Legacy of the Superman, Part 2: Television

Welcome to the second installment of our Legacy of the Superman series. Here, we will be exploring the history of Superman in a variety of areas. Today, we will be revisiting the Man of Steel’s television history. We will go over the various TV shows starring the beloved character.

Superman’s first television show aired from 1952 to 1958. Titled Adventures of Superman, the series starred George Reeves as the Man of Steel. While originally in black-and-white, the show began to air in color in 1954. The main cast consisted of Superman, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and Inspector Henderson. Reeves reprised his role in an episode of I Love Lucy in 1957.
There was an attempt to create a spinoff titled The Adventures of Superpup, which reimagines the characters as dogs. However, it never made it past the pilot.
The series’ future was in doubt after the deaths of John Hamilton and George Reeves in 1958 and 1959, respectively. While there were attempts to continue the show without them, it was ultimately cancelled. The story of Reeves’ career and death was told in the 2006 movie Hollywoodland, which starred Ben Affleck as the actor.

With Superman’s TV future unclear, there were various attempts to bring him back to the small screen. A pilot for The Adventures of Superboy was passed over in 1961. However, the concept was later revisited for a new TV show in 1988, simply titled Superboy. The series starred John Haymes Newton in season one, before being replaced by Gerard Christopher for the rest of the series. The show depicts a younger Clark Kent before becoming Superman.

While the fourth season was always intended to be its last, there were plans to create a series of television movies that resolved a cliffhanger ending. However, none of this ever came to pass due to a variety of factors. Among those factors were plans for a new Superman show…

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman aired from 1993 to 1997 on ABC. The series starred Dean Cain as Clark Kent and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane. While most shows focused on Superman’s heroic adventures, this series puts just as much focus on the Clark/Lois relationship. To this day, the series is a favorite among fans.

While ABC originally announced a fifth season, the network suddenly cancelled the show. Season four ended on a big cliffhanger, and not being able to see it resolved is surely frustrating to fans.

Fast forward a few years, and we have what may be the biggest show yet. Smallville is an origin story for Clark Kent in every sense of the word, focusing on his discovery of his powers and embracing his destiny. The show ran for five seasons on The WB, before moving to The CW for five more seasons. In addition to countless Superman villains and supporting characters, the show features other DC Universe characters, such as Green Arrow, Aquaman, and Cyborg.

The show was a big hit among fans, despite its reluctance to depict actual superhero costumes. However, the series finale was considered somewhat of a disappointment to many fans, due to not properly showing Clark in the Superman costume. After waiting 10 years to see it, viewers only got the iconic shirt rip and a few CGI shots of Superman. That’s it. Despite this, the show has a positive legacy among fans. It also led the way for The CW to create Arrow, which kicked off a shared universe of DC TV shows.

With Superman back on the big screen, we haven’t seen too much of him on television. The Man of Steel (played by Tyler Hoechlin) did pop up in the second season of Supergirl, which focuses on his cousin Kara. While not part of the same Earth as the rest of the Arrowverse, Supergirl has done multiple crossovers with the other shows. Superman guest starred in a few episodes, helping Kara take on threats like Metallo. This version of Superman is older and has been around for several years, helping him stand apart from past incarnations.

Supergirl has also dived pretty deep into Superman lore throughout its three-season run (so far). Jimmy James Olsen is a regular character, we’ve seen villains like Toyman and Reactron, and there have been references to the likes of Lois Lane and Perry White. And that’s just scratching the surface. Also, the show has featured Lois & Clark stars Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher in new roles. Cain plays Kara’s foster father, Jeremiah Danvers, while Hatcher plays the villainous Rhea. Also, Helen Slater, who starred in the Supergirl movie in 1984, plays foster mother Eliza Danvers.

And finally, we have the latest show on the list. SyFy’s Krypton takes place centuries before the planet’s destruction and Kal-El’s birth, focusing on his grandfather Seg. The plot sees Seg visited by Adam Strange, a hero from the future, who warns him that his grandson’s legacy is at stake. The villainous Brainiac has come to the past to destroy Krypton before Kal-El is ever born.

We’re only halfway through Krypton‘s season (hopefully the first of many), but it already has plenty of Superman Easter eggs. We’ve seen the houses of Zod, Vex, Em, and others. Meanwhile, Doomsday and other DC characters are expected to appear eventually. It’ll be fascinating to see how the show continues to explore Superman’s mythology.

As you can see, the history of Superman on television is deep and complicated. We look forward to seeing the franchise continue in one form or another in the future.

Check back tomorrow for Part 3 of our Legacy of the Superman series.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of WOBAM! Entertainment.

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