The Hidden S in Phone Booth

Welcome to "The Hidden S in Phone Booth." Your writer is Mark Rhodes, a man known within many magazine circles including The Christian Science Monitor, Opera and Wizard. He runs a site called the European Film Report that looks at the art of filmmaking, and will tackle whatever he feels like writing about (similar to Tedd in Hank McCoy (Before the Fur) except with less love of Dazzler). This week is the second part of a series on live action superheroes on television, so make sure you tear yourself away from the latest episode of "The Incredible Hulk" and check it out. The relative success of The Incredible Hulk television series resulted in a series of late 80's/early 90's television films starring Bixby/Ferrigno including The Incredible Hulk Returns, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk and The Death of the Incredible Hulk. These films seemed to be a fairly transparent attempt to revive the Hulk franchise (most likely in the wake of the success of the first Tim Burton Batman film) as well as introduce some new characters from the Marvel Universe to series television. The Incredible Hulk Returns had a Thor character, The Trial of The Incredible Hulk had lawyer Matt Murphy defending Bruce Banner and Daredevil (who looked more like a ninja than the comics DD) teaming up with the Hulk to fight the Kingpin (merely referred to as Wilson Fiske). These films (notably Trial of the IH) were mostly set up as back door pilots for series starring Daredevil and Thor. There was talk of rebooting the Hulk character for several years during this time, including serious considerations for an Iron Man pilot and a She-Hulk series. The death of Bill Bixby in 1993 seemed to bring some premature closure to the idea of Marvel getting a foothold in the realm of episodic television in the early 90's. Before Smallville there was Superboy. An overlooked, underrated series that ran from 88-92. The series had a strong, interesting pedigree as it was produced by Ilya & Alexander Salkind, the producers of the Chris Reeves Superman series and had contributions from respected comic book creators like Denny O'Neill, Carry Bates, and Andrew Heller. The series was fairly successful with good production value and casting. A dispute between the Salkinds and Warner Brothers caused the abrupt ending of the series in 1992. Apparently Warner Brothers placed a lien on the Superman copyright and this signaled the end of this particular series. Shortly after, Warner Brothers created the series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. The thinking was that Warners wanted to bring some closure to the Superboy series to make way for the L & C series which started up almost immediately after the Superboy series ended. This brings us to Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. This series was probably the only Superhero series to appeal more to women than men. The idea of re-casting the Superman/Lois Lane myth as a kind of romantic comedy was a clever one, but the series suffered from sloppy scripts, an uneven tone and a poor selection of villains. Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher were attractive leads, but they had little romantic chemistry (there were reports that they did not get along) which made it work for viewers to really warm up to them, or, most importantly, care about what happened to them as a couple. The series did have a degree of success especially for the first couple of seasons and Hatcher became a household name and small-time pinup girl as a result of the modest success of this series. Looking at it now, the series has not aged well and its influence has been minimal compared to the influence of other series like The Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman. The Flash (which ran for one whole season on CBS all the way back in 1990) is one of the more criminally underrated superhero series in television history (not a long list). In any event, the series starred John Wesley Shipp (Barry Allen/The Flash) and Amanda Pays. The very imaginative comics creator Howard Chaykin worked on several scripts for the show and interestingly enough, this incarnation of the Flash is more along the lines of the grim Frank Miller penned Dark Knight series than the lighthearted Carmen Infantino work on Flash from the 60's. This Flash was no Bruce Wayne however, as Barry Allen was a hardworking police scientist who stored his Flash costume in his trunk as opposed to a tricked out secret lair. Shipp, a two time Emmy winner was physically right for the role and a reliably strong performer with his romantic interest Pays. The series was well-received from hardcore fans but a tough time schedule against NBC's strong Thursday night lineup, some pre-empting due to the first Gulf War, and a costly per episode price tag caused CBS to pull the plug on this solid, but underperforming series. With Maxim ready leads, a hard PR campaign push from the WB network and a generous budget it is hard to understand how a series like Birds of Prey could fail, but, to paraphrase Homer Simpson, it was a spectacular failure. The series debuted on the WB in 2002 to very strong ratings for an episode or two. Then comics fans began to dessert the show in droves due to disappointment over, well you name it; the costumes, the scripts, the acting, interpretations of the characters (the Black Canary character was not really Black Canary for instance), etc. Ashley Scott, for all of her physical gifts, did not justice to the character of the Huntress who she played as a kind of spoiled brat. Dina Meyer as Barbara Gordon/Oracle/Batgirl was the only recurring performer in the show worth watching (she looked great in the Batgirl mask in the prologue for the show). Tollins/Robbins productions failed with Birds of Prey but made up for this with another attempt at a Superhero series with the WB’s/CW’s Smallville which covers the youth and maturity of Clark Kent. Initially, the producers wanted to do a program called Bruce Wayne which would cover the youth and development of the Dark Knight. With the Batman Begins movie in serious development the producers abandoned the idea and Smallville was their plan B series. The series (now into its eighth season) has been very well-recieved and though it has not ever been a breakout hit (like Heroes for instance), it remains arguably the most successful superhero series in television history. The series has spawned a series of young adult novels, action figures, soundtracks and of course comics. It is probably fair to say that though the series has a very fine cast with few changes over the years, the show has not produced any real stars (as the inferior Lois and Clark produced Teri Hatcher for instance). Tom Welling is a good Clark Kent, but a little generic. Michael Rosenbaum is, however, a great young Lex Luthor and John Glover is a formidable presence as Lex’ father Lionel the prototype of the man Lex is destined to become. Writer/Producers Mark Millar and Alfred Gough have done mostly an admirable job in keeping the program consistent and sensible over a long time span. The show has made witty in-jokes such as having Clark’s wardrobe mirror his future Superman costume and inclusions of characters from the DC Universe like Green Arrow and Supergirl that have mostly been well-received from comic fans. Naturally, it will be interesting to see how the series resolves itself as the cast matures and the boy becomes a (Super)man. Heroes (which premiered in 2006) was the brainchild of Jeph Loeb and Tim Kring-one of the creators of Crossing Jordan. His concept was the creation of a large ensemble saga with characters who attempt to deal with the problems and complexities of the world. Kring apparently felt that a medical, police or even Lost type show was not grand enough for the kind of story he was trying to tell, so he came up with the idea of everyday people who came to realize that they had various superpowers. The first season of the series was wildly successful for NBC and has spawned web-only content, novels, comics and even action figures. The series has also been well-received by the critics and has garnered several Emmy nominations in 2007 and 2008. The show has hit a couple of rough spots of late during the 2nd season as criticisms from fans that the show was too slow-paced became louder and more persistent (even Kring admitted as much). The recent Writer’s Strike also took a toll on the show by delaying episodes. As a result of this the show lost some momentum and probably some interest from its casual viewership. Despite this, the show still has a strong following and a high profile in the public’s consciousness and Heroes has made minor stars of Hayden Panettiere and Masi Oka. The show’s creators reportedly have a five year story arc in place so it will be interesting to see if they succeed in getting the series back on this schedule. Editor's note: Awesome sidenote-all the artwork in Heroes is by Tim Sale, a personal favorite of Omnicomic. No piece on superhero television series would be complete without some mention of failed pilots. I had thought about including these in this piece but a column on failed superhero pilots/shows deserves a separate column. There are a legion of clips on YouTube to attest to these failures and many are fascinating. These pilots are often as rich, if not richer than some of the successful shows and many are definitely weirder. A quick rundown: a television film with David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury from 1998. A failed pilot with Diana Rigg as Wonder Woman from 1974, a failed Aquaman pilot developed by the producers of Smallville that has built up a strong cult following on the web (see and a weird failed Justice League pilot from the early 90’s. The interest in these misfires by comic fans shows that fanboys can be as obsessive about failures as they are thrilled by more successful efforts in this genre. A personal footnote: I know that there are series I left out such as the recent Blade and Witchblade series. Please feel free to write about you favorites and any I might have left out in the comments section...


