This is the twenty-fifth 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.
With “Batman” breaking box office and merchandising records and with “Superboy” doing very well in first-run syndication, Warner Bros. thought it was time to bring another of their more popular characters to television.
“The Flash” actually began production in 1988, while “Batman” was still in production. Producers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo originally had an idea for a Justice League television series, which would feature several superheroes including the Flash, but Warner Bros. passed on that idea. At the beginning of 1990, new CBS Entertainment president Jeff Segansky expressed interest in producing a television series based on the Flash and the show was immediately put into production with Bilson and De Meo still on as showrunners.
Bilson and De Meo wrote the series pilot, a two-hour feature-length episode which detailed the complete origin of the Flash. Although Wally West had been the Flash in comics for several years, the character chosen for the series was Barry Allen. Barry Allen had been the Flash introduced in the silver age of comics and who had died during DC Comics’ “Crisis on Infinite Earths” in 1986. The original golden age Flash, Jay Garrick, was given a sort of honorable mention as Barry’s older brother, Jay Allen.
Producers didn’t want the Flash to just be a guy in tights running around, feeling that after “Batman” and the more armored look Tim Burton gave to the character, a spandex-clad superhero might be too silly for a modern audience. Instead, they commissioned Stan Winston Studios to develop a suit similar to the one used in “Batman,” but tailored toward the Flash. The suit was designed by costumer Robert Short. The molded rubber suit was covered in crushed red velvet to differentiate it from Batman. Actor John Wesley Shipp, who played Barry Allen and his crimson-clad alter ego, wore a water-cooled undersuit that offset the heat held in by the costume.
The theme song for the series was composed by Danny Elfman, who had composed the score for “Batman” and would go on to score superhero themes for Spider-Man and the Hulk. The series itself was composed by Shirley Walker, who would also score “Batman: The Animated Series,” which also used Danny Elfman’s Batman march from the Tim Burton films.
Based on the strength of the pilot, “The Flash” was picked up for a 22 episode first season. At first, the Flash fought normal gangsters, although some more colorful characters would be introduced later in the season. Supervillains taken from the comic books included Captain Cold, Mirror Master and the Trickster. An original supervillain created for the series, the Ghost, was also featured in one episode. Mirror Master was played by former Partridge Family frontman and 70s teen idol David Cassidy, while the Trickster was played by former Luke Skywalker and future Joker Mark Hammil. Hammil’s performance as the Trickster was actually instrumental in helping him get cast as the Joker for “Batman: The Animated Series.”
One of the Flash’s greatest enemies from the comics, the Reverse Flash, was noticeably absent. The name “Professor Zoom,” which the Reverse Flash was also called, was used by Barry as an alias in the episode “Done With Mirrors,” when Barry went undercover. The episode “Twin Streaks” there is another speedster featured, but this character, Pollux, is a clone of Barry and he wears blue instead of yellow. He could be viewed as the Reverse Flash from this series, but he bared no resemblance to the comics and was only featured in a single episode.
A second season was planned, but unfortunately wasn’t to be. “The Flash” was originally scheduled on Thursday nights at 8pm, opposite both “The Cosby Show” and “The Simpsons,” two of the most popular television series of the season. CBS attempted to move the show around the schedule, but was never able to find an audience and the show was canceled before the second season could go into production. According to producers, the season two premiere would have involved Flash’s Rogues teaming up against him.
“The Flash” has developed a cult following and has found a new generation of fans on DVD. In homage to the original series, the 2014 television series has brought back many actors from the original series such as John Wesley Shipp – this time playing Barry Allen’s father, Henry – as well as Amanda Pays, Mark Hammil and Vito D’Ambrosio all reprising their roles from the original series.
Six episodes from “The Flash” were edited into three feature-length movies and released to VHS during the early 90s. The movies include “The Flash” – the feature-length pilot – “The Flash II: Revenge of the Trickster” – comprised of the two Trickster episodes – and “The Flash III: Deadly Nightshade” – comprised of two episodes featuring the original character Nightshade.
King, Susan (September 19, 1990). “‘Flash’ Suits Up for a Sizzling TV Ratings Race”. Los Angeles Times.
Schweier, Philip (September 16, 2007). “The Flash: The Fastest Show On Television”. Comic Book Bin.
Miller, Ron (August 30, 1990). “Superchallenge: On CBS, The Flash Faces Toughest Foes Yet: ‘Cosby’ And ‘Simpsons'”. Chicago Tribune.
Ng, Philiana (May 27, 2014). “‘Flash’: John Wesley Shipp’s Secret Character Revealed”. The Hollywood Reporter.
Sepinwall, Alan (December 8, 2014). “Exclusive: Mark Hamill to play the Trickster again on ‘The Flash'”. Hitfix.