Note: Full review on my blog.
Lucas started to realise that a Indiana Jones had so much unexplored back-story television would be the excellent medium to continue to tell stories about the character. Instead of starting with Harrison Ford's Indy Lucas decided to explore the character's past growing up into the archaeologist we all know and love. He mapped out a timeline. Lucas felt that the episodes were a great way of incorporating not just the adventure element of the series but also an educational one. Indy would travel the world meeting historical figures along the way. Children would learn about history through the character of Indiana Jones. Not wanting to narrow the approach to showing history the production team ultimately decided they needed to show more than one age of Indiana. Casting got underway and soon an eight year old Indiana Jones was cast with Corey Carrier taking that role while twenty-eight year old Sean Patrick Flanery was cast as a sixteen year old Indy. George Lucas seeing what his friend Spielberg had done with his TV series 'Amazing Stories' felt that the 'Young Indy' stories should be framed with an elder Indy teaching those around him about life. George Hall was cast as a ninety-three year old version of the character. The idea was that every week Hall would appear in an episode through bookends framing each story. Typically one week would feature a Carrier story and another week a Flanery story although the writers like the viewers found Flanery's stories more exciting and so more ended up being produced of those. The whole production would be a massive undertaking with filming taking place in more than twenty-three countries, utilising period costuming and digital effects to recreate a particular time period. The production team with spending of an unheard of amount of one million dollars per episode began to soon see that for such a lavish production cost cutting would necessary hence the series was unfortunately shot on 16mm film denying them of a good picture source to work with for years to come.
Lucas felt that he could tell this prequel story over four seasons. Lucas also felt every episode needed to look like a feature film and so sought out the best talent he could find who could commit to the series. It wasn't plain sailing. Many directors like Monty Python's Terry Jones were happy to direct one episode but like many some found it difficult to commit to more than two episodes during the show's run. Simon Wincer contributed a good number of episodes most notably one of the series standout's 'Trenches of Hell' but it was actually director Carl Schultz who contributed the most with over twenty episodes under his belt by the series end. Schultz seemed to be the only director who was willing to commit to the exhausting production shoot. Finding writers proved to be easier. George Lucas wanted all the writers to be contributing to storylines together. For such a continuity heavy show the writers needed to know what each were doing so the ten or so writers moved into Lucas' Skywalker Ranch and worked with the creator on every storyline. Apparently a normal day involved Lucas submitting to the writers a historical event for them to write, then a writer would pick this up, research it using the library for the next day (their homework) and then have one day to write a script. To increase the pace of production producer Rick McCallum handled the filming shoots while Lucas handled the writing and editing of the episodes coming in. For the most part everything went smoothly although there was the occasional issue that delayed filming. In the case of 'Palastine, October 1917' this story took three years to make due to death threats from country they tried to film in. Wherever possible location shooting was done where it was needed and the production team also began to rely on Prague to double for other Eastern European countries.
As the series was chronicling Indiana Jones adventures growing up the show was eventually called 'The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles'. The response to the aired episodes was mixed. The show was a huge critical success earning many Emmy Awards for music and design but the commercial appeal of the series was poor. Network ABC didn't know what to do with the series or it's increasingly low ratings. The main problem was expectations. People were expecting Indiana Jones like the movies. They wanted a TV series with Harrison Ford taking part in the classic adventures and supernatural elements of the movies, they didn't want to see different younger versions of the character meeting historical figures and learning about Picasso or Albert Schweitzer. This proved to be too boring for some and ABC became so desperate to improve the falling ratings they lured Harrison Ford back to film bookends which of course did nothing to get more people watching the show as audiences could clearly see it was a gimmick. There were other problems with the series that put people off watching 'Young Indy'. The way the series was presented by Lucas made no sense to a viewer tuning in each week. There was no linear progression to the narrative. Every week a story would shift from eight year old Indy to next week an episode featuring teenage Indy and it was difficult to keep track of characters to get to know them. It's fair to say this series has the most complex continuity of any TV show. It makes 'Lost' look linear in comparison. Ultimately the way the continuity was presented worked against the series. For us the viewer to understand, hate or sympathise with a character we need to see some kind of linear progression of that person. The switch between Carrier to Flanery and then through different points in their lives was disorientating. It wasn't just the main characters that were affected as well. The series had a habit of having Indy meet up with Picasso or Ernest Hemingway before the episode when he's first introduced to them! Another issue was the bookends with the old Indy. George Hall did his best but Lucas didn't understand at the time that people enjoy Indiana Jones because he's a legend in the past, they don't care about his present day future. I mean no one wants to see a senile ninety-three year old eye patch wearing Indy hassling random people with stories in the hope they might learn something (which they never do). It's uncomfortable to see such a likeable hero turned into this underwhelming figure in the 1990s. It's a storytelling technique director Robert Zemeckis used more successfully in 'Forest Gump' although more successful as there it was actually required.
So the big question is: was the show any good? ABC ultimately didn't think so as they cancelled the series before the end of Season 2. The biggest crime about the Indiana Jones TV series was that it didn't find an audience. Like any TV show there were great episodes or mediocre ones. Here the quality was always high. Watching the series you'd get classic exciting stories like as mentioned 'Trenches of Hell', 'The Phantom Train of Doom', 'Attack of the Hawkmen', 'Treasure of the Peacock's Eye' to terrifically emotional character dramas like 'Travels With Father', 'Congo, January 1917', 'Florence, May 1908' and 'Princeton 1919'. Sure there were some weaker stories like 'Verdun, September 1916', 'Barcelona, May 1917' and 'Morocco 1917' but the quality for this show was always high. After cancellation 'Young Indy' was sold to The Fox Family Channel who allowed Lucas to make some TV movies which would act as a third season but that was it for this series. Lucas saw the flaws in the aired series he was responsible for and went about fixing them by re-editing the whole thing for home video. He linked the stories the best he could together, new episodes were filmed for TV movies that didn't have a common theme and had been orphaned. New linking material was added and Lucas finally understood that the George Hall bookends weren't needed so those where removed apart from the Harrison Ford ones from 'The Mystery of the Blues'. In all two and a bit years of young Indy's adventures had been completed, not the four Lucas had planned. No TV series with the name 'Chronicles' in the title seems to last more than two years, (check 'Terminator'). There are about thirty story ideas they had planned, ten of which had completed scripts. In it's re-edited form the series now mostly makes sense. There are still some large gaps mainly post-WWI but the series is now how it should have been all those years ago. Perhaps the series would have worked better to TV audiences had it always been more linear like the re-edited versions. It's just the biggest regret is that more episodes weren't produced.
What kind of legacy does 'The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles' leave? Well nothing had been attempted like it at the time. The series broke ground by being filmed all over the world while still staying lavish and authentic to the period. Nothing like this has been done since this. The original airings of the series showed so much promise and had Lucas made it more linear the ratings would have gone sky high. In it's present form today on VHS and DVD Through his many fantastic adventures meeting familiar faces the audience is entertained although George Lucas and co always remembered what came first was the character. 'Young Indy' offers a detailed look at a character's life as he travels the world and finds his way through the world, tries to understand himself better to ultimately become the famous archaeologist icon of the movies we all love. There's no better legacy than that. A classic TV show from the 1990s, just make sure you see the VHS/DVD versions and enjoy this incredible journey.