Superhero TV shows have been with us for well over half a century. Even back in the ’40s there were programs like the old timey Captain America and Batman. Since then, television studios realized there was profit to be had with the genre and continued churning out these stylized adventures of men and women in tights fighting crime. Looking back on programs like Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk, the special effects might not hold up compared to today’s technology, but not only were they state of the art back then, they helped pave the way for future generations of TV shows and movies. It’s because of their success that we have the Marvel and DC films and TV shows coming out the wazoo.
However, the centerpiece for any TV show is the actors hired to star as the heroes and villains. Often enough, you hear the success stories of these actors, as they went on to become shining stars in Hollywood. Though for every Adam West there is a Nicholas Hammond. Sadly, not every actor, no matter how successful the TV show they were on was, is meant for greatness.Here at CBR we’re looking at 15 TV superhero actors who tried reviving their careers and failed.
15. MICHAEL ROSENBAUM
Smallville introduced a less campy retelling of Clark Kent and his journey to becoming Superman, the most famous superhero the world has ever known. Of course every hero needs a villain, and Superman’s greatest villain is inarguably Lex Luthor. In what was the largest role of his life, Michael Rosenbaum signed on to play the famously bald supervillain. Despite appearing in one of the biggest superhero shows of all time and being a part of Smallville for nearly a decade, Rosenbaum’s career wallowed.
Try as he might, the actor simply couldn’t revive it. Granted, he’d appear in one or two TV shows and a few movies nobody ever heard about. If you want a sense as to Rosenbaum’s current career trajectory, he’s the narrator of a reality TV show called Hunted, where investigators try and capture citizens trying to evade apprehension as fugitives.
14. DEAN CAIN
Following the modestly successful show Superboy, and amid a variety of legal issues, Warner Bros. debuted Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. It was a hit. It made stars out of actors Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher, Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane respectively, as it was the superhero show Superman fans had been longing to see. Lasting a marvelous four seasons and bringing in approximately 15 million viewers per episode, Lois and Clark would once again prove that superhero shows could be moneymakers.
Adventures of Superman should have skyrocketed Dean Cain into unprecedented stardom, but inexplicably, it didn’t. Once the show ended in 1997, Cain did a stint on Ripley’s Believe it Or Not in ’98 and then some frivolous movies. Nothing he did would aid his career like Superman did. Even though he’s occasionally on the CW’s Supergirl, Dean Cain’s star has regretfully gone out.
13. JOHN HAYMES NEWTON
Following the success of the Superman movies, Warner Bros. decided to go ahead and make a Superboy TV show. It told stories about a young Clark Kent, similar in vain to what Smallville would do decades later, before he became the Man of Steel. While many superhero shows failed, Superboy did not. The overall reception was quite positive. John Haymes Newton signed on as the Boy of Steel, and did an impressive job of looking the part. However, Newton only lasted the first season before getting replaced.
Newton would then try and continue his career by starring on shows like Melrose Place and The Untouchables. They didn’t revive his career and the last anyone saw or heard of Newton was when he lent his voice for Clark Kent/Superman in the animated fan film Superman Classic in 2011.
12. BURT WARD
The most recognizable Robin was Burt Ward’s portrayal of the character back in the ‘60s Batman TV show. There hadn’t been anything quite like Batman, either before or after, it helped revitalize interest in the superhero genre. Of course this wasn’t the dark, brooding Batman we know today, but this Dark Knight was happy go-lucky who partook in colorful adventures.
Adam West’s career would continue after Batman and while there were several hiccups along the way. West grew into an icon, revitalizing his career later in life. Burt Ward wasn’t so lucky. After Batman, Ward could barely secure an acting job and despite appearing in forty TV shows, they were all bit roles and probably hurt more than anything. Robin was his claim to fame. The only time he found success post-Batman was whenever he reunited with Adam West to do animated movies and comic book conventions.
