Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Super Seventies (and Beyond)

We talked about the history of superheroes on TV a couple of weeks ago, and got through the 1960s. Naturally we can’t leave off there, so here’s part 2, covering the ’70s and ’80s.

After Batman ended, the networks moved on to other genres. There were a lot of westerns, WWII shows, sitcoms, cop shows, doctor shows, detective shows, and a handful of sci-fi shows, some of which were close enough to superheroes for me.

The first of these in the ’70s was The Immortal, an ABC show from 1970, based on a science fiction novel, The Immortals, by James E. Gunn. Christopher George plays a guy named Ben Richards, whose mutant blood contains “all known antibodies and immunities”; he’s never been sick and ages at a much slower rate than normal people, with a possible lifespan five to ten times longer than average. As a bonus, anyone who gets a transfusion from him will experience the same robust health effect, at least temporarily, and since he’s O-Negative, he can donate blood to anyone. Unfortunately for him, a billionaire whose life he saved has realized that by keeping Richards on tap, he can also live forever. Also unfortunately, he’s got a brother he hasn’t seen in years who may have the same miraculous blood. Since the billionaire won’t take no for an answer and his blood won’t cure bullet holes, Richards has to go on the run, Fugitive style (imitation being the sincerest form of television), while trying to beat the bad guys in the race to find his brother. The show lasted a single season.

The next effort was more successful; another sci-fi adaptation from a novel, Martin Caidin’s Cyborg, became The Six Million Dollar Man. As Col. Steve Austin, Lee Majors did everything a superhero does except put on a costume, and his show ran five seasons, from 1973 to ’78, spawning a Bionic Woman, Bionic Kid, Bionic Dog and Bionic Sasquatch (no, I’m not kidding) along the way.

Another almost-kinda-sorta superhero show was The Magician, which aired for 21 episodes in 1973-74, in which Bill Bixby played a stage magician who used his skills to fight crime. Years later, an episode of The Incredible Hulk featured Bixby taking a position as stage assistant to a magician played by his former My Favorite Martian co-star, Ray Walston, in a nice two-for-one tribute to his previous shows.

The first actual superhero (powers, costume, secret identity) to show up on network TV after Batman was a Saturday morning show that premiered in the fall of 1974, the CBS series Shazam! The show differed somewhat from the comic, with young Billy Batson (Michael Gray) traveling the country in an RV with his mentor, an old guy named Mentor, played by veteran actor Les Tremayne. The eponymous wizard is nowhere to be seen; Billy directly contacts the “elders” who give him his powers by means of a nifty light-up dome thingy.

The following year, the Shazam! show was expanded to an hour, with the second half being the adventures of an original character, Isis, played by Joanna Cameron. Her debut in September of 1975 put her a month ahead of The Bionic Woman and seven months ahead of the Wonder Woman series, making Isis the first weekly American live-action superhero series with a female lead. The Shazam!/Isis Hour of Power was canceled in 1977, after which the two halves were syndicated separately as Shazam! and The Secrets of Isis.

In 1972, the first issue of Gloria Steinem’s Ms. magazine featured Wonder Woman on the cover; inside, editor Joanne Edgar bemoaned the fact that Wonder Woman had lost her powers and become an adventurer in a white pantsuit, fighting bad buys through martial arts and just generally being the comics version of The Avengers’ Emma Peel, while being subservient to mysterious martial arts master I Ching, thereby having a reduced role and secondary billing in her own comic. Immediately, DC undid the depowering and returned Wonder Woman to costumed superheroing, and the character began to again rise in popularity. ABC responded in 1974 by producing a pilot for a possible series. But being the kind of idiots that network executives often are, the pilot featured Cathy Lee Crosby as a blond-haired version of Diana Prince that had just been rejected by DC, the readers and the national women’s movement, for whom Princess Diana had become something of a symbol. The pilot got decent ratings, but naturally it also got a lot of blowback from the aforementioned groups.

A do-over was clearly in order. The producers than made a second pilot, The New, Original Wonder Woman, with Lynda Carter as Diana, set during WWII, which aired in November of 1975. (David Bowie’s then-wife Angela campaigned for the role; she showed up at Warner’s in a Wonder Woman costume and jumped into a hallway, surprising the executives on their way to a meeting. One of them looked at her and said “put on a bra” as they walked past.) The new pilot was picked up and Wonder Woman made its series debut in April 1976. Because it was a period piece, and therefore more expensive to produce, ABC declined to renew the series after the first season. CBS picked it up and moved the setting to the present day, with Lyle Waggoner’s Steve Trevor was replaced by Steve Trevor Jr., the son of the original, now played by Lyle Waggoner.

