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62 Years of DC Superheroes on TV: Superman, Batman… and Superpup?

62 Years of DC Superheroes on TV: Superman, Batman... and Superpup?

“The
Adventures of Superman
(1952)

Brought
to you by Kellogg’s, “The
Adventures of Superman” starred
George Reeves and gave television the very first DC comics series. “Superman” started as a darker, more
violent version in its first season, but moved toward the lighter tone as the
series progressed. By the mid-1950s, “The Adventures of Superman” was shot in full color, as Big Blue took out villains week
after week, became a cultural phenomenon and even appeared on “I Love Lucy.” Sadly, the show ended with
the suicide of George Reeves in 1959. The controversial circumstances of his
death would later be dramatized in the film “Hollywoodland,” which, ironically enough, stars the new Batman, Ben
Affleck, as George Reeves.

“The
Adventures of Superpup” (1961)

The
unaired pilot for “Superpup”
might be the scariest thing you ever seen. Developed as an even more
kid-friendly version of “The
Adventures of Superman,” “Superpup” is essentially
the same show with one minor change: Everyone on the show is an anthropomorphic
canine. The costumes look like something out of H.R. Puff N Stuff’s
nightmares and the writing isn’t much better. With characters like
Bark Bent, Pamela Poodle and Professor Sheepdip, the less said about this show,
the better.

“Batman” (1966)

“Batman” ’66 had a cultural cache
unlike anything that has come before or after. Developed by William Dozier, a
film and TV producer who had never touched a comic book, “Batman” was the character’s first real
introduction to the mainstream – but it was crafted as a pop-art
parody of the character, comic books and the culture at large. Eventually the
show became a symbol of everything Batman fans didn’t want, as proven when Warners
moved forward on the 1989 film version. But most have come back around on the
show, and it is now considered as fun and smart as it was originally meant to
be. It also houses some fantastically crazy performances from Adam West,
Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, Eartha Kitt and Frank Gorshin. This show has
aged wonderfully.

“Batgirl” (1967)

An
unsuccessful spin-off of the ’66 “Batman” series, this unaired pilot
short simply posits the idea that Batgirl exists. And while it spends the first
three minutes re-introducing Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Batman and Robin, it
does get to some campy fun once the dynamic duo is encased in a cocoon by some
henchmen. This could easily just have been an episode of “Batman,” a
thought producers probably had as well — soon after, the idea of a stand-alone
“Batgirl” series was abandoned, and she became a regular guest star
on the Adam West show.

“Who’s
Afraid of Diana Prince”
(1968)

Of
all the unaired DC shows that populate this list, “Who’s Afraid of Diana
Prince?” might be the worst
— and
that includes a show called “The Adventures of Superpup.” Following
the model of the Dozier-produced “Batman” series, “Diana
Prince” turns the life and times of Wonder Woman into camp-addled comedy
with hefty dose of sexism for good measure. This short opens with the woefully
incompetent Diana Prince, Wonder Woman’s alter ego, struggling with a
newspaper, falling off of a couch, and arguing with her mother about the
supposed health effects of skipping dinner. Then Diana’s mother nags her about
finding a husband, because she’s sick of telling her friends that her old maid
of a 27-year-old daughter hasn’t found a man yet. How’s she supposed to marry a
doctor if she’s out fighting crime every night? Well? Finally, Wonder Woman
escapes her mother’s grips and gets into costume. She then spends a full minute
posing for herself in front of the mirror and making sexy eyes at the camera.
It’s easily among the most uncomfortable 60 seconds you’ll ever find on
YouTube, which is why I suggest you watch it right away.

“Shazam!” (1973)

Following
the weekly adventures of a young boy who travels in a Winnebago with his mentor
and has the power to turn into the living god Captain Marvel, “Shazam!” paved the way for “The Secrets of Isis” and “Wonder Woman.” Produced by Filmation, the
studio infamous for poor quality Saturday morning superhero cartoons, “Shazam” tweaked the source material
a bit to fit the studio’s
style: First, they removed the titular character, the wizard Shazam, and used
his name as an acronym for the gods (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles,
and Mercury) that gave Billy his powers. Then, they shoe-horned in some classic
Filmation animation, with cartoon-versions of the gods for Billy to interact
with. Everything from the special effects to the RV screams 1970s, making “Shazam!” more of a time capsule than
a superhero show.

