We are currently living in a bit of a golden age when it comes to live action superhero television. There are currently enough live action superhero shows on just the CW that they were able to do a four-part crossovers event between all of their series! There is a TV series out there right now starring Firestorm, Atom, Heatwave and Vixen! Superhero fans of 20 years ago would be shocked to hear the bounty available on TV nowadays.
With this in mind, we look to the past and see what old live action superhero TV shows would be primed for a 2017 reboot. A couple of guidelines: the shows have to be off the air for at least a decade, and we’re not counting shows like “Amazing Spider-Man,” “Incredible Hulk” and “Batman,” which would only be done as movies today and never as television series (we’re even counting “Shazam!” under this, since they’re currently working on a film version of it). The shows are listed chronologically of when they originally aired.
15. THE GREEN HORNET
Known as the series that first introduced much of the world to Bruce Lee, “Green Hornet” was an attempt to cash in on the hit 1966 “Batman” TV series, but it was a much more serious show and audiences didn’t respond to it (although they all seemed to appreciate Lee’s Kato). It was recently(ish) attempted as a film starring Seth Rogen, but we think that the show is better suited to serialization. After all, it was originally a long-running radio program before it was anything else.
The idea of a hero pretending to be a supervillain so that he could infiltrate the bad guys and secretly work with the police to bring said bad guys down is a novel concept that could translate well to a current series, especially if done a bit darker, depicting the difficult decisions you would have to face if you have to pretend to be a supervillain on a regular basis.
14. THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN
NASA astronaut Colonel Steve Austin was badly injured during a crash of an experimental lifting body aircraft. Typically, his injuries would have been fatal, but luckily for Austin, the government had the technology to not only save his life, but to rebuild him with bionic parts (six million dollars’ worth) and make him a powerful cyborg. Grateful for his life being saved, Austin went to work for the agency that saved him, the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI).
Based on the hit novel “Cyborg,” the story of Steve Austin was initially done as a series of TV movies, so you could argue that the property was best suited to being a film (Universal Pictures has been trying to launch a “Six Million Dollar Man” film for years now), but we think that the concept works better as a series. The idea to make Austin a down-to-Earth spy not only fit star Lee Majors’ personality, it also allowed the show to ground the concept in such a way that it worked as a TV program. Austin looks normal, so the show could be done on the budget of a show like “The Flash” without a problem.
13. THE SECRETS OF ISIS
Paired with the hit series “Shazam,” “The Secrets of Isis” featured a similar concept, with schoolteacher Andrea Thomas discovering an ancient Egyptian amulet and learning that if she invoked the goddess Isis (by exposing the amulet to the sun and saying, “Oh mighty Isis,” she would be transformed into the goddess Isis (this was because Thomas was a descendant of an ancient pharaoh, and the pharaoh’s bloodline had been given access to these powers by Isis).
The original concept followed Thomas helping out her high school students when they got into trouble by turning into Isis; it was pretty flexible, so it could work in a variety of formats as an ongoing television series. Sadly, the name pretty clearly has to go (it’s amusing that “Shazam” was named that way because they had to deal with a name issue due to “Captain Marvel” becoming a Marvel trademark), as the name “Isis” just has too much of a negative connotation nowadays. “The Secrets of Isis” practically sounds like a documentary about the real life terror group. There must be a reasonable Egyptian goddess to replace Isis with out there.
12. MONSTER SQUAD
The concept behind “Monster Squad” was a strange one. Walt, a criminology student, worked at a wax museum and while he was killing time there, he built a special “Crime Computer” in a sarcophagus in the museum near their display of monster statues. The vibrations from the computer somehow brought the wax statues of three of the monsters — Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s monster (the latter two were named Bruce W. Wolf and Frank N. Stein) — to life! The three monsters then decided to become superheroes under the direction of Walt and his crime computer.
While the whole “wax statues come to life” idea is probably a stretch for a TV show, the idea of a superhero team consisting of monsters is a good one, and honestly, it seems like Universal Pictures is currently attempting some variation of that idea with its upcoming series of inter-related monster films, beginning with Tom Cruise’s “The Mummy” relaunch. Presumably, it would be done in a less campy fashion than the original “Monster Squad,” which was intentionally similar to the 1966 “Batman” series.
11. ELECTRA WOMAN AND DYNA GIRL
Launching the very same day as “Monster Squad” was “Electra Woman and Dyna Girl” (both shows were Saturday morning entertainment). The idea behind the series was that two reporters for a news magazine became superheroes using a variety of special gadgets that would be interchanged with the ElectraCom communication wrist gadgets that the heroes would wear.