NBC’s The Invisible Man was another entry in the “superhero in all but costume” genre. Airing in 1975, it starred David McCallum as a scientist whose self-inflicted invisibility made him an effective spy; it also meant he had to wear a special lifelike mask and gloves if he wanted to be visible.

Superheroines seemed to do well on TV; the next franchise to emerge was the Ruby-Spears creation, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, which appeared as a segment of the Sid & Marty Kroft Supershow. The other segments of the show were pretty lousy and well-forgotten, but Electra Woman’s sly parody of Batman elevated it a bit above Dr. Shrinker, Wonderbug, Bigfoot & Wildboy, Magic Mongo and even the host band, Kaptain Kool & the Kongs. Last year, YouTube stars Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart starred in a revival film of the characters.

Another attempt at almost-sorta-kinda-superheroes-mixed-with-another-genre was the 1976 series Monster Squad (not to be confused with the unrelated movie of the same name written by Shane Black), in which former Love Boat crewman (and future Congressman) Fred Grandy brings wax museum statues of the Universal Monsters to life and recruits them as a team of crimefighters. Yes, really.

According to various rumors and reports, NBC’s 1977 series, Man from Atlantis, began as an adaptation of either Aquaman or Prince Namor the Submariner, but either the rights were unavailable or the network decided that with enough changes to the plot they wouldn’t need the rights, mer-people being a concept that goes back as far as legends of the sunken city. The series starred Patrick Duffy as the fish-man of the title, an aquatic hero with webbed fingers and a convenient case of amnesia. He nonetheless fought crime underwater, of which there seems to be a surprising amount.

Around this time, Marvel started having some luck getting their properties placed in Hollywood, beginning with a live-action series, Amazing Spider-Man, in 1978-79. The CBS series starred Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker, with some cheesy effects and an array of mundane criminals where the supervillains ought to have been. The show was canceled because CBS was afraid of becoming known as “the superhero network” due to their lineup, which included many of the previously mentioned shows, a number of animated series, and the next few shows on our list. CBS had previously canceled a number of sitcoms with rural themes after network President William S. Paley’s wife overheard a restaurant patron refer to her as “the wife of the head of that hillbilly network.”

One of the most popular superhero shows of the time was The Incredible Hulk, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, which ran from 1978 to 1982, and then returned in a series of TV movies: Incredible Hulk Returns (1988), in which Hulk meets Thor (Men in Tights’ Little John, Eric Kramer); Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989), wherein Hulk meets Daredevil (Street Hawks star Rex Smith); and Death of the Incredible Hulk (1990) in which Dr. Banner falls in love, it ends badly, everybody dies. A fourth film documenting the Hulk’s resurrection was planned, but low ratings for the third movie put an end to the series. Bixby died of cancer in 1993.

CBS also made a couple of other Marvel properties as two-hour pilots; Dr. Strange in 1978 and Captain America in 1979; Cap got a sequel later that same year later, Captain America II: Death Too Soon. I remember reading in one of the fan magazines at the time that Marvel was very unhappy with the liberties the producers had taken with the first film, particularly with the changing of Steve’s origin and costume. They forced the network to insert a title card before and after commercial breaks showing an approved drawing of Cap in his trademarked costume, and it’s entirely likely that the sequel was a “make good” on the network’s part, since it showed the hero in his proper costume.

You kids today don’t know; back in those long-ago days, we nerdy kids were so starved for comics-based shows that we’d watch anything that even looked remotely like it might have some connection to comics, and we’d always have a love-hate relationship with it. Yeah, it was great that there was a Captain America TV movie, but it was annoying as hell that they changed the costume, the origin, the villains, pretty much everything, and the motorcycle helmet looked silly and the shield being the detachable plastic windshield from his motorcycle and the plot being so generic that the same story could have been told with anyone from Charlie’s Angels to Barnaby Jones taking Cap’s place… It was frustrating.

It was especially frustrating if you paid attention and knew what was going on. Here’s a ‘frinstance. You may have seen the old Fantastic Four cartoons from 1978, featuring a robot named H.E.R.B.I.E. taking the place of the Human Torch; you may have heard the absurd urban legend that Johnny Storm got the axe because the network was afraid that kids at home might want to imitate him and set themselves on fire, or even that some kid did exactly that. Nope. Never happened.

