This is the twenty-first installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes. For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.
After the failures of “Superman III” and “Supergirl” – as well as the failure of “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” at Cannon – Alexander and Ilya Salkind decided to set their sights instead to television. While Cannon still had the feature film rights and was considering a fifth film with Christopher Reeve, the Salkinds began working on what would become “Superboy.”
While “Superboy” was intended to share at least a loose continuity with the Salkind films, it is often considered non-canon with the Donnerverse – which encompasses the four films and the Supergirl movie – due to several continuity errors. While the films were set firmly in Superman’s pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity, “Superboy” was set in an amalgamation of the pre-Crisis continuity of the films and the new continuity, set up by John Byrne in his “Man of Steel” miniseries.
The first season starred John Haymes-Newton as Superboy/Clark Kent- a college student at Shuster University in Capitol City, Florida – Stacy Haiduk as Clark’s childhood friend from Smallville and classmate at Shuster Lana Lang, and Jim Calvert as Clark’s dorm roommate T.J. White – the son of Daily Planet editor, and Clark’s future boss, Perry White. The series also featured upperclassman Lex Luthor, played by Scott James Wells.
The first season, especially the first 13 episodes, was extremely low budget. The Salkinds paid for the show out of their own pockets and didn’t want to invest heavily until they were sure it was going to be a hit. The first 13 episodes saw Superboy battling mostly grounded in reality elements, like gangsters and Lex Luthor fixing basketball games. The second half of the first season saw the introduction of more fantastic elements like time travel and Mr. Mxyzptlk, the imp from the 5th Dimension.
The second season saw T.J. White replaced with Clark’s new roommate Andy McCallister, played by Ilan Mitchell-Smith from “Weird Science.” The biggest changes, however, were in the casting of the main hero and the main villain. Due to an unreasonable request for a raise on the part of John Haymes-Newton – and a well-publicised arrest for DUI – the Salkinds decided to replace the actor with Gerard Christopher. Likewise, wanting to take the character of Lex Luthor in a direction more in keeping with the movies, Scott Wells was replaced with Sherman Howard. The change in Luthor’s appearance was explained with plastic surgery, while the change in Superboys was never addressed.
Season two saw the return of Mr. Mxyzptlk and the introduction of other villains from the Superman comics, such as Metallo and Bizarro. Gilbert Gottfried portrayed a character named Nick Knack who was similar to the Toyman, but wasn’t Winslow Schott. Sherman Howard would be seriously considered for the role of Lex Luthor again in “Superman: The Animated Series,” but ultimately lost out to Clancy Brown. Bruce Timm would later cast him as the Luthor-like villain Derek Powers – who becomes the supervillain Blight – on “Batman Beyond.”
Again, season three saw many changes made to the format of the show. The focus was moved away from Clark’s college years and he becomes an intern for the Bureau of Extranormal Matters, a sort of X-Files before “The X-Files.” Apart from one guest appearance, Ilan Mitchell-Smith was written out of the show and the supporting characters were comprised of Bureau of Extranormal Matters chief C. Dennis Jackson and agent Matt Ritter. Lana Lang also continued on the series as a bureau intern with Clark. This remained the show’s format until the end of the series.
One episode during the show’s fourth and final season, “Paranoid,” featured guest appearances by former Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen Noel Neill and Jack Larson. Noel had appeared with Kirk Alyn in a deleted scene – later restored for the 2001 extended cut – for “Superman: The Movie” and Jack Larson would go on to guest star as an artificially aged Jimmy Olsen in “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” Both Noel and Larson would appear together – although in separate scenes – in “Superman Returns.”
While the show was very popular at the end of its fourth season, and was still performing very strong in the ratings, plans for a fifth season would ultimately be scrapped. Warner Bros., eager to regain the Superman rights from the Salkinds, filed suit in 1992. DC Comics and Warner Bros. were in the planning stages of a new television series involving the character, and they felt that two separate shows would be confusing to viewers. Warner Bros. regained the television rights in an undisclosed out-of-court settlement with the Salkinds. Superboy was over, but Superman’s journey on television was just beginning.
“Salkind The Third Generation Of A Filmmaking Family Comes To Florida In Ilya Salkind, A True Man Of Steel In The Industry.”. Sun Sentinel.
“Superboy Strong Except In Hometown”. Orlando Sentinel.
“Superboy Opener Is Pure Kryptonite”. Orlando Sentinel.
Rosen, Jake. Superman vs. Hollywood. Chicago Review Press Inc, 2008, ISBN 978-1-55652-731-9