Popular Fantasy Books Inspire Sam Raimi's New TV 'Legend'

Bridget Regan as Kahlan and Craig Horner as Richard Cypher in 'Legend of the Seeker'

From stage to the small screen, Brown University theater arts graduate Ken Biller began his foray into the entertainment world by working in New York City as a producer’s assistant and theatrical workshop director. In 1990 he went to Los Angeles to break into the feature film and TV industry. Biller was hired as a network executive for CBS-TV and then Fox before teaming up with friend and fellow fledgling screenwriter Chris Brancato to try his hand at writing.

The two penned "Eve", a first season episode of The X-Files, as well as wrote pilots and scripts for several other series including Beverly Hills, 90210. They later went their separate ways to pursue different projects, and soon after that Biller was offered a staff writing job on Star Trek: Voyager. He went on to work as a writer/executive producer and/or director on such programs as Dark Angel, Smallville, and E-Ring. Currently, Biller is serving as a writer/executive producer on the new 22-episode fantasy series, Legend of the Seeker, which debuts in national syndication later this fall.

“The series, or its lead characters I should say, were created by Terry Goodkind in a very popular series of books, The Sword of Truth, the first installment of which is entitled Wizard’s First Rule,” explains Biller. “So Legend of the Seeker, while we have re-imagined it for TV, is, again, an adaptation of a popular novel, and our two-hour premiere or pilot sees the rise of a young hero named Richard Cypher [Craig Horner]. We’re not terribly specific as to when or where in history we are, but it’s a time and place where an ancient boundary exists between two territories, one called Heartland and the other, the Midlands, and Heartland is Richard’s home. He’s an expert woodsman as well as tracker and someone who’s comfortable with nature and animals. He is also a physical guy, but Richard has basically lived a peaceful and happy life with his father and brother.

“In the pilot, this ancient boundary is breeched, and as a result it lets in from the other side a territory called the Midlands, along with magic, good and bad, which hasn’t existed for several generations in Heartland. Also through this breech comes a powerful and mysterious woman, Kahlan [Bridget Regan], who is in possession of magical powers. She finds Richard and, much to his dismay, tells him that he is not who he thinks he is. In fact, he is destined to grow up to become a hero called The Seeker, who rises in times of great strife and trouble.”

Not surprisingly, Richard finds Kahlan’s story difficult to believe, but as events in the pilot continue to unfold he has no choice but to take to heart what she has revealed to him. “Kahlan is being pursued by these minions of an evil tyrant known as Darken Rahl [Craig Parker], who rules the Midlands,” says Biller. “That’s when Richard begins to realize that what Kahlan has told him is true, and it’s also revealed that an old man, Zedd [Bruce Spence], who seems to be a sort of crazy old coot and has lived near Richard and his family for years is, in fact, a great wizard who rescued Richard as a child to avert a prophecy.

“Richard must now come to terms with the fact that everything he thought was true about his life isn’t really true, and he’s something much more than he ever thought he was, He then comes into possession of the Sword of Truth, a magical weapon that’s been handed down for many generations, and by the end of the two-hour pilot, Richard sets out with Kahlan and Zedd on a much larger quest to kill this extremely powerful tyrant. However, in the meantime, they also battle evil and help those living in this very oppressive world. How’s that for a series synopsis,” chuckles the executive producer.

Legend of the Seeker comes to TV courtesy of Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, the same executive producing duo behind the long-running series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. As with both those programs, this one is also being shot on-location in exotic New Zealand, which, as Biller points out, presents its creative challenges along with opportunities.

“Production-wise one of the biggest challenges has been that the writing staff and I are based in Los Angeles and the production is in New Zealand,” he says. “While I’ve traveled to New Zealand and still do some back and forth there, I’m mostly in Los Angeles, and it’s sometimes tricky trying to produce something thousands of miles away. My producing partners are in New Zealand all the time, but I’m used to being far more on top of things from a production standpoint. So dealing with the time differences and the communication issues is a challenge as far as making sure the people on the production side are getting information from us that they need to produce the stories we’re imagining and vice versa.

