Monday, October 20, 2008

Attack of the Live-Action Hero Series Part 1!

With the announcement not long ago of the CW's intention to create a new hero series called Grayson (essentially a Smallville ripoff focusing on Dick Grayson's life before his parents were killed), I thought it would be a good time to look back on those television series that gave us the chance to see our favorite heroes in living, breathing action.

Some stayed true to the comics, while others really went into freaky directions, but the one thing they all had in common was the ability to thrill us for the precious few minutes they were on the air each week.

The Adventures of Superman

The first major comic book hero to get a weekly series, Superman started out in glorious black & white before finally moving to color in its final seasons. George Reeves definitely didn't have the sculpted look we associate with the hero today, but he was great in the part. He didn't play Clark Kent as a bumbling idiot or a coward, but chose instead to make Clark someone to like rather than pity. There was no Lex Luthor or super-villains of any kind, but the stories were still thrilling week after week.

The series brought success to Reeves, which later played against him. Other studios were reluctant to hire him in new roles because he was so recognizable as the Man of Steel, and as such he isn't seen in much after his Superman days started. To be fair, Reeves took his role serious, and was careful with his public image while in the series. He wanted to be a good role model for the children.

Reeves tragically ended his own life, though there is still some speculation as to whether or not it was suicide or murder.

Lasting six seasons (or seven, depending on how you count season one as either a single or two incomplete seasons), The Adventures of Superman gave every child of the 50's a thrill. Even though the special effects are horribly dated by today's standards, I still remember rushing through my yard with a "whoosh!" sound effect going as the afternoon reruns were showing in the 70's.

Episode of note: Reeves really did do a lot for the character. He even appeared as himself playing Superman in a classic episode of I Love Lucy in 1956. When Lucy tries to dress up as Superman to appear at little Ricky's birthday party, she gets trapped on the ledge with an attack of vertigo. Reeves (who had been hired by Lucy's husband to show up at the party) raced out onto the ledge and easily helped her back into the apartment--much to the chagrin and admiration of Ricky Ricardo. Once again, Reeves brought respect to himself and the character by showing himself an unafraid hero (even though the ledge was really only 3 feet from the studio floor) rather than just a sissy actor in a costume.


The first live-action hero series to premiere in color, Batman wasn't seriously considered a threat when it first aired. Originally shot to be a one-hour show, the executives at ABC decided to split the show in half and show it on two consecutive nights. Batman became a monster hit, and was actually the most popular show on television at one time.

Unfortunately, all the hype worked against it and as popularity began to wane by season 3, they decided to try and spark some life into the series again with the introduction of Batgirl. It was a nice effort, but unfortunately not enough. The Batcave closed its doors at the end of the third season.

Ironically, another network actually wanted to pick up the series and continue it, but by the time they had come to an agreement on it the Batcave set had been torn down. Rebuilding such an expensive set ($300k) didn't sit well with the new network, so they backed out of the deal.

The show was heavy on camp, but that was the way the writers wanted it. By today's standards, it's almost painful to watch at times, yet who can change the channel when you happen to stumble across an old episode on television?

Episode of note: Too many to mention, but there was a cool crossover done with the Green Hornet and Kato. The story was originally slated with Robin winning the fight between himself and Kato, but Bruce Lee (Kato) refused to lose the fight. Rather than take the chance he might "accidentally" knock out Burt Ward's stunt double during filming, they decided to let it go to a draw.

Wonder Woman

Beauty queen Lynda Carter brought us our only female live-action hero to a weekly prime-time series (Isis doesn't count because she was a Saturday morning show). Like Batman, the series only ran 3 seasons.

The first season was set during World War 2. When the second season started, the series was brought into modern times with the explanation that Diana had been on Paradise Island and was returning to find Steve Trevor's son (also named Steve, and played by the same actor) working in the military. It was a little stretch of the imagination, but it worked well enough.

Toning down the camp factor from Batman, Wonder Woman actually tried to be a serious show. Carter played the role to the hilt, giving Wonder Woman this sexy flirtatious air at times, but making sure it was understood she could kick your tail if the need arose. And even though the fact that she changed by spinning around and around was a little weird, we let it slide to see her in action.

Episode of Note: Wonder Woman got a little help from a teen sidekick in a couple of episodes.

Wonder Girl made a few appearances to save the day. She was played by Debra Winger, who would later go on to become an award-winning actress in films like "An Officer and A Gentleman" and "Terms of Endearment".

Next Monday, we'll pick up here and see the other great superhero series that are worth noting. Marvel enters the fray with two of their biggest heroes...will it work or fail? And what happens when DC decides to redo the origin of it's most popular hero? Tune in next week...same Bat-time...same Bat-station!


The Groovy Agent said...

What a far-out post! You've really done your homework here, man. Thanks for including the clips; they really enhance the whole experience.

Can't wait for next week's installment!

US 71 said...

That was Debra Winger who played Wonder Girl? I was definitely crushing on her.

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