They would be aided from their home base by a scientist, Frank Hefrin, who would give them assistance courtesy of a massive computer, much like Batman’s Bat-Computer — okay, it was exactly like the Bat-Computer. The upbeat nature of the show and the fact that it starred two female characters make this forgotten gem ripe for a reboot. Internet personalities Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart did a fun web version of the show that was released as a movie in 2016, but the property could still make for a fun TV series (perhaps even starring Helbig and Hart?).
10. MAN FROM ATLANTIS
A couple of years before he would become world-famous as Bobby Ewing, one of the stars of the mega-hit TV series “Dallas,” Patrick Duffy, was about as far away from the oil fields of Texas as you could get as the mysterious star of the TV series, “Man From Atlantis.” Like “The Six Million Dollar Man,” the show originally began as a series of popular TV movies that then led to an ongoing TV program. Unfortunately, it was a good deal less successful than “Six Million Dollar Man,” lasting only a single season in 1977-78. Luckily for Duffy, though, that then left him available to be cast in “Dallas,” which launched the following fall.
Ewing’s character was an amnesiac who was found by the United States Navy. He could breathe underwater and withstand the great pressures of the underwater depths without any protective gear. He took on the name Mark Harris and went to work for the Navy and then later, the Foundation for Oceanic Research, where he would live with the other members of a crew of scientists stationed on a submarine. Patrick Duffy, amazingly enough, just recently wrote a novel set in the world of the TV series!
9. THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO
What initially began as an attempt to adapt Superboy to the small screen eventually turned into “The Greatest American Hero,” about a public school teacher who was given a powerful suit by a group of aliens with the intent to use it to fight crime and injustice on Earth. The problem being that the teacher, Ralph, promptly lost the instruction manual to the suit, so he could only haphazardly figure out the many powers that it gave him and he did not quite master them. He figured out how to fly, but not how to land, for example.
The aliens also told him to work with an FBI agent, Bill Maxwell, and then later, lawyer Pam Davidson. The show was generally a drama, but Ralph’s use of the suit was also played for laughs. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, (creators of “The Lego Movie” and “Last Man on Earth”), announced plans to reboot the show in 2014, but nothing has come of it since. Amusingly enough, enough time has passed that Ralph’s original last name, Hinkley, could probably be used without incident. Two weeks after the show launched, John Hinkley shot President Ronald Reagan in a failed assassination attempt, so the producers quickly changed Ralph’s last name to Hanley temporarily.
8. MISFITS OF SCIENCE
All you need to know about the style of the short-lived superhero series, “Misfits of Science,” is captured within the theme song. It opens with a television playing a traditional TV theme for the show and then a character kicks the television over and in kicks an ’80s style pop rock theme instead. The show was “edgy,” following a young scientist who puts together a team of young people that are basically all mutants with superpowers. He then gets them to help save the day, which often doesn’t go according to plan due to their misfit personalities.
The show was the first regular gig for a young actress named Courteney Cox, then best known for dancing with Bruce Springsteen in a music video. The show was also the first TV writing gig for Tim Kring, who would later create a similar show called “Heroes,” which shows that this TV series could totally work in the modern era.
7. MY SECRET IDENTITY
Taking a different approach from these other shows is important, since there are so many superhero shows out there you need to stand out. That was the case with “My Secret Identity,” a cute Canadian-produced sitcom that starred a young Jerry O’Connell (transitioning from his early “fat child actor” days) as teenager Andrew Clements, who accidentally gained superpowers while visiting his scientist friend, Dr. Benjamin Jeffcote, at his lab (he was hit by a photon beam).
Andrew fought crime with his powers (initially using the superhero name Ultraman) and also used it for more down-to-Earth problems, while constantly trying to keep his secret identity a secret from his mother, sister and best friend. Only Dr. Jeffcote knows the truth (but he’s hiding a secret of his own — he’s seriously into Andrew’s mother). The show was light, but well done, and would translate easily to modern times. Charlie McDermott from “The Middle” was involved in a similar-sounding pilot a couple of years back called “Super Clyde.”
6. SWAMP THING
Based on the popular (if fairly campy) “Swamp Thing” films, the “Swamp Thing” TV series shared the same star as them, Dick Durock, but also approached the material from a slightly more serious perspective. The opening of the episodes set it up well, “The swamp is my world. It is who I am; it is what I am. I was once a man. I know the evil men do. Do not bring your evil here, I warn you. Beware the wrath of Swamp Thing.”
