Universal Television has discovered the child within its syndie hit “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.”

U is at work on a direct-to-video prequel to its highly rated action hour that is intended to also serve as a pilot for a series to be shopped to network and cable outlets. “Young Hercules” could retrace the footsteps of its forebears “Hercules” and “Xena: Warrior Princess” by going the firstrun distribution route.

U officials said the video is targeted for release next year, with the series hopefully premiering in fall 1998.

The plotline for the “Young” homevideo finds the young teen Greek demigod teaming with Jason & the Argonauts in their search for the Golden Fleece. Young Herc battles his evil half brother Ares and befriends Iolaus, a character featured in the existing “Hercules” series.

The “Young Hercules” video/pilot is being executive produced by “Hercules” and “Xena” creators Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. Newcomer Ian Bohen has landed the lead role.

U’s plans for a third spinoff of “Hercules,” which yielded the equally successful “Xena” in fall 1995, underscores the importance of the Raimi/Tapert franchise to the studio. A new Universal Studios Florida attraction, “Hercules & Xena: Wizards of the Screen,” opens July 10, and animated homevideo release “Hercules & Xena — The Animated Movie: The Battle for Mount Olympus” is due out by the end of the year.

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