American Record Guide
|Mayo, Mike. "Reviews: It's Got Zip, Wit, and Vitality. It's Too
Bad It Got Cancelled." Cinefantastique June - July 1983: 60.
Mayo, Mike. "Sidebar: Laughtrack Fails to Help Sword and Sorcery." Cinefantastique June - July 1983: 60.
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It's Got Zip, Wit, and Vitality. It's Too Bad It Got Cancelled.
by Mike Mayo
WIZARDS AND WARRIORS
CBS-TV series, 2/26/83, 50 mins. In color. Directed by Bill Bixby. Produced by Bill Richmond, Robert Earll. Screenplay by Bill Richmond. Executive producers, Don Reo, Judith D. Allison. Cinematographer, Richard Glouner. Editor, Housley Stevenson. Production design, Peter Wooley. Sound, Bud Maffett. Music, Lee Holdridge.
Prince Erik . . . Jeff Conaway
WIZARDS AND WARRIORS is a surprise. It's hip, bright, fun -- and certainly destined for cancellation.
The "lance and lasers" fantasy adventure series now on CBS is the most expensive ever attempted by the network ($8 million for eight episodes). The brainchild of television producer/writer Don Reo, an 11-year veteran of comedy shows, the series was pitched to network executives as "Butch Cassidy and Sundance in Camelot" (see sidebar, below).
The show puts characters with contemporary sensibilities into a semi-medieval setting. The princess, for instance, is a princess in every sense of the word; absolutely spoiled rotten. She is the type who's unaware of gravity because she has a handmaiden to catch anything before it hits the ground.
The show is television's latest attempt at an all-purpose fantasy-adventure series that can pull in both kid and adult audiences. Set in the mythical world of Camarand, millions of years in the future when technology as we know it has become something that only wizards can understand, the show centers on the ongoing battle of good guy/prince Erik Greystone (Jeff Conaway) to stop nasty prince Dirk Blackpool (Duncan Regehr) from conquering the world and redoing it in black leather; it's a different sort of comedy/adventure series. One-liners zip by, with the slightly wacked-out feeling of an American Monty Python effort. However, the television format binds in spots; too many segments build up to a menace that is quickly dispatched after the commercial.
Walter Olkewicz as Marko the hero's comic sidekick, grew into his part as the series progressed. Olkewicz's background includes improvisational comedy, and there is something akin to the quick vitality of John Belushi in his performance. Veteran actor Clive Revill warms to the task of renegade wizard Vector and creates the oilyest [sic] TV villain since Jonathan Harris in LOST IN SPACE. And Randi Brooks as seductive witch Bethel, dressed in a silver halter top, matching loincloth and little else, could induce rot in a statue.
A bit of interesting casting is Duncan Regehr as the epicine villain Dirk Blackpool. Regehr, a handsome but relative unknown, received his training as a Stratford Shakespearean actor and was originally offered the lead in the series. Regehr chose to do the villain instead, and developed the role of Blackpool working closely with series creator and executive producer Don Reo. Working closely with actors on script rewrites was a technique Reo found to be extremely successful during his tenure on MASH.
The special effects are quite good for television. The magic "monocles" of the wizards don't just hang like costume jewelry, but occasionally throb with blue energy to underscore a point about their power. However, impressive set decoration by art director Baela Neel is all but wasted on the tiny TV-sized screen; ornate tables and heavy woods with elaborate carvings can barely be glimpsed as background pieces. The costumes by Oscar-award winning designer Theadora Van Runkle are opulent and rich with colors and textures rarely seen in a network series.
A bit awkward at first, the show gained confidence as writers and the public became familiar with the characters. (CBS showed the pilot in its third week, frontloading some of the better, later episodes.) No doubt, WIZARDS AND WARRIORS is tame stuff compared to the blood-and-thunder of feature films, but the monsters are still on hand for the kids and the jokes are aimed at an adult audience. What the show lacks in originality, it easily makes up for in zip and vitality.
Below: Jeff Conaway as Greystone and Walter Olkewicz as Marko Herpe.
Right: Steven Strong as the Bonecrack Demon, one of the show's fantasy enemies.
Laughtrack Fails to Help Sword & Sorcery
also by Mike Mayo
Selling the idea of WIZARDS AND WARRIORS to the networks turned out to be a difficult chore. Even though writer/producer Don Reo worked on some of the most successful comedy shows in television, including MASH, RHODA, ALL IN THE FAMILY, LAUGH-IN and THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, the networks were leery of an expensive fantasy series. Reo convinced them that GREYSTONE'S ODYSSEY, as the show was originally named, was not going to be another CONAN.
"I think the problem that most people have with fantasy is that so much of it is very grim," said Reo, who got the idea for the show when his kids introduced him to Dungeons and Dragons. "I've gone to see films like EXCALIBUR, CONAN and CLASH OF THE TITANS, and those pictures were really somber. There just were not any lead characters that had a sense of humor, and when they tried it on NBC with FUGITIVE FROM THE EMPIRE, the show was so grim and boring that I was lost after the first five minutes."
CBS supported WIZARDS AND WARRIORS with a massive advertising campaign. The show needed to succeed in the ratings by the fourth or fifth episode for the network to renew it for production in the fall. Four weeks just wasn't enough time for the show to catch on with the viewers. The ratings weren't big enough to justify the show's high production costs, though there is still a slight chance that after WIZARDS AND WARRIORS' full eight-week run, it could be picked up as a mid-season replacement next year.
Said Reo, justifiably proud of the show, "It's always a crapshoot."
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