The show rarely dug into the comic book mythology of the character, and that’s where we think a rebooted series would really succeed, as special effect technology is to the point where a lot of the ideas presented in Alan Moore’s famous run on the series (with artists Stephen Bissette, John Totleben and Rick Veitch) could be translated fairly reasonably to the small screen. It would be an interesting place to bring John Constantine back, as well, perhaps in a more permanent way.
5. SUPER FORCE
Set in the future, “Super Force” starred Ken Olandt as astronaut Zachary Stone, who returned to Earth from a sojourn to Mars to discover that his police officer brother had been murdered and that no one seemed particularly interested in solving the homicide. Stone joined the police force himself, but was almost killed right away. He then befriended a scientist who hooked Stone up with an experimental suit of armor that was originally intended to be used in space travel, but Stone adapted it for combat purposes. Interestingly, it was designed by the same costume designer who made John Wesley Shipp’s Flash costume.
Stone, the scientist and a supercomputer made up “Super Force,” and they began to fight crime their own way. Stone soon gained the ability to read minds, as well, after a near-death experience at the end of the first season. With the special effects available nowadays, a show like “Super Force” could actually end up looking really cool.
Another show that would benefit greatly from modern special effects is “M.A.N.T.I.S.,” a show that was created by genre legend Sam Raimi (director of “Evil Dead,” “Darkman” and “Spider-Man,” and producer of “Hercules” and “Xena, Warrior Princess”) and Sam Hamm (screenwriter of the 1989 “Batman” film). The show starred Carl Lumbly as scientist Dr. Mike Hawkins, who was accidentally shot by a cop during a riot. Paralyzed, Hawkins builds a special exo-skeleton that not only allowed him to walk again, but it also gave him super-abilities.
Dubbed M.A.N.T.I.S. (which stood for Mechanically Augmented Neuro Transmitter Interception System), Hawkins used his new identity (plus a special underwater lab and a hovercraft) to fight crime and corruption in his city. As the series went on, it became trippier and trippier, with parallel universe and time travel playing a major role in the story. The show would fit right in on modern superhero television.
3. NIGHT MAN
One of the all-time oddest comic book properties to make its way to the small screen was “Night Man,” not because the concept behind the show was weird or anything like that, but just because the series that the character was based on, along with the entire line of comic books that the character came from — the Ultraverse — had ended a year or so before the TV series debuted. Talk about being born under a bad sign!
Matt McColm played Johnny Domino, a popular saxophonist who was struck by lighting in a cable car accident and gained the ability to sense evil in other people, but also losing the ability to sleep. Since he suddenly had his nights free, Domino became the vigilante known as Night Man, putting together a hi-tech suit, complete with a bulletproof costume that came complete with a special lens over one of his eyes so that could see in the dark, as well as shoot out a laser beam when necessary. Comic book creator Steve Englehart, who created the comic book, wrote a few episodes of the series, which lasted two seasons.
2. BIRDS OF PREY
Perhaps the closest to what the modern DC television universe looks like on the CW was the short-lived “Birds of Prey” series released on the WB, the network predecessor to the CW, in 2002. The big difference, and the reason why a modern reboot would likely work well, is that the original “Birds of Prey” had to launch independent of any other series and thus had to create its own mythos, and that’s difficult for any show to do. The CW luckily did it well with “Arrow,” providing a backbone for future shows.
The Birds of Prey consisted of Huntress, Oracle and Black Canary, nearly all of whom have already been introduced into the world of “Arrow,” so a series putting together, say, the Huntress, Dinah Drake from “Arrow” (currently being trained to be the new Black Canary) and a variation of the Oracle character could work as a spin-off of “Arrow” without even having to do much work on the concept. The issue, of course, is how you get Oracle in there without using Barbara Gordon (as she’s set to get her own Joss Whedon film).
Few characters have had quite the odd timing as Blade. Wesley Snipes played the vampire hunter in a series of hit films that predated Marvel’s current film renaissance by a number of years, thus keeping “Blade” from being able to cross over with the other films and never getting to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Similarly, the TV series version of Blade, starring Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones, debuted in 2006, a couple years before “Iron Man” changed the whole world of superhero movies by creating the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A similar Blade series debuting today could launch out of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and be part of that greater universe. Better yet, it could launch Marvel’s similarly successful Netflix series of shows. In other words, Blade just had really bad timing as a character when it came to working as a TV show. A modern try could work very well.
What old live action superhero TV series would you like to see get rebooted? Let us know in the comments!
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