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Published Aug. 10, 2007

The SciFi Channel's new take on Flash Gordon is not your father's Flash Gordon. Heck, it isn't even your grandfather's Flash Gordon.

The network's series Flash Gordon, launching tonight, makes Flash less of a muscle-bound champion. His female sidekick, Dale Arden, doesn't come across as a distant cousin of always-needing-rescue Lois Lane. There is no spaceship.

"That was the biggest thing about the new incarnation of the story. It is updated. It is contemporary,'' says Eric Johnson, the actor tapped to play Flash. "The leading man is not just the brawn that goes in and knocks out the bad guy and saves the girl. In this series, it is far more likely to be the reverse."

Johnson follows in the footsteps of Buster Crabbe, who played the hero in the mid 1930s; Steve Holland, who starred in the 1954 TV series; and Sam Jones, who took on the role in a campy version of the saga in a 1980 feature film.

The Flash Gordon that Johnson plays is not a space traveler like Crabbe's version. He's not nearly as mentally dense as Jones'. This Flash Gordon is an all-American guy who gets transported to the planet Mongo through an interdimensional rift.

Unlike the Dale Arden of old, Gina Holden plays her as tough, smart and capable.

"That was what attracted me to this role. She's not just a damsel in distress," Holden says.

But Johnson says the essence of the story has not changed. Flash and Dale still have to save the world from the evil plans of Ming (John Ralston) with some help from Hans Zarkov (Jody Racicot).

Executive producer Peter Hume describes the series as being "a little more grounded and a little more contemporary." His plan was to capture the spirit of the original stories by Flash Gordon author Alex Raymond.

Flash Gordon was a project Johnson wanted to do from the moment he read the script.

"The last show that I said, 'I want to do this show,' was Smallville. ... This is just, on the whole, something like I've never read before," Johnson says.

Watch it

Flash Gordon

The series debuts at 9 tonight on the SciFi Channel.