“That said, it’s also a real bonus being able to shoot in New Zealand. As people will see in the two-hour premiere of Legend of the Seeker, it provides for some pretty amazing scenery, not to mention a wonderful and experienced crew as well as some really extraordinary production values that we might not be able to achieve were we shooting on a studio back lot in Los Angeles.

“When it comes to writing challenges, the main one I would say, is that, again, the fact that this show is based on a series of popular novels,” continues Biller. “That’s a challenge and an opportunity because on the one hand we have been given a world of wonderful characters and some very interesting mythology created by Terry Goodkind in which to explore. Conversely, we also have the job of presenting this show as a weekly series and creating standalone episodes week-in-and-week-out. Of course there’s an ongoing quest and a larger story, but each week our audience can expect to see a beginning, middle and end to a story that is its own adventure.

“So it’s been both a challenge and an opportunity to write compelling stories that not only involve these characters, but also honor the books without literally translating them. We’ve really tried to strike a balance between the two, which I think we have, insofar as adding to and augmenting the mythology of Terry Goodkind. There will be some stories where the characters are behaving as in the books, and other stories as well as events that don’t actually take place in the book. For those who haven’t read the novels, there should be no impediment. This should be an accessible TV series and people will very quickly, I believe, become involved with the characters, their goals and adventures.”

Those unfamiliar with the heroic figures that inhabit the Legend of the Seeker world will discover more about them as their stories are told. “Zedd the Wizard is sort of a mentor to Richard and Kahlan,” notes Biller. “He abandoned the Midlands many years ago in order to save Richard as a child, and is now dealing with the repercussions of having left a world where perhaps his powers could have helped the people who have since been victimized by the tyrannical Darken Rahl.

“Our hero Richard is in his early twenties and our point of view character. He’s coming into a world of magic for the first time, which means everything he’s encountering, both good and evil, is all new to him. As a result, Richard has a lot to learn and must come into his own as a hero. He most certainly is The Seeker, but being The Seeker isn’t easy, so he’s going through a process of growth and discovery while at the same time taking on this very serious heroic mantle. There are some people who look to Richard as a savior, while others see him as a threat and want to kill him, so he must come to terms with that.

“And he has a budding relationship with Kahlan. During the course of the show’s first season they find that they have feelings for one another, but because they have a larger purpose and are on an important mission, they can’t just begin a romance and play it out as normal people would. Also, Kahlan has a secret. I won’t tell you what it is, but it has to do with her powers and appears to be the reason why she and Richard are fated to never really be together as a couple. So she’s a character who is feeling this tremendous burden of responsibility to protect this person she’s traveling with, not only because he is The Seeker, but also because she’s growing quite fond of him.”

Fans of Hercules and Xena can look forward to seeing Ted Raimi, who played Joxer, as a guest-star on Legend of the Seeker. “Ted is a real jewel of a character actor and particularly recognizable to genre fans,” says Biller. “He is, of course, also Sam Raimi’s brother, and when we came up with this role for a particular episode, we were like, ‘Gosh, could we get Ted to do this?’ So we approached Sam, who thought it was a great idea, and it turned out that Ted was available. He’s playing the role of Sebastian in the episode "Bounty", which I think airs third or fourth after the pilot. His character is kind of a wily, amoral merchant and purveyor of magical maps which are being used to track down our hero. It’s a fun character that Ted was just perfect for and who conceivably could return later on in the series.”

As with the Richard Cypher character, certain aspects of Legend of the Seeker are brand new to Biller, but he has nonetheless quickly embraced them and is convinced that viewers will do the same. “I’m really excited about the pilot and I think it’s going to be unlike anything on TV right now,” enthuses the executive producer. “For fans of fantasy, genre or anyone who likes a good rip-roaring tale, it’s going to be a treat to watch. I’m really proud of it and what’s to come with the series as a whole."

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