The Convergence of Family Values, Computer-Generated Monsters, and Cleavage in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
Following the dearth of 1970s and 1980s films set in antiquity, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (hereafter HTLJ) emerged as one of the most successful television productions of the mid-1990s. Originally part of MCA’s Universal Action Pack, HTLJ was packaged as one component of an American effort to fill newly-available syndicated and cable timeslots with family-friendly, relatively non-violent programming. The pre-marketing emphasized an altruistic protagonist, whose strength was ‘surpassed by only the the power of his heart’. In an early interview the actor cast as Hercules, Kevin Sorbo, explained that ‘I never throw the first punch’ and that he used his strength only to defend ‘threatened villages’ and the like. Co-producer Robert Tapert clarified that ‘a certain amount of campiness [is] inbred in the material’.
The show garnered an unprecedentedly large international audience. Its success was attributed to a variety of different factors, including the first intense use of computer-generated animations on television – popularized first in such feature films as Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Jurassic Park (1993) – as well as a suggestive sexuality visible in skimpy costumes for men and women, including Sorbo dressed as ‘a hunk’. Thematically the kind heart implied in Hercules’s character – given lines like ‘You’re lucky to have her in your life’ – struck a chord with an American (and Americanized) viewership that had embraced contemporary commercialized ‘family values’ in films like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and Home Alone (1990), rendering the sex and violence that characterized contemporary American film and television more palatable for early evening viewing at home.