Before Supergirl: A History of the Kryptonian TV Legacy
"Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!"
The adventures of Superman have been adapted for television for over six decades with varied success, ranging from the popular Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves through to Smallville and the new Supergirl series, which premieres tonight on CBS.
As we approach this first episode of a new TV show, ComicBook.com is taking a trip back down Memory Lane at the first episodes of other Super-shows from the past 64 years -- series that got made, and others that didn't. Enjoy!
Supergirl premieres tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. You can follow Craig on Twitter at @KryptonSite.
Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
Also known as: Superman Meets 1950's Sci-Fi
The very first Kryptonian "pilot episode" was actually shown theatrically. "Superman and the Mole Men" introduced audiences to George Reeves as The Man of Steel and his mild-mannered alter ego, Clark Kent, as well as Phyllis Coates as the second live-action Lois Lane. It ran for 58 minutes and was later cut down into two half-hour episodes of the eventual Adventures of Superman series, where it was retitled "The Unknown People."
Characters like Jimmy Olsen and Perry White did not appear in this story, and the Adventures of Superman series itself would begin with the Superman origin tale "Superman on Earth."
The Adventures of Superman was one of the first television series to be produced in color (from Season 2 onward). The earlier seasons, however, are less campy and a bit more mature than what would come in the later years. Still, for a generation, George Reeves truly was Superman, prompting fond memories for decades.prevnext
The Adventures of Superpup (1958)
Also known as: Superman Meets Barney
Little people wearing dog costumes on the sets of The Adventures of Superman... how could it go wrong?
Under a dog mask, Billy Curtis played "Bark Bent," mild-mannered canine reporter for the Daily Bugle. His editor was Terry Bite and his love interest went by the name of Pamela Poodle.
The show is available on the Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD set for those who just can't resist, but a project like this might only be appealing to children or furries.prevnext
The Adventures of Superboy (1961)
Also known as: Smallville, 40 Years Too Early
After the death of George Reeves in 1959, a number of projects were proposed by the Adventures of Superman producers to keep the Super-franchise alive on television. A Jimmy Olsen series starring Jack Larson was proposed but never materialized. In 1961, producer Whitney Ellsworth put together a pilot episode for a series starring Johnny Rockwell as a young Clark Kent/Superboy and Bunny Henning as the sweetheart of his youth, Lana Lang.
Although more scripts were produced, only the pilot episode would be filmed. Appropriately enough, this pilot is available to watch on the Smallville: The Complete Series DVD collection.prevnext
Also known as: Superman Meets My Secret Identity
Before there was Netflix, and before there were more than four broadcast TV networks, first-run syndication was the big money-maker for the right producers. Alexander and Ilya Salkind, the producers of the first three Superman films, were in charge of this series, which had relatively low budget effects and ran for a half an hour.
John Haymes Newton and Stacy Haiduk played Clark Kent and Lana Lang, respectively, in the first season, and Lex Luthor (first played by Scott Wells) was on from the start. Newton and Wells left the show after the first season, forcing recasts to Gerard Christopher and Sherman Howard.
While the show had some quality stories written by comic book veterans and provided early directing jobs to Emmy winners like David Nutter, it is sometimes hard to overlook the bad visual effects and Florida studio setting. All four seasons are currently available on DVD.prevnext
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993)
Also known as: Superman Meets Moonlighting
"A love triangle between two people" is how this show was pitched to audiences, and the first two-hour episode premiered against heavy competition in Steven Spielberg's new NBC show seaQuest DSV. Ultimately, audiences preferred Superman over dolphins and the competition was sunk within three years.
The Lois & Clark pilot sets the tone the show would have for most of the first season, under Executive Producer Deborah Joy LeVine -- a sophistication, with Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain as the most stylish and hip versions of the characters to date -- mixed with very witty dialogue and great casting for the supporting roles, including Lane Smith as Perry White and K Callan & Eddie Jones as Martha & Jonathan Kent.
Lois & Clark is also notable in that, aside from the look and design of the Jor-El character in flashback episodes, it didn't seem to be very influenced by the Richard Donner films; instead, the show more evoked the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman comic book relaunch by having the Kents alive and introducing characters like Cat Grant. Most projects after the original Superman film all seemed to do the opposite, and owed a lot to Donner's work.prevnext
Also known as: Superman Meets Dawson's Creek
The longest-running and ultimately most successful Super-series to date was Smallville, which went on to have 218 episodes by the time it finished in 2011. The Smallville pilot was directed by David Nutter, who himself had directed for Superboy in the past.
Smallville's pilot aired only weeks after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and audiences needed a hero, giving the pilot episode some of the highest ratings in The WB's 12-year history. Regardless of what fans may have thought of the series later, The first episode is relatively timeless and portrays Tom Welling's Clark Kent as a young dreamer and Kristin Kreuk as Lana Lang, the beautiful girl next door. The highlight of the pilot and eventual series, though, is Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor, a young man who begins the series as Clark's friend rather than foe. Rosenbaum's portrayal of the character brought Lex the most humanity we have seen from him to date.
It has been said that Smallville is one of the most profitable series in the history of Warner Bros. Television, and it can't be argued that the show's success paved the way for shows like Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl.prevnext
Also known as: Richard Donner's Superman Meets Girl Power
Tonight, CBS presents the first episode of Supergirl, a new series starring Melissa Benoist as comics' "Maid of Might." Although the character of Supergirl has been seen in TV before, this is the first time she has had her first full-on series.
Directed by Glen Winter of Smallville and The Flash fame, and developed by Greg Berlanti (The Flash), Andrew Kreisberg (Arrow), and Ali Adler (Chuck), the first episode pays homage to Super-folks from the past including Dean Cain and former Supergirl Helen Slater while creating its own aesthetic at the same time. With that said, it's interesting to note that Supergirl feels more at home within the universe of the Christopher Reeve films than it feels like the current movie franchise, and Benoist's Kara Danvers with glasses definitely evokes a "golly, gee" vibe that audiences had from Reeve decades earlier. And, while Smallville purposely avoided the tights and flights, Supergirl embraces them, giving audiences a show and a hero that audiences can root for.
As for the name... "Supergirl," in this day and age? Any and all criticism is subverted by Flockhart's Cat Grant, who is more than happy to take ownership of the name.
Kryptonians on TV are a bit of a TV tradition. Supergirl continues that legacy, and ideally it will continue to inspire audiences for years to come. And... who knows... maybe it's not the only Super-television project in the pipeline...prev