What happened was Marvel had licensed a lot of their characters to Universal, including the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Dr. Strange, and the Human Torch. As previously noted, the Hulk became a series, Captain America and Dr. Strange got TV movies, and the Torch languished in development hell for a few years. Not long after the deal was made, NBC decided they wanted a new Fantastic Four TV series, but Universal had the rights to the Torch, so they had to fill the spot on the team, and H.E.R.B.I.E. won the gig.

Swamp Thing fire stunt
For Tony Cecere, this is Tuesday.

But what happened to the Human Torch movie? Well, ya see, fire effects used to be really hard to do. There is a stunt man named Tony Cecere who used to specialize in setting himself on fire; you saw him as a flaming Freddy Kruger, a flaming Terminator, a flaming Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man, and as a flaming Alec Holland running into the Everglades to become Swamp Thing. But he looked like a guy who’d been set on fire, not a guy made out of fire. Eventually, the studio realized that coming up with believable fire effects was pretty much impossible, so they said “let’s have him shoot lightning instead of fire.” They then renamed the TV movie “Power Man,” until Marvel noticed and said “nope, there’s a Power Man in the comics, and you didn’t pay for that one.” So The Human Torch became The Power Within, a terrible ABC TV-movie from 1979.

TV Guide page showing ad for 'Power Man'
The TV Guide Ad for “Power Man.” By the time the show actually aired, it was “The Power Within.”

After Superman made a big splash in 1978 and had a successful sequel in 1980, there was renewed interest at the networks for a superhero series, but there were two key sticking points: (1) they didn’t think a straight dramatic action series would be successful, and (2) they obviously didn’t want to pay royalties for the rights to a DC or Marvel hero. The result was several years of characters that were vaguely reminiscent of established characters, most of them done as comedies.

One such was The Greatest American Hero, a 1981 ABC series that starts with an origin story that closely resembles Green Lantern’s; aliens give an ordinary guy a device that provides super powers. The new elements are that Ralph Hinkley (William Katt) loses his instruction book and has to figure out how to work the suit through on-the-job trial-and-error; he’s assigned an FBI handler, Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp), to provide support and backup; and the first thing he does is tell his girlfriend. No Lois Lane nonsense here. The show ran three seasons, and a few years later, NBC attempted a reboot, passing the costume to a young lady as The Greatest American Heroine. The pilot was not picked up, but it ended up in the syndication package and on the DVD collection. The show is mostly memorable for having the catchiest theme song ever. It’s also memorable for quickly changing the hero’s last name to Hanley after Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinkley, Jr.

NBC came up with Manimal in 1983; Simon MacCorkindale plays a guy who somehow knows “the secrets that divide man from animal,” which means he is able to shape-shift into any animal he chooses. He always chose a hawk, panther and some third animal that varied with each episode. Melody Anderson, better known as Dale Arden in the 1980 Flash Gordon, plays the police detective who assists our Beast Boy knockoff. Stan Winston provided beautiful transformation sequences for the hawk, panther, and snake transformations, entirely done with practical effects. For any other animals, the transformations happened off-camera. Naturally it only lasted 8 episodes.

Automan was a 1983 attempt by ABC to turn Tron into a superhero franchise. Desi Arnaz Jr. (son of Lucy and Ricky) is Walter, a police computer guy who invents an artificial intelligence in the form of a holographic man who can leave the computer and walk among us as a hero. Walter is able to merge with the “automatic man” to become one being.

Meanwhile, NBC decided to file the numbers off the X-Men, then at the peak of its popularity, recasting it as a comedy. Misfits of Science ran for one season beginning in 1985, and starred Dean Paul Martin (son of the Rat Pack singer), a young (post-Springsteen video, pre-He-Man) Courtney Cox, and Kevin Peter Hall, a 7’4″ actor best known for playing the Predator and Harry of Harry and the Hendersons.

Rex Smith, a former teen idol who we last saw in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, got to play a former cop turned motorcycle vigilante in Street Hawk, a 1985 ABC series. It’s pretty much the same premise as Knight Rider, Airwolf, Wonderbug and any other show with a super-special vehicle and somebody riding around in it being a do-gooder. I’m not even going to bother digging up a video for it.

