With Dean Cain a part of the cast of the new Supergirl series (or at least the pilot) and the recent set tweet showing a familiar street view of The Daily Planet, I've dug into the archive to bring you my article on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman, originally published in Starburst Magazine Issue #389.
I've been a fan of Lois & Clark since the pilot aired on BBC One way back in January 1994. I taped every episode of the first series off of BBC One and repeatedly watched them (one summer holiday i watched the entire series in a day - I was never really the outdoors type). The show arrived a few months after I had gotten into the Superman comics (with the Man Of Steel's return from the dead in Superman #82 (more on that in a future post) and was perfectly placed to win my heart.
Much like comics themselves, it wasn't always cool to be a fan of the show, but my love of the first two seasons (3 and 4 have some good episodes but even the most hardcore fan of the show would struggle to convince you they were the best) has never changed and I've received many a mocking for it. But I don't care. People are entitled to hate and that is their preference. They're wrong and I think if the Supergirl series treat Cain well and respect his place in Superman history (unlike his appearance in Smallville) a whole new generation will end up going back to check out the series.
With the potential inclusion of the same Daily Planet exterior set and the rumour that Superman will appear in the show, how great would it be if Cain was actually reprising his role as Superman (albeit an older one) and that Supergirl itself was a loose continuation of Lois & Clark. It's a stretch I know and incredibly unlikely, but a fan can dream can't he?
Anyway, whatever the legacy of the show may end up being with the next generation of fans, below is the story of how the show came into being in the first place.
LOIS & CLARK
by stuart mulrain
On 12th September 1993, LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN made its debut on ABC in America. A few months later in January 1994, it hit UK screens as part of BBC 1’s Saturday night line up. To mark the shows 20th anniversary we take a look back at the show that offered a 90’s twist on a 50 year legacy.
The 1990’s were an interesting time to be a Superman fan. The Christopher Reeve movies had lost their magic following the lacklustre Superman III and downright awful Quest For Peace, which saw production on Superman V fail to make its way out of development hell. The Man Of Steel was fairing slightly better on television with Superman: The Movie producer Ilya Salkind’s take on Superboy playing well to audiences and fans alike. Unfortunately for Superboy, it was a victim of its own success*, making Warner Bros. take more notice of the series and begin to look into the possibility of developing their own primetime Superman series.
Within the DC Offices, then DC president Janette Kahn and then Superman editor Mike Carlin (who had also worked on the Superboy TV series) were putting together a bible for a new TV show entitled Lois Lane’s Daily Planet. Lois Lane’s Daily Planet would be a new kind of Superman series which, according to Carlin was “literally based on the kinds of soap operas we had started putting in the Superman comic books at that time.”
Following DC Comics epic Crisis On Infinite Earths saga, writer John Byrne was brought in to re-imagine and re-launch the world of Superman with his 1986 Man Of Steel mini-series, in an effort to keep the character fresh. Key changes included the decision to turn Lex Luthor into a billionaire businessman, keep Jonathan Kent alive and to make Clark more of a character, rather than just the disguise Superman hides behind. There was also more of a shift into focusing on the growing romance between Lois and Clark, which made for the perfect focus for the new TV show.
The bible, which was largely made up of panels clipped from the comics, incorporated elements from the recent reimagining of the Superman comics. It was a take on the Superman mythos that, with the exception of the short lived 1988 Ruby-Spears animated series, had not been seen on TV or film before. Kahn got Warner Bros. behind the concept and it was sold to the ABC network with the help of Les Moonves and writer-producer Deborah Joy LeVine. Under LeVine, the concept developed into Lois & Clark; a romantic comedy action series that (as the title suggested) shifted the focus onto the relationship between Lois and Clark, with the Superman stuff as the secondary focus of the show.
With a pilot script by LeVine in place, the focus turned to casting, with hundreds of actors turning out to audition for the part of Clark Kent. Amongst the actors in the running were future Hercules Kevin Sorbo and one time Superboy Gerard Christopher. Although he was liked for the part, Christopher was rejected once the producers realised that he had just come off of playing Superboy, telling him that he had already done it. In the end it came down to a close choice between Sorbo and Dean Cain.
Cain, a one-time athlete who was headed for a career as a pro-footballer before a knee injury took him out of the game, was probably best known for a recurring guest role on Beverly Hills, 90210. Initially LeVine rejected Cain, stating she was looking for SuperMAN not SuperBOY, but was won over to the idea of his casting when a group of women turned up at her office on the off chance of getting a glimpse of Cain, after word had leaked he would be attending a call back there.
For Lois Lane, arguably the lead character of the show at this stage, the producers wanted a modern, strong and independent career woman who masked her vulnerabilities within a tough exterior. They found their Lois in actress Teri Hatcher - who despite having numerous film and TV work on her CV, including Quantum Leap, Star Trek: The Next Generation, MacGuyver and (probably) most famously Seinfeld - was still a relative unknown at the time of her casting.
For Lex Luthor, the show opted for the villain in his comic book form at the time, but a younger Lex who had the right sex appeal to be a viable contender for the love of Lois Lane and love rival for Clark/Superman. For this new, suave Luthor they cast actor John Shea who brought an equal charm and menace to the role, giving audiences a villain that they couldn’t help but love.
Despite production on the pilot nearly being shut down several times for going over budget, they then faced stiff competition in the ratings from the pilot for Steven Spielberg’s SeaQuest DSV on NBC. Levine says on the DVD commentary for the Pilot that she requested several times for the airdate to be moved as she knew she couldn’t compete against a Spielberg production. But the date was set and couldn’t be changed so work began on promoting the show to its potential audience.