  1. You've got me completely baffled at your Lois and Clark review. Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher had little chemistry? That's pretty much the exact opposite. I know people are allowed to have their own opinions, but I find that point of view hard to entertain.

    The (so called) rumors about them not getting along couldn't be any more in reverse. Maybe my memory is more apparent than yours, because their on screen chemistry was so profound the media were speculating that they were really together in real life. If they had limited chemistry the show wouldn't have lasted.

    Some videos I really enjoyed watching.

    Teri and Dean on Good Morning America

    Teri's surprise when Dean Cain shows up at her book signing

    Teri Hatcher 'Burnt Toast'

    Teri and Dean on Entertainment Tonight

    Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher on the proposal on Lois and Clark

    As you can see, I'm a pretty big fan LOL. :)

  2. HI angela

    As a journalist I don't ever assume that anyone reads my stuff so it is always a pleasant surprise when someone does and really thinks about it in some depth-I will say that whatever disagreements I have had with readers it is rare that someone might use videos as part of their argument (this is definitely a first for me)-

    In any event, as you said this is simply my opinion and though there were some rumors of the two stars having disagreements (oddly enough something that has continued to dog Hatcher and the cast of Desperate Housewives)there chemistry was out there for everyone to see and, in my opinion, it was uneven at best as there was some chemistry in the beginning of the series that dissipated as the series went on-

    Also, the efforts to get Lois and Clark "together" caused much of the romantic tension to diminish-This kind of crowd pleasing ALWAYS ruins chemistry in these kind of shows even as it plays to fans wish fullfillment stuff-(Moonlighting being the great example of this)-

    Finally, a couple of suggestions

    a) you might want to consider writing for this publication as you are obviously passionate about this kind of thing-

    b)Keep reading this publication and make note that my column is usually up on Wednesdays at 3 pm

    best to you
    the hidden s


Post a Comment