by Scott Thomas

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As any Highlander fan worth his or her Immortal salt is well aware, this fall will see the debut of a spin-off to the series, which we're calling Highlander II. As they are almost just as certainly aware, season six of the original series was designed in part to offer four pilots to the USA Network featuring a female Immortal, which the cable network would couple with their extremely successful La Femme Nikita.

While she is not involved with the spin-off, Donna Lettow was the Associate Creative Consultant of Highlander, and has taken the time to chronicle the genesis of the new series.



Q: Is it true that if USA had not expressed interest in a spin-off there wouldn't have been a sixth season of Highlander?


A: To my knowledge -- one of the areas I didn't play in was business affairs -- we had been cancelled by Rysher. We were within a couple of days of selling off the stuff in the office. We thought it was over. I guess USA approached Rysher because the next thing we knew, Rysher was saying, "Well, we'll finance some..." They said it to us a little at a time. "We'll renew you, but we'll renew you for 13. We're renewing you for 13, but on a reduced budget. So you're renewed for 13 on a lesser budget and we've promised that four of those will be a pilot for this entity that is not putting any money into the production." Meaning USA. Then the restrictions got even harder because we started trying to put together some stories that would at least involve these women in our existing arc with our existing characters. Then the word came down, "No, that would be too confusing for the people who are judging the spin-off so they have to be standalone episodes, they have to focus on these women and they can't be a bad guy." So it seemed that everywhere we turned the rules got stricter and stricter. And they had to be Canadian or European actresses.



Q: How difficult was it coming up with these standalone shows?


A: Some of them were easier than others. For me the easier ones are the ones that look more like traditional Highlander. For example the episode "Justice" is still about Duncan MacLeod, in my mind anyhow, and it still has the usual trappings of Highlander. It's emotional, it's operatic, it's got good strong flashbacks, a sword fight and all of that. That was easier than something like "Deadly Exposure", which was more like an episode of La Femme Nikita, except for the fact that it's harder to kill her. La Femme Nikita is actually very good at what they try to do, but they don't try to make Highlander and we don't try to make them. Unfortunately, our understanding is that was more of the kind of show that USA wanted.



Q: They were looking for a companion piece to Nikita, right?


A: The "Deadly Exposure" model was more of what they were looking for than the "Justice" model or "Patient Number Seven".



Q: Internally, were these pilots deemed a success?


A: There's two ways to judge success. Success as an episode of Highlander, I think three out of four. Success as pilots for a new series -- well, obviously they didn't buy. That I think is harder to judge. We do have a series and it's on the air, but it's not based on any of those individual characters or episodes. I think what those episodes did was create a buzz....



Q: No pun intended....


A: [laughs] Good point. A buzz, so to speak, in the syndication community. And it convinced Rysher that it might be possible to do a new series based on a woman. But a successful pilot in that we made a series based on that episode, no. You notice I only consider four of them pilots. Those were all the ones we did for USA, what we called the actress auditions. What we were trying to do, what USA had asked for, was they had wanted us to use those four episodes to find an actress. The show that would have come out of that may not have been just like that episode. If we, for example, had gone with Alice Evans from "Patient Number Seven", she may not have been playing that same character. Later in the year a couple of things happened. We realized there was going to be an episode without Adrian, one more than we had expected. We knew there was one episode that Adrian was not available for, which we had already booked Peter Wingfield for. It's what we call the Methos and Joe show. We had one where we could have had Duncan for a day or two to work him in to the story and had him for two days less in the finale in exchange. We finally made the decision that, for the sake of the series' finale, we would use him for those days, but it would leave us with an episode that had no Highlander in it. No Duncan, no existing characters. That's the one we actually call the pilot. We weren't auditioning talent in that what David Abramowtiz wanted to do was try out his vision of what a new series should be, which is the Immortal woman/mortal man premise. That's called "Two of Hearts" and it starred Claudia Christian. That one wasn't part of the deal with USA. It was a pilot for us, for Rysher and anyone else interested. And because it wasn't one of the four, we could use Claudia Christian, who is an American.


It's a fabulous episodes. For me it's one of the top four or five of season six. It also rated highly with the fans. I think we did something right. If we hadn't been able to get Elizabeth Gracen, I had really hoped that Claudia would get the series because I think the dynamic between those two characters was just fabulous. Because of Claudia it opened people's minds to the idea that maybe we could use an American. Then we were thinking, "We've already got a very good one. What about Elizabeth?"



Q: Had there been talk of an Amanda spin-off or was that an idea that everyone blew off?


A: At the beginning when what we were making was shows about kick-ass women, when we thought about an Amanda show we didn't think it would work, because she's not a moral creature. She can't be a moral center of anything and it would take a complete overhaul of Amanda's personality for her to anchor a show in the mold of Highlander -- one kick ass Immortal fighting evil in the world. Amanda doesn't fit into that category. Once we'd opened the door to a possibility of a mortal costar, he becomes more of the moral center and she does her chaotic little dance around him. That worked.



Q: When did Elizabeth come up as the prime candidate?


A: After the Highlander cruise, because David Abramowtiz spent a weekend with Elizabeth and was reminded of what a wonderful person and actress she is, and he literally came back from the cruise as if he had forgotten about her previously. He came back saying, "Of course, it's Elizabeth. It's been in front of us all the time."



Q: You're very connected to the fans, how enthused are they about the spin-off?


A: They're more enthused now that it's Amanda, but part of that is they may be expecting business as usual with Amanda in MacLeod's position with Joe and with Methos. I keep telling them that there's no guarantee that you'll ever see any of MacLeod's world. It's not business as usual and the people that tune in that first week are going to be surprised. Hopefully pleasantly so.