This is the twenty-eighth 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.
In 1992, Warner Bros. and DC Comics were eager to retrieve the rights to the Superman character they had licensed out to Alexander Salkind and his son Ilya some twenty years prior. The Salkinds were determined to milk the property for everything it was worth and hadn’t stopped exploiting the property since they licensed it. The Salkinds had the first-run syndication television series “The Adventures of Superboy” finishing up its fourth – and what would ultimately be its last – season, and they were already planning a fifth. Warner Bros. took the Salkinds to court and in an undisclosed settlement were able to retrieve all rights to Superman and related characters. This, of course, cause the Superboy series to end after its current season.
Eager to begin exploiting Superman under their own banner, Warner Bros. quickly contacted Deborah Joy Levine and asked if she would be interested. Levine said that she was not interested in creating a new Superman show for television, but that she could be interested in doing a romantic comedy called “Lois and Clark.” Warner Bros. agreed to hear her ideas and ultimately gave her the go-ahead to produce a pilot. On the strength of that pilot, which was written by Levine and directed by Robert Butler, CBS picked up the series.
In keeping with Levine’s promise, the series focused on the romantic tensions between Lois Lane and Clark Kent, with Superman almost an afterthought – sometimes only being seen for mere moments at the end of an episode . The first season featured very grounded threats for the Man of Steel, mostly thugs and the illicit corporate dealings of Lex Luthor. Luthor, played by John Shea, was a regular during the first season.
The series also tried to incorporate a sort of complex, five sided love “triangle” between Clark Kent, Superman, Lois Lane and Daily Planet gossip columnist Cat Grant. Clark Kent was fast falling for Lois, Lois – as always – only had eyes for Superman, Cat Grant kept trying to get straight-edged farmboy Clark into bed and Superman, well, he was in love with Lois Lane but wanted her to be in love with Clark, not Superman. Lex Luthor was also trying to court Lois Lane.
In a surprising – and heart-wrenching for the creators currently working on the Superman comics – turn of events, the series had a profound impact on the Superman comic books of the time. In the comics, Clark Kent had finally revealed his identity to Lois Lane and asked her to marry him, which she accepted. The plan for the 1992-93 year of comics was for a series of events to unfold leading up to the wedding of Superman and Lois Lane. The series, intending from the outset to eventually marry off Lois and Clark themselves, didn’t want the pair to marry in the comics before the series. Because of this, the comics for the next year had to be completely re-plotted on the fly which actually ended in one of the most popular and epic Superman storylines of all time, the death and return of Superman.
At the end of the first season, unhappy with the studio’s insistence that more emphasis be placed actually on Superman and for Dean Cain to have more screen time in the suit, Deborah Joy Levine left the series.
The second season, in addition to using more Superman, also began to introduce more comic book characters and elements. In season two, the characters of Toy Man – in name only in a lot of ways – as well as the character of Metallo. Winslow Schott – never actually called “Toy Man” in the episode, which was written by Dean Cain himself – was played by Sherman Hemsley. Hemsley’s former “The Jeffersons” co-star Isabel Sanford also appeared in the episode. Former “Family Ties” co-star Scott Valentine portrayed Metallo.
The second season also saw the departure of Tracy Scoggins’ Cat Grant, as well as the recasting of Jimmy Olsen. Michael Landes, who played Jimmy Olsen in the first season, was deemed to be too similar to Dean Cain in appearance, and that Jimmy and Superman looked too much like they could have been brothers. Because of this, the decision was made to recast the character. Unlike Cat Grant, the character of Jimmy Olsen was too important to the Superman mythos to be simply written off the show. Justin Whalin, who had just a few years earlier starred in “Child’s Play 3,” was brought in to replace Landes as Jimmy Olsen.
In addition to Toy Man and Metallo, other characters and elements from the comics introduced in the second season included Bronson Pinchot as The Prankster and the Intergang crime organization. Intergang and the Prankster were changed significantly from the comics. The Prankster was named Kyle Griffin instead of Oswald Loomis, although a character named Oswald Loomis was briefly shown in the character’s debut episode, titled “The Prankster,” as a red herring. Intergang was led by an original character named Bill Church instead of Bruno Mannheim, like in the comics. All connections between Intergang and Apokolips were also erased, as Apokolips and Darkseid were never featured in the series.
The third season opened with Clark Kent finally asking Lois Lane to marry him, and Lois revealing that she knows that Clark is Superman. While she initially said no, the season’s arc seemed to be leading toward the wedding of Lois Lane and Superman, a wedding that audiences were denied three years before in the comic books. They would be denied again, as one thing after another prevented the matrimonial union. Season three ended with Superman seemingly leaving the Earth with a group of Kryptonian survivors to defeat a Kryptonian menace on New Krypton.
Season four resolved the cliffhanger from the previous season with the Kryptonian villain Lord Nor – who, despite a name change, was basically the same character as General Zod – coming to Earth once he learned he would have super powers here. Superman defeats Nor and in an episode called “Swear to God, This Time We’re Not Kidding,” Lois and Clark finally married. The episode aired on October 6, 1996. Wednesday of that same week saw the release of “Superman: The Wedding Album,” which saw the characters married in the comic book continuity as well.
While the quality of the series improved greatly as the series progressed, ratings began to decline rapidly, mainly due to scheduling issues. The network couldn’t seem to find a sweet spot for the series. While there were plans to return for a fifth season, which the network had promised producers and which led to the fourth season ending on a cliffhanger, the series was not renewed and the final cliffhanger went unresolved. The series ends with Lois and Clark finding a baby left on their doorstep, with a note that reads “Dear Lois and Clark, this belongs to you.” Season five would have seen Lois and Clark deal with parenting problems, as well as solving the mystery of who left the baby on their doorstep.
The final episode of “Lois and Clark” aired on June 14, 1997. Audiences, however, would not be deprived of a live action Superman on television for very long. Four short years later, Superman – or a version of the Superman mythos – would return.
Du Brow, Rick (May 11, 1993). “At ABC, Life Goes On With 11 New Series”. The Los Angeles Times.
Rosenberg, Howard (September 11, 1993). “Lois & Clark Soars, and So Does Townsend”. The Los Angeles Times.
O’Connor, John J. (April 9, 1995). “TELEVISION VIEW; That Man In a Cape Is Still Flying”. The New York Times
“History of Lois and Clark – Part 1”. Redboots.net
Allstetter, Rob (August 1997). “‘Lois & Clark’ Meets Kryptonite”. Wizard (72). p. 119.
Dimino, Russ. “The Many Faces Of… Super-Weddings!” KryptonSite.com.