With the release of the Justice League on Blu-Ray this week, and the plethora of superhero shows on TV in general, I thought it would be a good time to re-live some old and forgotten (and some rarely seen) live-action shows from the history of the DC Television Universe.
SWAMP THING (1990-1993)
Back in the old days when we only had maybe 20-25 channels, USA’s Swamp Thing aired long before basic cable channels were known for quality original content. The series did little to change that reputation. Stuntman Dick Durock reprised his title role from the Swamp Thing feature films. The show was about Alec Holland, a scientist burned and left for dead by the twisted Dr. Anton Arcane. But Instead of dying, he became a supernatural moss-type creature dedicated to keeping the evil men out of his swamp. Originally the show started out campy and a little hard to watch, but then took a darker turn after its thirteenth episode. But with episodes airing out of order and generally overall bad writing, the show never quite caught on except with the hardcore DC/comic fans and achieved a cult status following. Ironically, that following led to some of USA’s best ratings at the time, that’s what nerds can do best after all. Today, most are surprised to learn that the show ever existed. And you have to be a true DC fan to have this box set in your DVD collection, which I am one of the rare people who do. If you have cable or over the air antenna, and MeTV is in your area. They air Swamp Thing late at night on Saturdays if you want to check it out for free.
Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997)
Sure, this show was a decent hit in the 1990s, and lasted four seasons and 87 episodes … but that doesn’t mean it was any good. Starring Dean Cain as Clark Kent and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane, Lois and Clark were more about the sexual tension between the two than it was about Superman fighting crime. Instead of battles with Lex Luthor, we were treated to bickering in coffee shops or outside at the newspaper stand (yes there were plenty in this series). And worse, when Lois finally found out Clark was Superman, she was angry at him!! She was dating Clark, had a crush on Superman, and when she found out they were the same person, she was mad?!
I remember putting off studying for mid-terms to watch this show back in the day. And as a DC fan, it is a memorable show, that I don’t remember being as bad watching it at the time. I was just glad to see a version of Superman on the TV again. But now that I have the complete set on disk, I find it very hard to watch without doing something else to preoccupy my time. The few occasions when we got to see Superman in action tho were terribly lame, with bad action and even worse special effects. The producers seemed to think just seeing Dean Cain in a Superman outfit would be enough. Wrong! Thankfully, Smallville was around the corner and a better version of Clark Kent was just on the horizon. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman can be found on Amazon, Google Play, and Apple TV for streaming.
The Flash (1990)
The current Flash TV show airing on the CW is good, but it’s not the first television show to feature DC’s Scarlet Speedster. Almost 20 years prior, in 1990, there was a short-lived Flash show that aired on CBS for 22 episodes, followed by three TV movies. With weak special effects (but it WAS the early 90s) and a rather, at the time stiff, lead actor John Wesley Shipp, who mostly starred on soap operas like The Guiding Light and One Life To Live, The Flash’s only saving grace was by an occasional appearance by actor Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker himself) playing the villain The Trickster. Hamill plays The Trickster for maximum goofiness, but he was good enough to appear in two of the show’s episodes and be the subject of the TV movie The Flash II: Revenge of The Trickster in 1991. While this show is pretty cheesy by today’s standards, true DC fans enjoy callbacks from this show in today’s updated version of The Flash. John Wesley Shipp has found the speed force again, but this time his name is Jay Garrick. Mark Hamill has even reprised his role as The Trickster on the show, and a few other tidbits from the 90’s have made their way through space/time continuum. Fortunately, things have improved significantly for The Flash on TV in recent years. The Flash (1990) can be found on Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu for streaming.
Justice League of America (1997)
It’s hard to believe, but CBS attempted a live action Justice League of America television series back in 1997. CBS commissioned a pilot and aired it as a two-hour TV movie to gauge audience reaction, it was so bad that they are still waiting for those reactions to come back because the audience never finished the show. For contractual reasons, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were not allowed to appear; instead, the Justice League was led by Green Lantern, The Atom, and Martian Manhunter. It gets worse.
The villain in this hard to watch TV show is an evil weatherman determined to use mother nature to destroy “New Metro City,” and it is up to The Justice League of America to stop him. Ridiculous costumes, sad special effects, and writing was supposed to be serious but instead made us laugh, added to make this TV movie a total disaster. Yes worse than Sharknodo. Thankfully, CBS came to their senses and didn’t order a full series. However, if you are the daring type, you can google this episode and the full show can be found on youtube. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. The only thing worth noting from this TV movie was that the actor who played Martian Manhunter was veteran actor David Ogden Stiers. He is best known for playing Maj Charles Emerson Winchester III on MAS*H. Unfortunately, Mr. Stiers recently passed away at the age of 75.
In 1974, CBS began airing the Filmation series “Shazam!”, a half-hour live-action program based on the superhero Captain Marvel also known as Shazam! of Whiz comics. As with any show from the 1970’s, this show was extremely hard to watch. Especially when it was about a shaggy-haired guy in his 20s who travels around in an RV with an old man, helping young people learn to resist peer pressure. Every now and then, the boy would shout, “Shazam!” and be replaced by a costumed beach bum with disheveled hair. Fortunately, this was part of a Saturday morning line-up, in between Scooby-Doo and Ghostbusters which probably allowed it to last more than it should have in 28 episodes.
Birds of Prey (2002-2003)
Before the CW network, there was the WB network. And they developed a very loose adaptation of a DC comics series Birds of Prey. This live-action TV series set in “New Gotham” and revolving around a pair of female superheroes as fight crime. The series backstory is heavily influenced by the events of The Killing Joke, where the Joker shot and paralyzed Barbara Gordon. The series also showed that Catwoman was killed in his sadistic crime spree and then something went down where the Joker was captured and Batman left Gotham. The series focused on the crime-fighting escapades of Helena Kyle (Huntress, daughter of Batman and Catwoman), Dinah (daughter of Black-Canary), and BarbarAnd just like The Flash the series revolved around Meta-Humans, people who have extraordinary abilities. Helena and Dinah themselves are meta-human, Helena having enhanced senses and cat-like agility and Dinah having growing telepathic/telekinetic powers. The main bad guy was Harley Quinn, whose connection to the Joker was a rumor and she still operates as a mob leader while posing as a respectable psychiatrist. Alfred is keeping watch at Wayne Manor and offers advice from time to time, with some hints that Batman/Bruce Wayne is still keeping tabs on them. It was a modest success at first, riding the popularity of Smallville, but it was somewhat ahead of its time, and its rapidly dropping ratings led to its cancellation. It did have enough lead time to actually resolve itself. This show was a little head of its time, and if it had better writing and was a show today, it might actually stand a chance.
So there you have it, a short list of some long lost DC TV shows that may have been forgotten, and maybe some that should have stayed forgotten. I love a good bad show as much as the next person, so if you’re looking for something to do one night, and the same ole same ole isn’t cutting it, check out some of these. And then you’ll probably go back to the same ole same.