“The Secrets of Isis” (1975)

“The
Secrets of Isis” has the
distinction of being the first show about a female superhero, premiering just
ahead of “The Bionic
Woman” and “Wonder Woman.” The story of a high school
teacher who uncovers a mystic relic on an archeological dig in Egypt (don’t you
hate when that happens, high school teachers?), Isis gives Andrea Thomas the
power of the gods — a female Captain Marvel, essentially. Technically, she was
not a DC character; “Isis” is all Filmation. But since
she had so many cross-overs with “Shazam,” we should
all acknowledge her existence.

“Wonder Woman” (1975)

Lynda
Carter’s classic 1975 “Wonder
Woman” series
became one of the most famous superhero TV shows of all time. Breaking free of
the Filmation stranglehold of the early-to-mid 70s, “Wonder Woman” brought higher budgets and
new ideas to the genre. In its first season, a period piece, Wonder Woman
(Carter) helps the US military fight Nazis — even FDR commemorates her for her
efforts. Things scaled back a bit in the second and third seasons, pushing the
show into the modern era, so Diana Prince could participate contemporary
activities (like skateboarding). None of this stopped the show from becoming a
syndicated staple, as re-runs of “Wonder Woman” kept the
show in the public consciousness for over thirty years.

“Legends of the Superheroes” (1979)

A
two-part variety special produced by Hanna-Barbera, the producers of the “Super Friends,” “Legends of the Superheroes” reunites the Adam West and
Burt Ward Dynamic Duo, as well as the rest of the Justice League sans Superman
and Wonder Woman in a bizarre, one-night-only event. Part one of “Legends” sees the Justice League
fighting the Legion of Doom in a live-action “Super Friends” episode complete with laugh track. Part two, strangely
enough, is a superhero roast hosted by none other than Ed McMahon and features
stand-up comedy by the unfortunately named African-American superhero
“Ghetto Man.” Yeesh.

“Superboy” (1988)

Unsurprisingly,
“Legends of
the Superheroes” signaled
the end of superhero TV shows for nearly a decade. That, plus the tailspin of
the Christopher Reeves “Superman” films, kept DC off the
airwaves throughout most of the 80s, and when it returned, it did so with “Superboy.” Kind of underwhelming, right?
The show wasn’t known for its quality; it was more of a poorly written version
of the “Superman” movies. There’s some joy in
watching WWF Superstar Lex Luger in a Superman costume, but not enough joy to
recommend this show.

“Swamp Thing: The Series” (1990)

Failing
to match the sophistication of Alan Moore’s mid-80s comic book run, the campy fun
of the early-80s movies or the subsequent cartoon series’s theme song, “Swamp Thing: The Series” had a strong cult following but
also some serious detractors. Watching the show now is a chore, but it somehow
managed to wrangle 72 episodes between 1990-93. Nine years later, “Freaks and Geeks” would be canceled after 12,
because life isn’t
fair.

The Flash” (1991)

While
“Swamp
Thing: The Series” and “Superboy” were enjoying
an undeserved multi-season runs, and Tim Burton’s “Batman” was breaking
records, CBS decided to take “The Flash” for a spin. With CBS
investing $1.6 million per episode, “The Flash” needed to
hit the ground, uh, running. So the show attracted big name guest stars, such
as Mark Hamill and David Cassidy, to fill out the hero’s Rogues Gallery, but
scheduled for a Thursday night slot, “The Flash” was going
up against “The Cosby
Show” and “The Simpsons,” which were embroiled in a
heated ratings battle at the time. Armed with only the seemingly useless power
of running really fast, things became too much for The Flash to handle, and the
show was quickly canceled and forgotten.

“Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” (1993)

“Lois &
Clark” may have
started the trend towards shows about out-of-costume superheroes, which
continues to this day with ten years of “Smallville” and tonight’s
premiere of “Gotham.” While Lois (Teri Hatcher)
was a focal point for the series, which focused more closely on Clark (Dean
Cain) than Superman, “The New
Adventures of Superman” did have
enough costumed adventuring to keep the show on the air for four seasons. And the
show was a smash hit, with 15 million people watching new episodes every week
by Season 3.

“Justice
League of America”
(1997)

This
unaired pilot is a nightmare, a poorly scripted, acted, and directed sitcom
that just happens to feature superheroes. It’s a strange assortment of Justice
League participants — Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and The Flash being
the most recognizable — in a war against lousy special effects, ill-fitting
costumes and a villain who really doesn’t help either of those things. With
such nail-biting adventures as The Atom fixing the TV of his roommate Green
Lantern, it’s not hard to figure out why no network picked this one up.


Justice League America JLA TV Pilot by fmvgamer

“Smallville” (2001)

“Smallville” may have been the most
successful DC TV show of all time, and at 10 seasons, it’s certainly the
longest running. The show dealt with the early life of Clark Kent, before he
was Superman, and is probably why Fox thinks they can get away with a Batman
show that doesn’t have Batman on it. They might find luck. If anything, “Smallville” proves that you don’t need a
cape to win an audience.

“Birds of
Prey” (2003)

“Birds of
Prey” is the tragic
counterpoint to “Smallville.” Set in Gotham years after
Batman’s
disappearance, “Birds of
Prey” follows
Oracle (the former Batgirl), Huntress (the daughter of Batman and Catwoman),
and Dinah (a metahuman with telekinesis) as they protect Gotham in the caped
crusader’s absence.
The show features some Batman favorites, like Alfred and Harley Quinn, and even
a few appearances by the man himself. But all the connections to Batman
couldn’t keep this one in the air, and “Birds of Prey” was canceled after one season.

“The Graysons” (2008)

While
“Smallville” was wrapping up its run, the
CW looked to other DC characters and wondered what they were like as teenagers.
They tapped “Smallville” producers Kelly Souders and
Brian Peterson to put a pilot together about the childhood of Robin or Dick
Grayson, as he was known as young boy in the circus. It’s hard to
say what this show could’ve
been like, considering that, unlike Superman, Robin doesn’t have any
interesting powers to base the show around, but it never got that far. The
pilot was scrapped about a month after it was announced.

“Wonder Woman” (2011)

In
an attempt to modernize Wonder Woman for his hyped 2011 pilot, prolific showrunner
David E. Kelley (“Ally McBeal,” “The
Practice”) blended
the quick-witted legalese of his prior work with the comic mythos — somewhere
in there, he lost sight of what made this idea interesting. The premise for the
show is essentially “Iron Man”: Wonder Woman is known to the
public as the successful CEO Diana Themyscira and a crime-fighting goddess,
with Diana Prince making fleeting appearances as Wonder Woman’s true
alter-ego. But the scenes with Diana Prince make such little narrative sense
that other characters question why Diana bothers keeping it up. Other useless
revisions include: Turning Wonder Woman’s Island of Themyscira into the
name of her company, stripping power away from the Lasso of Truth — Wonder Woman chooses to break a
suspect’s arm
rather than use her signature weapon — and having Diana attend exciting board meetings where she
discusses Wonder Woman action figures. There are some good ideas buried in this
mess; however, you can’t
help but wonder, who was David E. Kelley making this show for?

Arrow” (2012)

“Arrow” is currently the only live-action
DC TV show on the air (an achievement which will change in the coming weeks). Since
2012, it has dealt with the journey of Oliver Queen, following him from desert
island castaway to the hooded vigilante Green Arrow. Capturing the serious (but
not too serious tone) of “Smallville,” “Arrow” has garnered a loyal army of
supporters and strong=enough ratings to produce a spin-off, “The Flash,” which almost makes “Arrow” the “Shazam!” of the modern era. The show
could use some more Winnebago-based adventuring. Then again, couldn’t we all?

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