11. SIMON MACCORKINDALE
It’s not everyday you star on one of the worst received superhero shows of all time. Simon MacCorkindale did and regretted it. Starring on Manimal, the show was about Dr. Jonathan Chase, played by MacCorkindale, who could shapeshift into any animal. He used this awesome power to t help his lady friend solve mysteries. The show was so bad that it was put on hiatus after five episodes and officially cancelled after the final three were aired.
MacCorkindale had a decent body of work before Manimal and afterwards he’d star on a couple medical dramas and lawyer TV show called Falcon Crest. Nothing he starred in became noteworthy. Much to his chagrin, he’d only be remembered for the nightmare that was Manimal. Oddly, he rejected to play the part of Jonathan Archer on Star Trek: Enterprise, which could have put him back in the spotlight. MacCorkindale passed away in 2010.
10. NICHOLAS HAMMOND
Back in the ‘70s, Spider-Man was incredibly popular, so the idea of a Spidey-related TV show wasn’t completely bonkers. In the late ‘70s, Marvel teamed up with MGM to make a live-action TV series for CBS. Actor Nicholas Hammond was cast as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Despite Marvel’s best intentions, the show was all but a flop.
As for Nicholas Hammond, things didn’t go up for him. Before Spider-Man he played the part of Fiedrich von Trapp in The Sound of Music movie and had been in a couple Broadway shows. Spider-Man was supposed to be his big break, but it proved just the opposite. Rather than shooting him to stardom, once the series ended, he was delegated to making guest appearances on obscure TV shows and movies. He later appeared on Love Boat and Hawaii Five-O…so that’s something. These days he’s a writer for Australian TV.
9. BILL BIXBY
The Incredible Hulk TV series is an iconic show; it helped set the stage for everything that Marvel would later release. The star of the show, actor Bill Bixby, would play the role of mild mannered Dr. David Banner, while Lou Ferrigno would play the Hulk. The show chronicled Banner and his journey across the country, getting into trouble and turning into the Hulk. Lasting five seasons and 82 episodes, The Incredible Hulk was a pop culture marvel with a worldwide fanbase that’s still active to this day. Bill Bixby on the other hand, didn’t seem to reap the rewards the TV show did.
Before The Incredible Hulk, Bixby’s career was steady and promising, but after Hulk, not so much. He simply couldn’t maintain his career’s success and was eventually reduced to hosting TV specials and then later finished his career by directing 30 episodes of the show Blossom.
8. DAVID LYONS
One year after Tim Kring’s Heroes ended, NBC tried launching The Cape. The show was a throwback to the age of gritty, pulp heroes from the Golden Age of superheroes and comics. On paper it worked, in execution not so much. Actor David Lyons signed on as the lead and initial trailers for the TV show and his performance weren’t half bad.
Regardless, The Cape ran for only ten episodes, leaving Lyons to once again try and find work. Though he tried in earnest to discover gainful employment, the roles offered were second-rate at best. He did manage to score a spot on NBC’s Revolution for two seasons and even found a role in the Nicholas Sparks movie Safe Haven, but none of it was enough.
7. DESI ARNAZ JR.
Producer Glen A. Larson paired up with Donald Kushner to create a show they hoped would be as popular and epic as the movie TRON. It wasn’t. The actual show was an incredible letdown. Unfortunately, Desi Arnaz Jr. had no way of knowing the show would be such a colossal failure. Jr. was the son of celebrity legends Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz from I Love Lucy. He had a few minor roles in shows like The Brady Bunch and even appeared in the Gregory Peck movie Billy Two Hats.
It all failed in making him a star, which was why he joined Automan. Lasting only 12 episodes, the show did him zero favors. Jr. realized he wasn’t meant to be a superstar and became a producer and the vice-president of the board of Directors of the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center.
6. GERARD CHRISTOPHER
After the first season of Superboy, Gerard Christopher replaced John Haymes Newton as the new Boy of Steel. Christopher felled better than his predecessor, remaining Superboy until the show was cancelled after four seasons. Superboy wasn’t a jettison for Christopher, as the show was quickly swept under the rug due to licensing issues, making way for Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Although Christopher auditioned for the part of Superman, the producer gave the role to Dean Cain.