Sex appeal was a large part of the show and was the key word for promoting this Superman, with black and white ads being produced that featured Cain and Hatcher in white vests, with just a colour Superman symbol tattoo on Cain’s arm to indicate that this was a Superman show. Despite the bold advertising campaign, Lois & Clark lost the ratings battle against SeaQuest DSV, only managing to pull in half the audience of its competitor. It was enough to get them a full first season and, as it progressed, Lois & Clark found its audience growing as SeaQuest DSV lost theirs.
The success of the first season was that it built on the Moonlighting in tights, romance, action, comedy approach of the pilot, with the only real change being the removal of the Lucy Lane character after two additional episodes (she returned for one episode in Season 2 played by a different actress) and the loss of Cain’s mullet. It was a show that managed to appeal to both fans and non-fans, which was largely down to witty scripts and great casting.
Dean Cain’s Superman is largely an easy target for criticism when people are comparing actors in the role, and it is fair to say that it’s the weaker part of his performance. The thing to remember though is that this is a show about Clark first and Superman second and Cain’s strength is in his performance as Clark. You could argue that, in the context of the show, his weaker portrayal of Superman is in keeping with Clark’s discomfort at having to be Superman as a mask to hide behind in order to help people.
Unlike Cain’s dividing of fans, Teri Hatcher is considered by most to be one of the best screen Lois’ to dat. A large part of this is probably down to the shows origins being structured around Lois, giving her more of a character to play with than previous Superman adaptations and Hatcher brought a sparkle and style to the role of Lois that hadn’t really been seen before and set the template for future portrayals of the role.
As well as having two smart and sexy leads; the show took the time to explore its supporting characters giving the show a sense of family. The decision to keep both Jonathan and Martha Kent alive and a big part of Clark’s life gave the show a lot of heart and the casting of Eddie Jones and K Callen brought warmth to the characters that had not really been seen before. Lane Smith was pitch perfect as a more fatherly Perry White, perfectly balancing gruff editor and comic relief without undermining the character.
Despite the success the show was enjoying, behind the scenes LeVine was in a constant battle with execs who were looking to shift the tone of the show. According to Levine she was under pressure to soften the independent feminism of her Lois Lane and to up the Superman related action of the show; to give it more appeal to teenage boys. Despite fighting for her vision of the show, LeVine eventually left at the end of the first season and was replaced by Robert Singer.
With LeVine no longer on the series, the show made some changes in front of the camera, most notably the removal of Michael Landes as Jimmy Olsen, as producers felt he looked too much like Dean Cain’s little brother. Child’s Play 3 actor Justin Whalin was brought in to replace Landes. Both actors were essentially sidekicks to Smiths Perry and while Whalin was earnest and different in the role, he didn’t have the same spark with Smith that Landes did and lacked his awkward charm in the role.
The Daily Planet newsroom lost Tracy Scoggins’ sassy vixen Cat Grant, who despite being credited, was not in the last two episodes of season one and was gone completely by the start of season two. No reason is ever given for the characters disappearance from the show onscreen, but behind the scenes the general thinking behind this is that she was let go from the show after her character was deemed to be unsuitable for the new, younger target audience the show was now aiming for.
The biggest loss that the show suffered was John Shea’s decision not to return as a series regular. Although he returned for a couple of guest turns in seasons 2 and 3, the show struggled to find a villain that could replace him and so instead went for a villain of the week approach with no overall recurring villains. There were attempts with Bill Church and Intergang in season 2, a brief return of Lex in season 3 and Lex’s disfigured son in season 4, but none of these lasted more than a few episodes.
The second season largely stuck to the first season’s format, but added more action for Superman and while it wasn’t as good, remains an excellent season in its own right. By season three and four, the show had lost sight of its original audience and became very heavy handed with its sci-fi and fantasy plots and whilst there are still some good episodes in the later series; the overall quality of stories had gone, replaced by weak scripts and dialogue.
The result was a show that tried to appeal to too many demographics and, in doing so, failed to appeal to any of them. Even attempts to pull in the comic book fans with the inclusion of villains such as Metallo, Toyman, Prankster, Deathstroke and Mr Mxyzptlik were misjudged and largely turned comic fans off of the show. In fact, Shea’s Luthor aside, the only truly memorable villain from the later series was Lane Davies time traveller Tempus, who debuted in season two with HG Wells and returned for four more episodes throughout the last two seasons of the show.
Even the romance between Lois and Clark – the original selling point of the show – lost its way. According to LeVine she had a five year plan for the show that would culminate in the wedding of Lois and Clark. In her absence the producers rushed to get them together by the end of season two and then desperately tried to find ways to keep them apart for season three and most of season four, falling back on Lois with amnesia and frog eating Lois clones as devices to throw a spanner in the works.
By the time the couple did marry, it was such a mess of ideas that the audience who hadn’t already lost interest and turned off, were left feeling cheated and soon abandoned the show as a result. Poor ratings aside the producers were promised a fifth season by the network, but the show was cancelled at the end of its fourth year, leaving Lois & Clark with a baby they found on their doorstep (which would’ve been revealed in season five to be a Kryptonian refugee that they had to protect).
20 years on, Lois & Clark continues to divide opinion, with many viewing it as a corny slice of 90’s sci-fi (especially in this post- Smallville era). While a new generation discovers the show, there are still those out there who remember tuning in to BBC 1 on a Saturday night for 45 minutes of solid action, romance and comedy, who still dust off their season one and two box sets every once in a while to relive a show unfairly dismissed for its latter day sins over its early brilliance.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman - Seasons 1 - 4 are available on DVD from Warner Home Video
*EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this article was published, we were informed by Mike Carlin that Superboy was not cancelled as a result of development on Lois & Clark. The Superboy series was always intended to run for 100 episodes so that it could then go into syndication. Once it hit its 100 episodes the show ended, although it has rarely been repeated since it's original broadcast.