It’s rare for a televised spinoff of a popular movie to capture its own following, but Highlander: The Series (1992-1998) managed it. The syndicated program followed the adventures of Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul), an Immortal being over 400 years old—and a distant relative of Christopher Lambert's Highlander (1986) film character Connor MacLeod—who is constantly forced into mortal combat against other Immortals looking to chop off his head. (That’s the only way this mysterious race can die.) With sidekick Richie Ryan (the late Stan Kirsch), Duncan confronts enemies both past and present.
The series, which aired in more than 90 countries and was seen by roughly 4.3 million viewers weekly, received acclaim for its thoughtful storytelling and generally being a cut above normal syndicated action fare of the era. For more on Highlander: The Series, including why Lambert was upset over the pilot and what Paul is up to today, keep reading.
1. Christopher Lambert was paid 10 times more than he asked for to appear in the Highlander pilot.
When Highlander film producers Bill Panzer and Peter S. Davis decided to pursue a television series based on the franchise, they were able to secure financial partnerships with a number of foreign markets, including Germany and France. The producers hoped to have Christopher Lambert briefly reprise his role as Connor MacLeod in the pilot episode to help introduce audiences to the new lead character, Duncan MacLeod. (Early plans to have the show focus on Connor with a new actor were considered but later scrapped.) Lambert, who liked both Panzer and Davis, agreed to shoot the show for a very reasonable $50,000. But apparently one French accountant involved with the show thought Lambert was too expensive and asked Connor be written out of the script. Then the Germans dropped out, which led to the French investors asking that Connor be written back in.
By the time Lambert was asked a second time, he was so irritated he refused to do it. Because financing from the Germans depended on his participation, the production made him an offer of $500,000 for three days of work—and Lambert accepted.
2. Adrian Paul landed the lead role in Highlander by being cocky.
Adrian Paul had a recurring role on the primetime soap The Colbys and on the syndicated drama War of the Worlds before auditioning for the role of Immortal Duncan MacLeod. According to Paul, when he walked into the casting session, he told producers that “you don’t have to look any further. You’ve already found your Highlander.” Though Paul said it partly in jest, producers must have liked his confidence. A few months later, he was cast.
3. Highlander shot half of each season in France.
Unlike most syndicated shows of the era, Highlander had an international feel. Because it was backed in part by French-owned Gaumont Television, half of each season was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and half was shot in France. (Filmline International in Canada co-produced the series, while Rysher Entertainment distributed it in the United States.) That lent the series a feeling of scope—particularly during one climactic season finale fight on top of the Eiffel Tower—that was hard for other shows to match. The series also cast Belgian actress Alexandra Vandernoot as Tessa Noel, Duncan’s girlfriend.
4. The Highlander actor who played Methos later became a physician.
Peter Wingfield became a fan favorite for his portrayal of Methos, an Immortal who was over 5000 years old. After Highlander and guest spots on shows like NCIS: Los Angeles, Wingfield pursued his original goal of becoming a doctor. He enrolled at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and graduated at the age of 52 in 2015. He specializes in anesthesiology.
5. A Highlander spinoff failed to take off.
Following the conclusion of Highlander: The Series in 1998, producers tried to keep the franchise going with Highlander: The Raven, a spinoff starring Elizabeth Gracen, who reprised the character of charming Immortal jewel thief Amanda. It lasted just one season.
6. There was a Highlander webisode epilogue.
After Highlander: The Series wrapped, Paul went on to star as Duncan MacLeod in 2000’s Highlander: Endgame and 2007’s Highlander: The Source, both of which were met with negative critical and commercial responses. In 2008, Davis-Panzer Productions produced Reunion, a short web epilogue to the series that featured Gracen, Wingfield, and Jim Byrnes, who portrayed mortal bar owner Joe Dawson in the show. The group gathers prior to Methos getting married. Though Duncan is mentioned, Paul does not make an appearance.
7. Highlander merchandise was big business.
In the early days of the internet, Highlander became a hot topic of online conversation, with the good-looking Paul and the show’s increasingly complex mythology—due in part to the oversight of producer David Abramowitz—making for compelling television. Knowing that devoted fans of the show would be interested in collectibles, producers issued a Highlander merchandise catalog in the 1990s that offered everything from replica swords to kilts to VHS tapes. The merchandising effort received more than 100,000 orders. You can see a vintage television spot for it above.
8. Adrian Paul has moved from Highlander to teaching sword classes.
Thanks to his years on Highlander, Paul is an accomplished stage swordsman. Fans who would like to pick up similar skills and reenact sword fights from Highlander, Game of Thrones, or even lightsaber duels from Star Wars can sign up for The Sword Experience, a seminar tour hosted by Paul. Your head is guaranteed to remain intact.