Here’s an odd one. In 1987’s Once a Hero, Milo O’Shea plays a middle-aged cartoonist who writes and draws a comic called Captain Justice, but he’s getting bored; he’s practically phoning it in, recycling plots, repeating the same old bits, and the readers are noticing, the publishers are noticing, and even the characters are noticing. The people of Pleasantville are all too aware that their lives are becoming repetitive and dull, and with reader interest declining, characters are beginning to fade away, so Captain Justice (Jeff Lester) decides to breach the “Forbidden Zone” and enter the real world, where he is an ordinary human with no super powers. He’s followed by a hard-bitten detective called Gumshoe (Robert Forster). But powers or no, he’s still a hero, so Captain Justice begins fighting real-world criminals, reviving interest in the comic. Meanwhile, reporter Emma Greely (Caitlin Clarke) is snooping around looking for the story, unaware that her smartass kid Woody knows all about the whereabouts of the good Captain. Caitlin Clarke previously played Valerian in the 1981 fantasy film Dragonslayer.

Only three episodes ever aired, which is a pity, because the fourth reportedly featured Adam West as a faded actor who used to play Captain Justice on TV and now ekes out a living making appearances at supermarkets and fairs, until the publishers sue him so they can promote an updated version of the character, mirroring a real-life incident in which TV’s Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore, was barred from making costumed appearances by the producers of a staggeringly terrible remake.

Ever sit in front of your TV and try to will a show to be good? Yeah, that’ll work. I have to admit that was the case with Sable, an adaptation of Mike Grell’s brilliant adventure comic Jon Sable, Freelance. Apparently my control of time and space was not what I’d hoped, because Sable was, well, not good. So many bad decisions. It became just another trite vigilante-detective show, with the usual romantic subplot, cliched supporting characters and dull writing. The lead actor, Lewis Van Bergen, was cast late in production to replace the original star, Gene Simmons of KISS, who was the producer and had originally cast himself until somebody saw how bad he was. This was Rene Russo’s first major role. Ken Page did a good job in a thankless role as “Cheesecake,” a blind sidekick who sat in his room and told jokes to a recorded laugh track, but somehow knew everything about everything, so Sable came to him for information several times per episode. The show made it to episode 7.

Ilya and Alexander Salkind, producers of the Christopher Reeve Superman films, had acquired other rights along with the Last Son of Krypton, including Supergirl and Superboy; after Supergirl (starring Helen Slater) had tanked, they turned their attention to TV, and the result was a syndicated series that ran from 1988-92, when it was unceremoniously killed off to make way for Lois & Clark. What made Superboy unique among superhero shows was the number of comic book writers involved; Mike Carlin, Andy Helfer, Denny O’Neill, Cary Bates, J. M. DeMatteis and Mark Evanier all worked on the series.

With the Tim Burton Batman film in 1989, there was a whole ‘nother round of superhero shows, but by then there were so many syndicated programs, cable, direct-to-video and rentals that it would take a half-dozen posts to catalog all of them, and most are better forgotten. I’m sure I missed something here; scold me in the comments.

Come back next week and we’ll wade through the cartoons.


  1. tomfitz1

    I remember seeing some of these series, The Incredible Hulk, Man from Atlantis, Six Million Dollar Man (and Bionic Woman).

    The only Hulk movie that I missed was the Trial of the Incredible Hulk. I didn’t like the Thor-Hulk team-up. The death of the Hulk made no sense – in the comics, a fall like that wouldn’t bother the Hulk – only make him madder, but that’s tv for you.

    Never saw the tv movies of Captain America/Dr. Strange.

    People are really spoiled these days – what with all the Marvel movies and tv series now showing are way better than those shown in the ’70’s and ’80’s (even the bad ones) and with better special effects.

    1. I don’t remember which Hulk movie was which, but I did watch them all at the time. And from my pic, obviously I loved the show. There’s a DVD set with the Thor and DD Hulk movies at the local big box store, and I may have to get it if it’s still there.

      1. M-Wolverine

        Well, Returns was the one with Thor, and it was Return because it was the first one after the show. Duh. And Trial was the one with Daredevil, because he was a lawyer and all. And Death was the one (SPOILERS!) where he dies. I remember Thor being fun for the budget. And Trial was actually pretty good. No one liked the black ninja Daredevil costume….till Frank Miller basically ripped it off for Man Without Fear and then the TV show used it to much acclaim. It also did the TV show first by having a big but not giant guy play the Kingpin quite well; John “Sallah” “Gimli” Rhys-Davies. Unfortunately I think he had another job right around it so he couldn’t shave his head and beard. But he was pretty good. He had been a convincing KGB head in Living Daylights already.

