The first season of Legend of the Seeker faced a decidedly uphill battle. Not only was it one of the first pure swords-and-sorcery fantasy shows in many years, it was also the first major show to try its hand in syndication since Xena: Warrior Princess went off the air. The link between the two shows was executive producers Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert. Conventional wisdom said that the syndication market was basically dead in the 00’s, left behind by the proliferation of cable channels willing to fund original programming. Raimi and Tapert believed otherwise; with a tailor-made timeslot on Saturday nights on stations usually devoted to the CW Network (which doesn’t broadcast on Saturdays), they believed they could find success again in syndication. And they turned out to be right. Action-oriented shows are always easier to market worldwide, and with strong ratings in dozens of countries, Legend of the Seeker was renewed before the first season was even halfway over.
But finding an audience wasn’t the show’s only uphill battle. Based on author Terry Goodkind’s sprawling epic fantasy series The Sword of Truth, Legend of the Seeker had to find a way to make a dense, highly serial story into one-hour stand-alone episodes. Unlike a cable network, the reality of the syndication market demanded that the show not be excessively serialized. Syndicators believe strongly that their shows need to be accessible to a casual audience that might not see every episode. Creatively, this was a huge issue for the show. Go too episodic and you turn off your core audience, go too serial and you alienate the casual viewers that are theoretically the lifeblood of syndication. And they struggled with this quite a bit for the first half of the season or so. But eventually, the show managed to find that balance, turning into a very satisfying hour of TV from week to week. The action scenes were always strong, and filming in New Zealand is always a huge advantage to a fantasy story. But the acting got better, the writing improved, and by season’s end, Legend of the Seeker actually resembled an engaging, serious fantasy show instead of the unintentional parody it started as.
This past weekend’s season two premiere found the show picking up right where it left off. The episode established the premise of the season, taken directly from Goodkind’s second novel, The Stone of Tears. Series hero Richard Cypher (Craig Horner) has destroyed the evil Darken Rahl, but in doing so, has inadvertently opened a fissure in the earth which leads directly to the Underworld. And the Keeper, the lord of the Underworld, is scheming to get out and destroy the surface world. So Richard and his companions must find the Stone of Tears, a near-mythical object which will allow them to seal the Keeper back in the Underworld. Aside from the overarching plot, though, the episode managed to work in a storyline involving rescuing kidnapped village girls which was resolved by the end of the hour. Not to mention another thread popping up regarding Richard’s surprise family lineage, which is already tearing apart the D’Haran nation, the people formerly loyal to Darken Rahl. Oh, and there’s another prophecy to worry about. In the first season, a prophecy said that The Seeker (Richard) would defeat Rahl, but now a different prophecy is saying that Richard will fail in his quest to seal up the Keeper. All in all, it was a strong opening for a show that is starting to live up to its considerable potential. Now the challenge is maintaining that level of quality as the show returns to its more episodic structure next week.