American Record Guide
|McDonnell, David. "Log Entries: Swordsmen and Sorcerers to Star
in New TV Series." Starlog February 1983: 9-10.
Swordsmen & Sorcerers To Star In New TV Series
by David McDonnell
Every fantasy world has its price tag. Science fiction and fantasy films have, in recent years, been brought in with budgets ranging from 10-40 million dollars.
Itís another matter altogether in TV, where time constraints, short production schedules and far-cheaper budgets have severely limited the creation of small-screen fantasy worlds.
One aberration cropped up in 1978: Battlestar Galactica. Universal produced the teleseries for ABC at an unprecedented average cost of one million dollars per hour. In the wake of Galacticaís untimely demise, TV production companies retrenched; the Galactica outlay was generally acknowledged as a mistake. No longer would SF-TV shows be granted such extravagant budgets.
Until Wizards and Warriors, a new CBS series starring Jeff (Taxi) Conaway, which will finally bring the fantasy sub-genre known as sword and sorcery to television on a regular basis. Conaway portrays Prince Erik Greystone, a noble hero who, true to form, battles the forces of Evil each week. In the one-hour pilot, entitled "The Rescue," he fights wickedness in truly high style.
"The pilot had a budget of about two-and-a-half million dollars," explains executive producer Don Reo, who created the show and wrote the pilot and three other segments. "And the individual episodes have the highest license fee that CBS has ever paid for a series. Itís in the neighborhood of a million dollars for each episode. And believe me, weíre using every penny of it."
The money is being spent on "truly spectacular" sets designed by Peter Wolley [sic] (whom Reo terms "an absolute genius") and a multitude of special-effects creations, including mutant armies, lightning hawks and flaming power swords.
Eleven episodes have been scripted; eight will be filmed, with the three additional segments to follow if ratings warrant a CBS renewal.
"Wizards and Warriors is basically a tale of war," Reo says, "between the bad guys of the North led by Prince Dirk Blackpool (Duncan Regehr of The Blue and The Gray) and the good guys of the South led by Prince Erik Greystone (Conaway). Itís set in a time that never was Ė which for my purposes is really 500 million years in the future, though it looks like the medieval age. There are crossbows, demons, magical cannons, Jinx Ė creatures who are half-human, half-snake, monsters, a great deal of sorcery. Underlying all of it is a battle of good vs. evil, not on a cosmic scale but on a human scale.
"What Iíve essentially done is to take the premise of all these pictures Ė like Excalibur, Dragonslayer, Clash of the Titans," Reo continues, "and combine them under an umbrella of contemporary sensibilities. Those characters act and talk the way people do today; theyíre 1983 folks in another time. Iím really trying to do the same thing with fantasy that Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid did for Westerns."
One important ingredient in the seriesí magical formula is comedy. Reo is former writer/producer of both M*A*S*H and Rhoda and served as executive producer of TVís Private Benjamin. Directing chores (two episodes each) were divided among four comedy/fantasy veterans: Bill (The Incredible Hulk) Bixby, James (The Muppet Movie) Frawley, Kevin (At the Earthís Core) Connor and Richard Colla.
The cast of characters include Marko, Greystoneís slightly corpulent, strongman sidekick (played by Walter Olkewicz, a comedy graduate of the short-lived The Last Resort and Steven Spielbergís 1941). Julia (The Blue and The Gray) Duffy is the slightly snobbish Princess Ariel Baaldoorf [sic], a damsel in continual distress. Representing evil are Duncan Regehr as Blackpool and Clive (The Legend of Hell House) Revill as the insidious Wizard Vector.
The intermingling of comedy and fantasy is somewhat reminiscent of the popular parody, Monty Python and The Holy Grail. "Actually, itís nowhere near Pythonís broad humor," Reo says, "but then again, itís nowhere near as somber and serious as Conan. Itís smack dab in the middle between the two, though we donít have Conanís elaborate stunt action.
"Wizards and Warriorsí humor is character humor, not slapstick situations. Thereís not a joke every two minutes; the humor arises from characters who happen to be humorous people. On the other hand, literally, there is danger every four minutes in the show. People die. And itís difficult to be funny when people are dying.
"M*A*S*H did it, but thatís a formula which happened once and may never happen again. M*A*S*H is like lightning in a bottle. Wizards and Warriors is an attempt to strike the same sort of tone.
"Just getting it on the air is like winning the Irish sweepstakes," Reo says with a laugh. "Then, weíll worry about which night itís playing." The series, designed as an 8 p.m. program, had not been scheduled by CBS at presstime, though it will probably premiere later this month or in early February. The title may also change; the series has formerly been titled Greystoneís Odyssey and, briefly, Wizards and Warlords.
Reo began developing the project in 1981. He recalls, "I was just coming off producing Private Benjamin, and I was extremely bored. So, I went surfing and decided to write something which I could enjoy, combining movies I liked and what my kids were into right then Ė Dungeons and Dragons. I said I would put something on television that I wanted to watch Ė since there were so few quality programs that I wanted to sit down and see.
"And I will watch it. So will my Mom. We may be the only ones," he concludes, "but I really donít think we will be. I think weíll be joined by millions of fantasy fans Ė all watching Wizards and Warriors, whatever night of the week itís on."
ALSO Ė in back of magazine (page 66) in the "Next Month" information section
Wizards & Warriors
Youíve caught just a brief glimpse this issue of some of the dazzling wonders of Wizards and Warriors, TVís first foray into real sword and sorcery and perhaps its most expensive production Ė ever. Next time, we visit the set for a firsthand look at the fantasy spectacle, its special effects and, especially, the creative team responsible for putting it all together.
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