        Death was always a downer because I don’t think anyone wanted to see him die. If they needed an “ending” I think the whole point was him finding a cure. Though maybe with a small nod at the end that the cure wasn’t really fully effective, and you never know… At least an ending fully clearing himself. The funny thing about this one is he falls for a Russian spy. They didn’t have the rights to use Black Widow, but what does Whedon think is a good idea for his second Avengers movie…? Pairing Banner up with a Russian spy. Hmmmm…..

          1. M-Wolverine

            Just to be clear, I was saying Returns “duh” not because you didn’t understand or know that, but because I was obviously stating the obvious. Not a knock, but making clear I knew I wasn’t making any grand revelation.

            To make this post not completely pedantic, I’ll respond to your other post too. Hollywood always underestimates flyover country, in viewing and tastes. Someone is watching all that NASCAR while ESPN covers Yankees-Sox. And since they’re insulated around other like minded people they often luck into what is going to catch on. It was well done and was quality enough to show all people had good and bad characteristics, but All in the Family was really intended to have Archie be the butt of the jokes, not an anti-hero. And Family Ties was supposed to be about the ex-hippie parents dealing with their weird conservative kid, but the talents of Michael J. Fox and the lack of understanding of what a lot of their viewers thought and liked made Michael P. Keaton the star of the show. So yeah, they miss the boat sometimes.

          2. frasersherman

            I remember some years ago, an article pointed out that bowling was, at the time, way more popular than golf, but didn’t get anywhere near as much coverage. Which was because bowling catered to a less wealthy demographic, the networks couldn’t command the same ad prices they could for golf.

          1. Pol Rua

            Many years ago now, I was at a convention when someone asked John Rhys-Davies who would win in a battle of the Kingpins between him and Michael Clarke Duncan?
            He responded, “Well as that would involve shaving off this lovely hair and beard… sadly, I would be forced to concede.”

  2. frasersherman

    An amusing note about The Power Within: the protagonist is quite obviously a mutant (got his powers from in utero radiation exposure) but they never use the word.
    Other shows in this vein: Gemini Man (another invisible man), Exo-Man (good one about a hero who builds a super-strong exoskeleton after the mob cripples him) and The Man With the Power (protagonist is half-human TKer). And I’d argue Leonard Nimoy as a psychic in Baffled is as much a super-hero as The Magician.
    Along with changing Hinkley’s name, Greatest American Hero also tried avoiding it (his students just call him “Mr. H” for a bit) and eventually went back to Hinkley.
    Whatever was said to Paley’s wife, most of the history I’ve read of CBS dumping its countrified shows credits the switch to money: the shows were popular with older, more rural, less moneyed people and so CBS concentrated more on shows that catered to what would later be yuppies (though like “movies must bring in twentysomething guys to succeed!” this was probably also a lot about looking young and hip).

    1. What’s always been weird to me is that until the mid-80s and the end of MASH and the Super Bowl getting huge, etc…prior to all that, episodes of the Beverly Hillbillies were the most watched TV shows ever. Just random episodes, if I understood the numbers I’d see right. So it’s no surprise they kept making rural shows.

  3. frasersherman

    There’s also Chameleons, a 1989 parody pilot with Crystal Barnard as the sidekick to Captain Chameleon, a hero with a camouflage cloak. Not good. Or funny.
    There was actually a sequel to Manimal–his daughter (with the same power) turns up in an episode of Night Man.
    Other heroes of the era:
    Mandrake got a TV movie in 1979
    Kiss got a film paralleling their short stint as Marvel superheroes, in Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.
    The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything, with Robert Hays as a man who can stop time might qualify.
    The Gifted One is a very poor pilot about another half-ET psionic (1989)
    Future Cop about an android cop (pilot, short-lived series, then an attempted reboot as The Cops and Robin) might qualify–from what I remember, it was one of the better treatments of that idea.
    And Spectre (Robert Culp and Gig Young as demon-fighters) deserves a mention.
    And for a proto-superhero we have Frank Langella as Zorro in a 1977 TV film.

    1. Future Cop had a comedic clone, Holmes and Yoyo, with tragically underappreciated comic actor John Shuck as Yoyo, the robot cop.

      And damn that Kiss film was bad, except for scenery-chewing villain Anthony Zerbe. He was always reliable.

