<i>Merlin</i>: Is America Ready for Another Medieval Drama?

This Sunday, the British series Merlin, a re-imagining of the Arthurian legend, premieres on NBC, with a cast of actors mostly unknown on this side of the pond. (The notable exception being Anthony Head from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) But is America ready for a new medieval television series? Sure, Legend of the Seeker just got renewed, and Robin Hood airs on BBC America, but is period fantasy ready for one of the big networks? We took a look back at previous period fantasy shows to see whether they were hits or misses.

Covington Cross (1992)
Like Merlin, this medieval family dramedy was filmed in England, and was a cast of mostly unknowns, although Say Anything's Ione Skye played the tomboy daughter and the parents had also starred in the King Arthur movie Excalibur. (And Glenn Quinn would go on to play Doyle on Angel.) The expensive show filmed 13 episodes but only aired seven, at which point Ross Perot bought the time slot from ABC to boost his image in his run for president. Maybe he could have simply arranged a cameo? Playing a leprechaun?

Wizards and Warriors (1983)
Not counting NBC's poorly rated 2000 mini-series The 10th Kingdom, the last time a big network tried out a regular medieval fantasy TV series was this epically tongue-in-cheek show, starring Jeff Conaway (Taxi) and Julia Duffy (Newhart). Despite keeping the budget down by re-using footage from the previously mentioned Excalibur, it still only lasted eight episodes, which must have been disappointing for series director Bill Bixby. Yes, that Bill Bixby.

The New Adventures of Robin Hood (1996-1999)
Before the BBC's latest adaptation of the Robin Hood tale started up, this TNT original series (their first) featured a magic-infused tale of the archer thief. The show managed to last four seasons -- 52 episodes! -- despite changing the cast a good deal: Maid Marian changed between seasons 1 and 2, and Robin himself changed between seasons 2 and 3, from Matthew Porretta (Robin Hood: Men in Tights' Will Scarlett O'Hara) to John Bradley (L.A. Firefighters).

Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001)
While it ostensibly took place in ancient Greece, the highly popular Xena played fast and loose with its mythology, and incorporated anything it thought would make a good story, including Medieval elements. A spin-off of Hercules, the Legendary Journeys, it actually managed to run longer than its predecessor, and spun off numerous books and comics. Insert victorious ululations here.

Young Blades (2005)
Set in 17th-century France, this series followed the Three Musketeers, but not the originals: D'Artagnan's son teamed up with two other guys and a girl fugitive who was disguised as a guy. (Does that make her a switchblade?) While the young cast was mostly up-and-comers who went on to bigger shows like Battlestar Galactica and Stargate SG-1, the older roles were filled by TV legend Bruce Boxleitner, movie legend Michael Ironside and music legend Sheena Easton. Sadly, that triple threat didn't help the series last beyond 13 episodes.

The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog (1998-1999)
Saban Entertainment made its name importing and Americanizing Japanese TV shows like Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers for afternoon TV, and, given their success, it was only a matter of time before they tried to create their own show specifically for Western audiences. Enter a team of mystically-powered super-knights who fought monsters in the peaceful kingdom of Kells. Fifty episodes were made, and they even got action figures, but compared to a 10-year franchise like Power Rangers, it was considered a failure. I blame the show's goofy, Celtic-inspired name.

Conan the Adventurer (1997-1998)
Based on the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, this show was less about barbarianism or destruction, and more about adventuring. Conan (Gladiator's Rolf Mueller) traveled the land with his small companion Otli (Seinfeld's Danny Woodburn). Sadly, Mueller was no Arnold, and Woodburn's frequent Seinfeld guest spots generated no crossover appeal, so the series ended after 22 episodes. Check out the first one below and see why.

What's your favorite period action drama? Don't say Queen of Swords.




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