Gerard Christopher would move on from Superman for a time, taking part in numerous bits on soap operas and telemovies, none of which were remotely successful or memorable. In 2006, he appeared in a TV documentary called Look, Up In The Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman, to talk about his time as Superboy. Since then, there hasn’t been a peep.
5. CHRIS BARNES
Voice acting is a treacherous endeavor; you never know if it’s going to pay off in the end. Chris Barnes discovered this the hard way. Chris Barnes played a big role in many people’s childhoods during the ‘90s. He was the voice actor for Peter Parker/Spider-Man on the animated hit Spider-Man show.
For a number of years, Spider-Man was the most popular and longest-running Marvel TV show aside from X-Men. Kids loved it; the longer Spider-Man ran, the richer and more in depth the stories became. Chris Barnes did a phenomenal job as Peter Parker; every Spider-Man cartoon or video game is held up to the standard of his voice. After the show he’d dabble in this and that, but wouldn’t find prominence again like he did during Spider-Man. He’d even voice Spider-Man again in several video games, but where is he now? Your guess is as good as ours.
4. MATT MCCOLM
Produced by Glen A. Larson, the guy responsible for Manimal, Night Man told the story of a jazz saxophonist who was hit by lightning and got the power to see evil, but at the price of never sleeping again. Along the way he acquired and/or built a suit that allowed him to fly, shoot lasers, and turn invisible. Night Man was based off the little-known character from Malibu Comics during the ‘90s and Matt Mccolm, who would become the lead actor, thought the part looked promising and signed on.
Already modeling for Ralph Lauren, he probably figured it was time to move on from the modeling gig. He took a few subpar film roles, before Manimal in 1997. Afterwards, his next claim to fame was acting as a Terminator on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
3. MASI OKA
There was a time when Tim Kring’s Heroes was a worldwide sensation. It was the show on everybody’s lips. With engaging characters, mysterious plots, and excellent fan service, Heroes was great. That was until Heroes took a nosedive and became hated in its final season. Still, it allowed NBC to consider other potential superhero shows, demonstrating there was a market for the genre.
Out of all the characters on Heroes, Masi Oka’s Hiro was the breakout hero. From goofy to awesome, viewers loved him; he helped Heroes become the phenomenon it did. After the Heroes wave, Masi wouldn’t have a prominent role again. He’d take a couple awful roles and even appeared on Heroes Reborn, but nothing he did revitalized his career. Like many actors, once Masi Oka’s 15 minutes of fame was over, he disappeared.
2. THE MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS CAST
Breaking out onto the scene back in 1993, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers changed the landscape of popular culture immediately. Blowing up in an unprecedented way, the show became a worldwide spectacle overnight. To this day, the nostalgia and affection people maintain for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers runs deep.
The original five Power Rangers, played by Austin St. John, Thuy Trang, David Yost, Amy Jo Johnson, and Walter Jones were more popular than the air they breathed. It’s hard to describe the sensation they became. Toys, comics, lunchboxes, trading cards…Power Rangers were everywhere. Even the movie was a hit. You’d think, being such sensations, the young actors had it made. They did, until they didn’t. While the original five would continue in the entertainment industry, they’d disappear from the limelight. After their run on Power Rangers, everything they did to revitalize their careers failed and they vanished into the ether.
1. TOM WELLING
When Smallville premiered in 2001, it introduced the world to the Tom Welling. A teenage heartthrob if ever there was one, Smallville was Tom Welling’s big break into the world of entertainment. Taking the mantle of Clark Kent, Smallville, similar to Superboy years earlier, told the story about a young Clark Kent, his adventures, and his journey to becoming Superman. Receiving plenty of awards and garnering a massive fanbase, Smallville lasted ten entire seasons before it eventually ended.
During his time on Smallville, Welling would star in a few movies, but none of them cemented him as a superstar. After Smallville concluded, Welling seemingly disappeared altogether, except for a minor film role in 2013. Lately, Tom Welling is on the show Lucifer, so it’s good to see him getting steady work.
Which of these actors do you miss the most? Let us know in the comments!
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