      1. frasersherman

        John Schuck is great, the series not so much. I really loved him in McMillan and Wife.
        Mann and Machine was probably my favorite human/robot cop team.
        And yes, the Kiss film was bad.
        Joanna Cameron. Ahhhh

  4. M-Wolverine

    So many memories and feels. I don’t know if this site caters to a younger crowd at all, but see kids, this is what we had to deal with! And why we go into nervous ticks any time some producer or director talks about making changes to established characters.

    In order:

    We all had a special place in our heart (or whatever parts) for Wonder Woman, but man, Isis (Cameron) will always be special to me. I don’t know her background, but she was simply stunning.

    Man from Atlantis had a great syndication run. Used to try and do his swimming motion in the pool. Duffy never could seem to get away from water, whether it be mer-man or showers.

    Yes, outside of the Hulk, that actually was a great adaptation due to budget, cribbing the Fugitive pretty hard. Spiderman the budget showed more. And the less said about Captain America the better. And Herbie was the devil.

    Greatest American Hero was great. Manimal and Automan weren’t. But I watched them all. At least Automan had the cool neon reflective Lamborghini that could make 90 degree turns. So it was worth it for the car.

    Once a Hero – did Marvel ever sue them for using The Controller in their opening credits? And I think I remember that bad Sable make-up. I may even have watched an episode or few because, COMICS. But yeah, not good.

    That’s a good place to stop. Batman was pretty much the line between the start of good superhero adaptations, and the previous world of garbage outside of cartoons and the first two Superman movies. Funny that we now live in a world of lots of good superhero adaptations, and bad Superman movies. 😉

  5. I for one want a DVD set of the Immortal, as I watched it one summer on Sci-Fi in the mid/late ’90s and liked it (as I like Hulk and Pretender in that same genre).

    Also, somewhere I have a complete DVD set of GAH, although I’m not positive my version has Heroine on there too. Someday I will dig that out and regale you all with tales of me watching it!

  6. Jeff Nettleton

    You can add The Powers of Matthew Star, about a young man with psionic abilities. I can’t recall if he is an alien or a mutant. Production was held up when the star was injured in an on-set fire; so, it debuted way late and was quietly cancelled after several episodes. Lou Gossett Jr was the protagonist’s mentor.

    There was also an attempt at a super-spy revival, with A Man Called Sloane, with Robert Conrad. The pilot movie did decent numbers; but, the series looked like you average detective show.

    The Six Million Dollar Man also served as a testing ground for other proposed series. There’s an episode with a guy who, after an experiment goes haywire, can remember anything loaded into his brain by a computer. he’s pretty much the focus of the entire episode; so, it is likely that it was a back-door pilot.

    The second Cap film is much better than the first, with Christopher Lee as a terrorist, who is holding an entire town hostage, as a testing ground for an aging gas. I attended a convention panel about media adaptations about comics and vice versa; and, Mark Gruenwald talked about Marvel’s dismal track record (this was 1991). According to him, Marvel had no control over the changes made in the first Cap movie and pretty much begged the producers to make it more like the comic, leading to the revised costume appearing at the end of the film. It was supposed to be Steve’s father’s costume, implying that he was the WW2 Cap. That is the costume they used in the second. Julie Schwartz was dumbfounded that Marvel had ceded so much control over their properties; but, Gruenwald basically said Marvel was more interested in getting their properties out and made too many concessions. I’m sure you have seen the photos of Angela Bowie as Black Widow, with some guy as Daredevil. She scraped together cash to option it, for a series, to star herself (since she kept bombing at auditions); but, never got it off the ground.

    You also have to mention the tv specials: the adaptation of It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman and the Legends of the Superheroes. The former featured Jack Cassidy and Leslie Ann Warren, among others, adapting the Broadway play (which didn’t run all that long). The latter were two specials with Adam West and Burt Ward, plus some other actors and models as various DC heroes and villains (including Howard Morris as Dr Sivana and Charlie Callas as Sinestro). The actor who played Giganta was transgendered. The first special is an adventure, the second was a roast.

    Dr Shrinker was actually pretty good, with Jay Robinson actually rather scary as the mad scientist. Meanwhile, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl’s tech support, Prof. Frank Heflin, was played by Norman Alden, the voice of Aquaman.

    Hugh O’Brian’s Search (called Probe, in the pilot movie) was borderline superhero/super-spy, as he is an agent with electronic implants for surveillance and communication.

    The Shazam comic was retooled to match the series, with Billy Batson travelling in the Winnebago, with Uncle Dudley. I have read and don’t know if it was in the show bible or just implied in an episode, that Mentor was essentially the wizard Shazam; or, just his Marvel predecessor.

