Tuesday, October 7, 2014

DC Comics in primetime: A chronology

A week ago, I wrote that while Marvel has a distinct advantage over rival DC at the box office, the reverse holds true on television. DC not only has a deeper resume of primetime television programs, they've largely been successful. Then again, they did have a few years' headstart on Marvel......

The Adventures of Superman (1952-8): George Reeves will be more remembered as television's 1st Man of Steel, but the veteran actor, whose resume included "Gone With The Wind", essayed the role in an era where Superman's classic enemies were, oddly, left out of the loop. There were the requisite merchandising tie-ins, but Reeves' Kellogg's spots were mostly as Clark Kent, not Superman, though the Metropolis Marvel did make a cross-over appearance on I Love Lucy that became just as legendary as his own show.

Batman (ABC 1966-8): Producer William Dozier had bombed with a CBS Western, The Loner, earlier in the 1965-6 season, but struck pop culture gold when the Caped Crusader (Adam West, ex-The Detectives) arrived as a mid-season replacement in January 1966. It was, during this period, what anthology shows like Aaron Spelling's Love Boat & Fantasy Island would become a decade later, a popular destination point for not only viewers, but stars as well. Today's audience would rather see Batman as a grim avenger, not a clown, however.

Wonder Woman (ABC/CBS, 1975-8): After Dozier had produced an atrocious pilot that didn't sell in 1967, Warner Bros. picked up the rights, and hit the jackpot with Lynda Carter as the Amazing Amazon. Lyle Waggoner, who'd auditioned for Batman a decade prior, came over from The Carol Burnett Show to play Wonder Woman's beau, Steve Trevor, though the romance was virtually non-existent on the show, which shifted in time from World War II to the present after changing networks.

Superboy (syndicated, 1988-91): Alexander & Ilya Salkind, after 4 Superman feature films, decided to explore the hero's younger days, which were being altered in comics canon. Litigation with the estates of co-creators Jerome Siegel & Joe Shuster, which has kept the Teen of Steel's animated adventures off DVD, has done the same with this series, it would seem.

The Flash (CBS, 1990): The first video version of Barry Allen's adventures had John Wesley Shipp (The Young & The Restless) in the title role, but it was on the wrong night, airing opposite The Cosby Show. Shipp returns in a different role in the new version, debuting tonight.

Human Target (ABC, 1992): Rick Springfield (General Hospital) was cast as secret agent/master of disguise Christopher Chance. Unfortunately, producers Danny Bilson & Paul DeMeo, who'd bombed with Flash, made a major miscalculation by assuming they could build a Mission: Impossible-type team around Chance, who in the books was a solo act. No wonder ABC decided to burn this off as a spring-summer replacement series.

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (ABC 1993-7): The 2nd live-action Superman series made stars out of Teri Hatcher (ex-MacGyver) and Dean Cain, but was also the first to take creative liberties with established characters, such as creating an African American Toyman (Sherman Hemsley, ex-The Jeffersons, Amen). Mirroring the comics, Lois got her man to the altar, but you wonder if the series ended too soon.

Smallville (WB/CW, 2001-11): The most successful DC series of all time, period. Producers Mike Tollin & Brian Robbins came over from Nickelodeon and tapped into the mother lode. They made a point of keeping Clark (Tom Welling) out of costume as he learned and developed his powers. The 2nd half of the series saw the development of Tollin & Robbins' vision of the Justice League, but subsequent producers have not followed up, opting for their own ideas.

Birds of Prey (WB, 2003): Loosely based on the DC series of the same name, this featured Barbara Gordon as the wheelchair bound Oracle, though not using that name, along with a costume-less Huntress (Ashley Scott) and Black Canary. Yep, this was also from the Tollin-Robbins factory. WB placed it on Wednesdays, rather than air on Thursdays, coupled with Smallville, from whence it could've gotten a bit of a rub, but it didn't happen, and it was gone before the holidays.

Human Target (Fox 2010-12): Mark Valley took over as Christopher Chance, who this time was a solo act. As a result, the series lasted two seasons the second time around.

Arrow (CW, 2012-present): Producer Greg Berlanti has redefined how to bring DC's heroes to the screen, creating a pocket universe, if you will, where he can use any and all established heroes and villains however he sees fit. Does it offend older fans? Yes, it does, but DC (& Marvel) reboots every few years, whether it's necessary or not, in an effort to try to bring in a new audience, choosing to cast aside years of history, thinking that the audience still has a short-attention-span mentality. With the internet, history is just a click away, though. A full review is yet to come.

Gotham (Fox, debuted Sept. 22): As I wrote a week ago, what Smallville did in redefining the Superman legend, Gotham aspires to do the same for Batman. Producers Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon have three villains-to-be in the mix presently, as they have established their own pocket universe. Expect DC to follow with a comics version soon.

The Flash (CW, debuts tonight): Spun off from Arrow, this version figures to be a little on the lighter side as opposed to the original series, if the trailer that played over the summer is any indicator. Grant Gustin is the new Scarlet Speedster. We'll see if he can get past 1 season.

Constantine (NBC, debuts Oct. 24): After failing on the big screen a decade ago, John Constantine resurfaces. The good news is that he is a blond this time, but due to network mandates, the cigarettes are gone. There is still the stigma of that Keanu Reeves movie to overcome, though.

And, there's more on the way. CW will also be home to iZombie, based on a Vertigo series, later this season, and, as reported last week, CBS has an option on Supergirl, both from the camp of Greg Berlanti. While noted producer David E. Kelley failed to get a Wonder Woman pilot sold three years ago, I believe that, eventually, the Amazing Amazon will be back on the small screen. DC & WB just have to have faith, and find the right people to make it happen.

By comparison, Marvel's TV track record, not including TV movies, is smaller, and not quite so sparkling. We'll look at that another time.

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