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Contra Costa Newspaper
17 November 1996
by Tom Goodman
The calls kept coming. With each successive one, the caller would try to disguise his voice. But Karen Provenza was on
to this trick. No matter how hard he tried to lie and weasel, he wasnít getting any more Xena posters.
Provenza, of KOFY Channel 20, the WB network affiliate in the Bay Area, says that the fantasy show "Xena: Warrior Princess" is out of control. The station gets calls all the time. Before Halloween, three or four people would call a day just
asking how to make a Xena costume. But by far the biggest indicator came at the annual Gay Freedom Day parade.
"We had a cardboard stand-up of Xena," Provenza says. "People were trying to steal it. They wanted to buy it. We
had to protect it like you wouldnít believe."
"Xena" Warrior Princess" is the highest-rated show on KOFY. It has had similar success around the country, where it appears on roughly 200 stations and is seen in 99 percent of the country Ė rare for independent programming.
The show is only in its second year but has been extended through 1998 and licensed to 15 foreign countries. The series and its star, Lucy Lawless, have been featured in People, Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
"Xena: Warrior Princess" may ultimately be hurt by the Leno stint because Lawless fractured her pelvis while taping a stunt in the parking lot. Lawless may have to cut back on her stunts or skip some episodes, says Rob Tapert, executives producer of the series.
But at this point it would be hard to stop the cult of Xena.
Sheís got her own web site. She has countless Internet news groups bowing at her feet. Her rabid fan base resembles the
much bigger "Start Trek" juggernaut and that of "The X-Files" Ė which is a network show.
"Itís just phenomenal," Provenza says. "Itís straight men. Gay men. Women. Children. Everybody loves Xena. Itís crazy.
Iíve worked here eight years and Iíve never seen a reaction like this."
Nobody predicted this. The character who should have captured the imagination of people everywhere was a familiar muscleman. "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" was the show that was supposed to fill a vacant niche on television Ė fantasy hero.
It is also the show that spawned Xena. She first appeared as a vicious warrior hell-bent on destroying Hercules. But an act of kindness made her see the error of her ways and now she's a do-gooder. She's assisted by her sprightly young protťgť, Gabrielle. And she gets the job done by being an acrobatic phenom, a martial arts killer and one highly skilled at using weapons.
Hercules canít measure up, mostly because he canít do the Hong Kong-style action sequences. Xena had a fling with
Hercules. He should count his blessing and cling to that, since heís been left behind as a pop icon.
Call any toy store and you can have your choice of three or so Hercules dolls. Ask for Xena and all youíll get are laughs.
Toy stores say it is one of the most sought-after action figures going. You canít find them on the shelves anywhere.
"People want to buy stuff from the show, but all you can buy is the doll Ė and you canít find it," Provenza says. "That doll is going out the back door of stores."
"Xena: Warrior Princess" is set in the mythical "Golden Age," well before Greece or Rome. In the words of the show itself:
"Surrounded by enemies, barbaric tribes, slave traders and a host of other evils, Xena is on a mission to help people free
themselves from tyranny and injustice."
Does that sound like a recipe for success? Not exactly. But add this: Lucy Lawless is a babe, the show is kitschy enough to be cool, it uses contemporary dialogue and the producers have cleverly tapped into a variety of elements that have attracted a diverse crowd.
"I think thereís a whole slew of things," says Tapert, co-creator of both "Xena" and "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys."
He joined Sam Raimi ("Darkman," "The Evil Dead" movies) in filling a void they saw on television.
"I think (Xenaís popularity) has something to do with the fact there hasnít been a woman superhero on TV like this. Itís
found a niche," Tapert says. "Lucy brings a lot to that role."
But Tapert says the main reasons behind the success of "Xena" are easy to spot. "I like two things Ė playing with the relationship between the two leads, from comedy to drama to casting doubts in the audienceís minds, and the action."
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