    While this was going on in the US, Japan launched a superhero explosion, with Kamen Rider (masked Rider) and Go Rangers (the first Power Rangers/sentai series) franchises and things like Kikaider, the Space Sheriff series, the Ultraman shows, the copies of same, the Toei-produced “Japanese Spider-Man,” and a few others.

    The Frank Langella-starring Mark of Zorro was in 1974, not 1977. It also starred Ricardo montalban, as Capitan Esteban, Anne Archer as love interest teresa, Yvonee Decarlo as Don Diego’s mother, and Gilbert Roland as Don Alejandro Vega. It also reused Alfred Neuman’s score from the 1940 film and pretty much redid that film scene for scene.

    Michael Davis (on Milestone fame) wrote about watching the premiere of Sable, in a room with Mike Grell, John Ostrander and Kim Yale and the mood afterward, was not good. Here it is, at ComicMix: http://www.comicmix.com/2011/10/04/michael-davis-who-to-blame-part-2/

    Grell has gone on record as saying Rene Russo was about the only good part. I, too, willed it to be good; but, only one episode, with the son of one of the poachers that Sable killed, was even remotely good. I did the first review of the series on IMDB and later discovered my review title had been swiped for part of a Back Issue article on Mike Grell, in a section talking about the tv series. The review was titled, “So good it lasted 7 whole episodes!”

    1. frasersherman

      Matthew Star was half-alien.
      If you’re mentioning Man Called Sloane, there’s also Ted Danson’s pre-Cheers pilot Once Upon a Spy: Danson plays a computer whiz going up against Christopher Lee’s evil genius and his shrinking ray.
      Lee certainly helped Captain America II but nothing could help it that much. I think part of the problem is attempting to deal with both Golden Age Cap and current Cap, which leads to all the backstory about Steve’s father as Cap I.
      I remember the computer guy in Six-Million Dollar Man. The same concept was tried once or possibly twice as a stand-alone pilot. And I believe–but I’m not sure–Bigfoot and Wildboy was inspired by Bigfoot on the show.
      Return of the Six-Million-Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman was also a possible pilot for Steve’s son as the newest cyborg on the block. Didn’t work, but at least we finally got Steve and Jaime married off in the third film.

  7. I left all the spy stuff alone, because it’s really a separate genre.

    Though really, superhero isn’t a genre, it’s a set of trappings. With a real genre, like, say, western, detective, fantasy, war, or romance, you know what kind of story you’re going to get. There is a set of tropes that are required, and a lot more that are optional. But superhero isn’t a kind of story, it’s a set of trappings laid over another kind of story. A superhero story can be in any genre, as long as at least two of the three required elements are there: costume, powers, secret identity. Then you can add on whatever additional tropes you like; sidekick, secret fortress, clueless romantic interest, technological gimmicks, etc. All of these can be added to any western, war, fantasy, horror, mystery or historic fiction story to turn it into a superhero story.

    So yeah, I decided to leave most of the spies for another post. As I said before, the Bond knock-offs are really more in Hatcher’s playground than mine. Or maybe Trumbull. Perhaps one of them (or Travis or Toni or Spencer or Al) will get an OCD twitch and want to spend a week digging through Wikipedia, IMDB and YouTube looking for the complete history of each and every Agent of A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. that’s ever appeared. (And damn, now I want to start a webcomic called “Agent of A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.”!)

    Same is true for the many half-aliens, clones, robots, etc. currently wandering the backroads of Minow’s vast wasteland.

    1. frasersherman

      Captain Carrot fought ACROSTIC, A Corporation Recently Organized Solely to Instigate Crimes (I think the bad guy kept picking different explanations as the story went along). But of course, anyone reading this blog probably knows that.

    2. I could almost do the spies from memory but really i don’t have anything new to say about them; and some are worth their own separate posts. The Avengers (the one with Steed) for example, went through about six different iterations and three of them differed so hugely from what came before it was almost a new show. Others were just sort of insane, like Amos Burke Secret Agent, which threw away everything good about the show it came from.

      There’s a famous anecdote– it may be urban legend– about A Man Called Sloane. Apparently a network executive had the idea of doing “The Wild Wild West— but UPDATED!” Which is sort of loony since Wild wild West was James Bond in the old West, so you update that and it’s just plain James Bond. Which was a pretty limp idea for a show, especially since by then Conrad had a rep as being a jerk from picking fights on Battle of the Network Stars. I have no idea if it’s true but I kind of love the idea of a network executive that excitedly clueless.

