplace lost interest but argued that "Seeker" has the credentials to appeal to foreign audiences.

To be sure, many will be keeping an eye on "Seeker" to see how it fares -- and if it succeeds, it likely will spark a resurgence in the genre. It also would give station launch group Tribune Broadcasting, most of whose stations are affiliates of the CW, a shot of confidence in its ability to find its own scripted programming apart from a network affiliate should the need arise.

While Marinelli admits nothing is a sure thing anymore, especially in syndication, she is hopeful.

"In success, we hope to continue down this path with perhaps more scripted shows for the marketplace," she said. "We all have our fingers crossed."