Xena: Warrior Princess is an American–New Zealand supernatural fantasy adventure series that aired in syndication from September 4, 1995 until June 18, 2001.
The series was created in 1995 by writer-director-producer Robert Tapert under his production tag, Renaissance Pictures with later executive producers being R. J. Stewart (who developed the series along with Tapert) and Sam Raimi. The series narrative follows Xena (played by Lucy Lawless), a warrior in a quest to seek redemption for her past sins as a ruthless warlord by using her formidable fighting skills to help people. Xena is accompanied by Gabrielle (played by Renee O’Connor), who during the series changes from a simple farm girl into an Amazon warrior and Xena’s comrade-in-arms; her initial naïveté helps to balance Xena and assists her in recognizing and pursuing the “greater good”.
The show is a spin-off of the television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys; the saga began with three episodes in Hercules where Xena was a recurring character originally scheduled to die in her third appearance. Aware that the character of Xena had been very successful among the public, the producers of the series decided to create a spin-off series based on her adventures. Xena was a successful show which has aired in more than 108 countries around the world since 1998. In 2004 and 2007, it was ranked #9 and #10 on TV Guide’s Top Cult Shows Ever and the title character was ranked #100 on Bravo’s 100 Greatest TV Characters. Xena’s success has led to hundreds of tie-in products, including, comics, books, video games and conventions, realized annually since 1998 in Pasadena, California and London.
Xena: Warrior Princess is set primarily in a mythological fantasy version of ancient Greece and was filmed in New Zealand. Some filming locations are confidential, but many scenes were recorded in places such as the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, part of the Auckland Regional parks often credited at the end of the episodes.
The Ancient Greece depicted in the show is largely derived from historical locations and customs, modifying known places and events – battles, trading routes, towns, and so on – to generate an attractive fictional world. The settlements are presented as a mixture of walled villages and rural hamlets set in a lush green, mountainous landscape. They are often seen under attack from warlords, and travelling between them involves frequent encounters with small bands of outlaws. All of the main towns are named after historic towns of Ancient Greece, and exhibit some of their essential characteristics – Amphipolis (birthplace of Xena), Potidaea (birthplace of Gabrielle), Athens (birthplace of Joxer), Corinth,Delphi, and Cirra (birthplace of Callisto) which was burnt to the ground by Xena’s army.
As the show progressed, however, events took place throughout more modern times and places, from Cleopatra’s Alexandria to Julius Caesar’s Rome. The mythology of the show transitioned from that of the Olympian Gods to include Judeo-Christian elements. Eastern religions were touched on as well, with little regard to accurate time-and-place concerns. One episode, “The Way”, which loosely interpreted elements of Hinduism as major plot points, generated controversy, requiring the producers to add a disclaimer at the head of the episode and a tag explaining the episode’s intentions at its end.
Mythological and supernatural locations are presented as equally real, physical places, often accessed through physical portals hidden in the landscape such as lakes and caves. They include the Elysian Fields, Tartarus, the River Styx, Valhalla, Heaven and Hell. The inhabitants of such places – gods, mythological beings and forces – are for the most part manifested as human characters who can move at will between their domains and the real world. Ares, the Greek God of War, for instance is an egotistical man who wears studded black leather, and AphroditeGoddess of Love is a California Valley Girl who uses typical Valley Girl slang and dresses in flowing, translucent pink gowns.
Xena: Warrior Princess starred Lucy Lawless as Xena and Renee O’Connor as Gabrielle. The first choice for Xena was the British actress Vanessa Angel, but an illness prevented her from travelling, and the role was offered to another four actresses before the relatively unknown Lawless. Sunny Doench was cast as Gabrielle, but she did not want to leave her boyfriend in the United States, so O’Connor, who had appeared in Hercules in another role, was chosen.
The show features a wide assortment of recurring characters, many of them portrayed by New Zealand actors. Ted Raimi became a core member of the cast from the second season as Joxer. Actor Kevin Tod Smith played popular character Ares, God of War, and Alexandra Tydings played his counterpart Aphrodite, Goddess of Love. Other notables included Karl Urban in a variety of roles such as Cupid and Caesar, Hudson Leick as Xena’s nemesis Callisto (Leick also played a body-switched Xena in the episode Intimate Stranger), Claire Stansfield as the evil shamanessAlti; and a number of trusted friends – Jennifer Sky as feisty sidekick Amarice, Bruce Campbell as Autolycus King of Thieves, Robert Trebor as dodgy entrepreneur Salmoneus, William Gregory Lee as the warrior-poet Virgil and Tim Omundson as the spiritual healer Eli.