      1. Fun fact: I printed the team t-shirts for at least one season or Battle of the Network Stars. I always wanted Heather Locklear and Heather Thomas to knife-fight for the right to be ABC’s official Heather. (For the record, I was Team Locklear.)

  8. Jeff Nettleton

    Allegedly (at least, they claimed it on the broadcast) Conrad was barred from the NBC team, on the second special, because nobody else wanted to do it with someone who was taking things that seriously. He did show up, out of the blue, for the final tug of war and is there in the NBC team’s faces, driving them to win. Given that it’s Hollywood, I suspect that was made up and he wasn’t able to compete; but, they set up the end surprise.; or, maybe I have seen way too much pro wrestling.

    I do remember Melissa Gilbert remarking she first met Bruce Boxleitner at one of the competitions and admired him in a speedo.

  9. Does anyone remember a Disney pilot a pre-Quantum Leap Scott Bakula did called I-Man? He was a divorced single dad who gained powers through some accident. I believe he was invulnerable, but the “I” stood for invincible, IIRC.

  10. Louis Bright-Raven

    Correction on Matthew Star – he was full alien, not half alien. A prince who fled his home world after his royal family had been overthrown. He was on earth to learn how to use his powers as they came to surface so that he could eventually return to face the parties who had taken over.


    Stuff you missed, Jim:

    AMBASSADOR MAGMA (AKA The Space Giants AKA Monsters From Space, originally from 1966 in Japan) was running in syndication regularly in the 1970s, early 1980s on TBS cable and other networks. It was kinda like the Japanese “power ranger” type shows, with an evil alien wanting to take over the earth and these other aliens, Goldar and Silvar, who could transform from these tiny little spaceships into megazord fighters supposedly big enough to take on Godzilla, protecting the earth from attacks. They had a Japanese kid who somehow got the power to transform into a flying ship, too. That show may have technically preceded the Kamen Rider stuff / Ultraman stuff airing in the US, I think. All I remember is seeing it in the late 1970s while in early grade school.

    What about the original 1970s BBC version of THE TOMORROW PEOPLE (1973-79)? Wouldn’t that count as superheroes as it’s teens with psionic powers having adventures and fighting off alien threats to the planet and stuff?

    There was an ABC series called THE PHOENIX from 1981 that was short lived – maybe six episodes? – that was sort of a SF Superhero / Alien as the Fugitive combo. It starred Judson Scott, better known as Khan’s son Joachim in STAR TREK II WRATH OF KHAN. ABC would return to the theme when they adapted the Jeff Bridges / Karen Allen STARMAN movie into a series with Robert Hays in the lead in 1986, which also lasted only one, maybe two seasons.

    Then there’s SUPER GRAN from the United Kingdom. An elderly grandmother acquires superpowers when she is accidentally hit by a magic ray created by Inventor Black. Under the guise of ‘Super Gran’, she protects the residents of the fictional town of Chiselton from thugs and ‘villains’. Super Gran was usually accompanied by her grandson, Willard and Inventor Black’s assistant Edison. It ran for 27 episodes… I want to say in 1985? Maybe ’86?

    And then there’s CAPTAIN POWER & THE SOLDIERS OF THE FUTURE from J. Michael Straczynski from 1987. (I suppose it could be argued it’s more of a SF than superhero show?)

    Then in 1988, there was a boom that the aforementioned Salkind SUPERBOY series was part of (there was Jerry O’ Connell’s My SECRET IDENTITY, a POWER PACK pilot that never went to series but was aired on Fox as a special, SUPER FORCE which was a sort of reboot of STREET HAWK, in my opinion, M.A.N.T.I.S., some other stuff) – like you say much of it easily forgettable.

    1. M-Wolverine

      I’m not sure how we all forgot MANTIS. Too post Batman? And I’m struggling to remember if I ever saw Power Pack. Its sounds familiar, but I can’t remember anything about it. I know I saw Generation X, but Power Pack…hmmmm. Still better than Mutant X. (Other than Wolfsbane/Feral/Wolverine Victoria Pratt).

  11. Louis Bright-Raven

    M-Wolverine: I actually googled up the Power Pack pilot – Alex and Julie were miscast visually, they didn’t have their costumes, Jack couldn’t turn into his cloud self, just shrink, Julie couldn’t fly, just move fast with a sort of blurry rainbow effect trailing behind her, the parents were aware of their powers … so chances are if you saw it, you purposefully willed yourself to forget.

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