Hercules: The Legendary Journeys is a television series, filmed in New Zealand and the United States. It was produced from 1995, and was very loosely based on the tales of the classical Greek culture hero Heracles (Hercules was his Roman analogue). It ran for six seasons, producing action figures and other memorabilia as it became one of the highest rated syndicated television shows in the world at that time. It also gained a cult following along with its spin-off, Xena: Warrior Princess.
It was preceded by several TV movies with the same major characters in 1994 as part of Universal Television’s Action Pack: in order, Hercules and the Amazon Women, Hercules and the Lost Kingdom, Hercules and the Circle of Fire, Hercules in the Underworld, and Hercules in the Maze of the Minotaur, the last of which served mostly as a “clip show” of the previous movies as a lead up to the series.
The series is set in a fantasy version of ancient Greece not precisely located in historical time. Although set in ancient Greece, the show also has a mixture of Oriental, Egyptian and Medieval elements in various episodes. The show stars Kevin Sorbo as Hercules and regularly features Michael Hurst as his sidekick Iolaus. Rotating as Hercules’ other regular companion, particularly in earlier seasons, is Salmoneus (Robert Trebor), a wheeler-dealer ever looking to make a quick dinar.
Typical plot lines involve Hercules and Iolaus saving rustic villagers from monsters, evil warlords or the often selfish whims of the gods. There was also comedy and episodes often had “in-jokes” about modern themes.
In the earlier episodes, as mentioned in the show’s opening title, Hercules’ main nemesis is his evil stepmother Hera, the powerful queen of the gods, who seeks to destroy Hercules using various monsters, because he is a reminder of her husband Zeus’ infidelity. As the series progressed, a wider range of enemies was used; notably Hercules’ half-brother, the malicious god of war Ares, replaced Hera as the show’s primary antagonist. Towards the end of the series Ares is himself replaced by the evil god, Dahak, who is the main villain in the show’s fifth season and sets off a story arc that has Hercules traveling to Sumeria, Norseland and Éire. Although Zeus, Hercules’ father, is frequently cited by Hercules as a neglectful father, Zeus’ love for Hercules is well documented in the show (In one episode, Hercules explains to a friend that he looked to father figures because Zeus was never around when he was younger. When confronted about this by Hercules, Zeus revealed that he specifically chose Alcmene to be Hercules’ mother because he, unfortunately, knew that he could not be there for his son and knew that she would provide him with the love, strength, and support he deserved, thus revealing he had put more thought into Hercules’ birth than any other child he ever had). Indeed, Hercules is often referred to as “the favorite son of Zeus”. Zeus makes several appearances on the show, even saving his son’s life and restoring his superhuman strength on one occasion when he needs it the most. Hercules, for his own part, is always there for Zeus when his father needs him, and in the end, Hercules reconciles with his father and buries whatever issues he has with the father he has come to understand and love. This, however, is changed in Hercules’ last appearance on Xena: Warrior Princess, when he is forced to kill Zeus with the rib of Cronus to protect Xena’s baby, however, Zeus uses his last breath to say he is proud of Hercules.