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Disney's Latest 'Legend'

Lavish syndie drama debuts Nov. 1 10/31/2008 07:00:00 AM Eastern

The opening scene of Disney-ABC's Legend of the Seeker, based on Terry Goodkind's best-selling Sword of Truth series of novels, pans across a familiar looking snow-capped mountain range.

That's because we've seen it before, most recently in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, but much earlier in the opening scene of Hercules, the weekly syndicated hour that was a big hit for producers Sam Raimi—now best known for directing Spiderman—and Rob Tapert.

Now Raimi, Tapert and a league of producers, writers, actors, stuntmen and CGI artists are launching the largest original production that syndication has seen since Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess were popular in the mid-to-late 1990s. Gorgeously shot in New Zealand and crammed full of special effects, Legend of the Seeker opens in a two-hour premiere mostly in prime and prime-access slots on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 1-2.

“We went market by market and we got top stations in each market,” says Janice Marinelli, president of Disney-ABC Domestic Television. “I think that speaks volumes to what the market was yearning for. When was the last time a distributor came to the marketplace with a scripted product exclusively for them?”

Raimi, Tapert and their co-producers say they saw an opportunity to re-enter the genre with Legend, formerly titled Wizard's First Rule after the first book in Goodkind's series. In July 2007, the producers took the idea to Tribune, with whom they had partnered on Xena and Hercules.

Since then, Tribune management has changed, but the new executives, including Tribune Broadcasting President Ed Wilson and Senior VP of Programming and Entertainment Sean Compton, are just as supportive. “The more first-run programming that our stations can air, the better,” Compton says. “Of all the risks out there, this is probably one of the more intelligent ones we could take.”

Once Tribune signed on, the producers sought out a production company to help them finance the project. They brought the idea to Mark Pedowitz, president of ABC Studios, in November 2007. He ripped through the books and immediately fell in love with the project.

“I'm a big fan of the genre,” Pedowitz says, “and no one had done anything in this ballpark in seven or eight years. Saturday night is a great night to be on the air because there's nothing else there, and this is good programming for all ages.”

In time for NATPE 2008, a deal was done and Disney-ABC Domestic Television was on board to sell the show domestically. The show also seemed like a good bet for overseas markets. “There's an incredible amount of interest for a show like this internationally,” Tapert says. “That's one of the reasons this made sense to Mark in a difficult domestic situation.”

The show stars newcomers Craig Horner and Bridget Regan as Seeker Richard Cypher and Confessor Kahlan Amnell, two characters who are on a long journey to stop evil and save their world.

“We and ABC Studios knew we wanted to go out and create stars,” Tapert says. “We wanted fresh faces with no baggage coming in to the production. The second we saw Craig, we knew he was our guy. He had a boyish charm and yet he had a soulful quality about him. We wanted to see him kiss the girl.”

As for Regan, “she came in and read in New York, and we really liked her. Once we signed Craig, we brought them together for a chemistry reading. After that, we knew that was the pairing. And the bonus we got with both people is that they are both incredibly agile, which helps because they both have a lot of big fights they need to learn.”

Says Marinelli: “I think ABC Studios delivered exactly what they promised: quality, fantasy, action and romance. At the end of the day, we put up the best product in the best clearances possible. Now we hope that viewers find it.”

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