It’s hard not to be impressed by Rob Tapert. Along with his creative partners Sam Raimi and Joshua Donen, the man is responsible for some of the best, and most influential fantasy television of all time: first, Xena: Warrior Princess, which starred his wife Lucy Lawless, and now Legend of the Seeker, a surprisingly watchable adaptation of the Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth novels.
Recently, I chatted with Rob via phone from New Zealand, and he soon made it clear what a perfectionist he is — which is an obvious source of frustration in the blindingly fast production pace of series television. As of this posting (and contrary to some other reports), Legend of the Seeker has still not “officially” been picked up for a second season (although it looks very, very likely), but that hasn’t stopped Tapert from micro-analyzing everything about the first season and gearing up for an even better second one.
TheTorchOnline: One of the things that’s really struck me about the Legend of the Seeker is how sexy it is, what with Bridget and Craig and Mistress Denna — how you’ve made fantasy a little more “adult” and sophisticated. Is that intentional?
Rob Tapert: The intention is always to try and make something sexy. The original source material, the Terry Goodkind’s books, they were in and of themselves very sexy, and they actually went much further in various sexual proclivities than we’re able to do on a syndicated show, so the original source material had that in it, and I think part of that was the original appeal to my partners, Josh Donen and Sam Raimi on this who both read the book and it was kind of Sam who said, “I’d love to take this material and, you know, make this our return to television.”
Then, of course, you get lucky in casting. Craig [Horner] and Bridget [Regan] were able to bring this to life wonderfully and, although you wouldn’t know it yet, as the season goes on, from where we are now, it actually gets better and kind of more sexy.
TTO: It’s one thing to read about Mistress Deena’s skintight leather; it’s another thing to actually see it. Are you ever pressured to tone it down or do you film two scenes, one for the airing and one for the DVD?
RT: We don’t have time to do two versions. It is the epitome of fast turnaround television. ABC Disney is a partner on this, they have slightly different standards than when we were doing Hercules and Xena, but that said, their standards and practice board has been by most standards and practices, incredibly easy to work with and very liberal in what they will allow us to portray on TV, so oddly enough, they have never really come and said you can’t sexually show something. Oddly enough, their concerns have been more about hero protection, oh, he shouldn’t run some guy through a second time or something like that.
So really, I think that considering what you could run up against at a network, and working with Disney who has a brand, this has been something that we’ve been fortunate that everybody involved has allowed us to push the boundaries and continue to push them.
TTO: I once read Woody Allen say that whenever he gets an idea for a movie, the resulting movie he said, I think, was something like 50 to 80 percent of his original inspiration and he’s always sort of disappointed. Now that you’ve finished the whole season, looking back, remembering when you first had the inspiration to turn this into a TV series, how close or how good have you realized that initial inspiration?
RT: Fifty percent.
TTO: So you’re a perfectionist!
RT: Well, I think there are things, areas that we can improve upon. I think going into a second season, once we know what the show is, what everyone’s capable of and where we can extend and reach, I think that there is always room for improvement.
That said, there’s a lot of things that we really like a great deal. Sometimes you go, “Oh, we can do better with effects. We could do better fights. We could do better this. We could do better that.”
TTO: Well, the fights can’t be too much better ‘cause they’re pretty darn good.
RT: And we can service the stars perhaps better. Tell stories that just are skewed a little bit more towards building even better heroes, so – but if I say 50 percent maybe 50 to 60.
TTO: Now when do you sit down and hash out the next season arc and start writing the scripts? Has that already begun?
RT: Ken Biller and the writing staff are on hiatus right now. There’s a rough shape as to what some things would be in season two, and then beginning in May, we’ll have conversations about some more specifics.
TTO: When Legend debuted, it seemed like you knew it would existed in the huge shadow cast by Xena, and you dealt with it by sort of being the anti-Xena. Do you feel that the show has now established its own identity and moved out of Xena’s shadow and now you’re freer to go wherever the story takes you?
RT: It was never in that shadow. There was a very conscious determination made to not embrace some of the elements which was what I’m gonna call the post-modern take on things. This is very much a straight fantasy show in the totally in a Lord of the Rings sense as opposed to what Hercules certainly was and Xena to a more schizophrenic degree was. It would get acknowledged often that it was a show and doing a show and through some modern sensibilities and playing specifically to the audience knowing certain things or some of the audience knowing, so it was entirely different. And so this show has never done that and I actually think you actually can’t go back and redo totally a show that was a decade old.
