The programme was conceived by Shine producers Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps, who had worked together on Hex, a fantasy series produced by Shine for Sky One. The BBC had been keen on showing a drama based on the character of Merlin for some time; a little over a year before the Shine series was initiated, writer and producer Chris Chibnall had been developing a project aimed at a BBC One Sunday night slot, but this was ultimately not commissioned. The Shine version of the project was put into development in late 2006, commissioned by Controller of BBC One Peter Fincham and BBC Head of Fiction Jane Tranter, with Fincham keen on having more series on his channel which embodied "three generation TV – that's TV you can watch with your grandparents and children. There's not enough of that about."
Merlin is influenced by the U.S. show Smallville, about the early years of Superman, according to Shine producers, Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps, who said that Smallville helped provide the idea that Merlin would see a "Camelot that existed before its golden age". Caps said: "Just as in Smallville we wanted to subvert expectations. Camelot is a land where magic is banned Merlin ... is a young boy who works as Arthur's manservant and has to hide his abilities."
The series went into production in March 2008, with filming taking place in Wales and France (at the Château de Pierrefonds). The series was produced by Shine in association with BBC Wales, whose Head of Drama Julie Gardner served as executive producer for the BBC. Doctor Who's chief writer Russell T Davies had been an important influence on the tone and style of Merlin. CGI special effects for the series were provided by The Mill. The Old English dialogue used for spells was written by a university scholar and later the script editing team. Consisting of an initial series of 13 episodes, Merlin began transmission in the UK on 20 September 2008. In advance of this, a special trailer was prepared for release on television, in cinemas and online.
After Series 1 was successful, U.S. broadcaster NBC began airing it on 21 June 2009; but, after a decline in viewers, it was moved to the cable network Syfy, where it began broadcasting Series 2 on 2 April 2010. On 19 September 2009, Series 2 began airing on BBC One. On 5 September 2010, BFI Southbank in London previewed Episodes 1 and 2 of Series 3 for its September Film Funday programme. A ten-episode fourth series was confirmed on 25 October 2010 (though it was rumoured to air in early 2012, later than its usual slot in autumn) so that it would not clash with the BBC's other prime time drama Doctor Who which would possibly run during the same period. In March 2011, this was revised, and the fourth series was extended to the standard 13 episodes. It was confirmed at the 2011 Comic-Con in San Diego that the fourth series will again be broadcast in the United States on the Syfy Channel "in early 2012." In UK, the fourth series began on Saturday 1 October 2011.
Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy, Executive Producers for Shine TV, confirmed on 24 July at the 2011 Comic-Con Merlin panel that BBC had commissioned a fifth series. Filming for the fifth series began March 2012 in Pierrefonds, France and near Cardiff, Wales. 13 episodes were ordered. Series 5 started broadcasting on 6 October 2012. On 26 November 2012, it was announced that the series 5 of Merlin would be the last, with a two-part special concluding the series over Christmas.
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