TTO: What about the books? Do they cast a big shadow over the show? Do you feel that they are a starting point or an ongoing reference? How often does it come up, “Well, in the book, this happened”?
RT: You know what? If you go to watch the DVD commentary on Lord of the Rings and in one of the appendiums, Peter Jackson says, “Oh, if Tolkein was alive, I don’t think he would like what I did.” I speak to Terry periodically, I think as the show went on, the heroes that were in his mind, the actions that the actors and that we use in our stories are reflective of the theories that he wrote about. We certainly pulled lots and lots and lots of stuff from the book, props, story elements, taking episode and reinterpreting them so that they work as a television show, you know, the Mistress Denna, large swatches of the book. And season two will have elements that are done, book two and book three of the series.
[But] there are very few authors who go, “Oh my God, they got my book 100 percent right. There it is on the screen. Geez, I never needed to write it. They should have just made a movie out of it.”
So, that said, so we do use the materials. We do try to honor them, you know, once again Sam Raimi went to Terry Goodkind and said, “I want to make your book into a series,” and Terry agreed. He’d been approached over time by other people.
TTO: So you created Xena, one of the most influential TV shows of all time. Now you’ve got Legend, a show that has some of the best special effects ever seen on television. Do you ever get frustrated by the lack of respect that fantasy gets from the industry and the critics?
RT: I just care about the chance to get up and tell the stories and be involved in the process. It’s a genre that I’ve always loved and I look at myself as a fan and as a fanboy. So what I like is like to be entertained, so all I can hope for is that I’m given a chance as a producer to make material that I want to tune in and watch. So whether, you know, I’m never going to change that Hollywood studio that executives have a generally a disregard for fantasy, that it’s a poor art form. I’m not gonna change that.
All I can do is try to tell stories that move and excite me and hopefully move and excite people who also like fantasy. So it’s the opportunity to get up to bat and do those kind of things that is exciting. The acceptance of the general populace or of Hollywood or of any of those things, it’s just not important.
TTO: It must get frustrating though when you see great work being done, not just by you, but by the people you’re working with and it’s not being recognized. It’s not being given the credit it deserves.
RT: I thought that when we were back doing both Xena and Hercules that Ngila Dixon who was doing the costumes on both shows at the time, she did some fantastic work and it took her going off to Lord of the Rings to really get recognized, but in many ways, I thought her work on Xena in particular was spectacular and certainly in the world of fast turnaround TV. So it’s more the people who give 150 percent. They fail to get any recognition whether it’s the writers or the costume people or the BPs. That’s more the thing that I wish I could have an influence over, but I can’t, so I try to give those people the respect they deserve personally.
TTO: On the other hand, the people who worked on some of these other shows that are long forgotten that were airing at the same time as Xena don’t have legions of fans and conferences and internet websites and so your colleagues may not have an Emmy on the wall, but they have the adulation of legions of fans, which accounts for something, I think. In fact, I just finished a long article on one of the Xena episodes. I could talk about the show forever.
RT: Which episode?
TTO: It was the Norse trilogy. I wrote the article and I posted it, and then somebody told me that in the Xenaverse, you know, those are not considered among the best of the episodes.
RT: I actually really enjoyed them and like them and for R.J. Stewart and myself, it was — it allowed us to do the things that we love to do with that show. It gave us some boyish joy in our middle age, which was taking different elements and combine them, so taking the ring and Beowulf and kind of mashing them together and finding a story there our stars could influence those things.
But it was one of the lowest-rated shows, and it repeated very poorly and I came away with an entirely different take that I still think has some validity. I thought that the syndicated audience did not like to go in the snowy and cold environments, so it didn’t have any of the lush warmth or tropical or exterior or any of that stuff that the series generally had and that those colder episodes never repeated well.
TTO: Is that also true of the darker episodes, like an episode like “The Debt”? Is it the same sort of the thing, the audience just didn’t like it when they went into the darkness?
RT: “The Debt” repeated okay. I think the fans liked them, but yes, over the long run the comedies, by the time we get to Oxygen and they’re running the sprockets off it, comedies repeated the best, no question about it.
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