These days, you can’t turn on the TV or go on the Internet without hearing about some superhero show that’s been optioned. For every show that gets made, inevitably there are a couple that don’t succeed and end up falling off the map, but overall, superhero television is a juggernaut of a force with no end in sight. Yet superhero TV shows have been with us for well over half a century, with the likes of the early Captain America and Batman shows from the ’40s.
Since then, television studios kept churning out programs. It’s important to remember, that while all the special effects might not hold up, shows like Wonder Woman, The Six Million Dollar Man and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, helped pave the way for future generations of TV shows and movies. However, not every show can be a cult classic like The Incredible Hulk or even Adam West’s Batman. For all the good television out there, there’s been plenty of awful superhero shows you more than likely forgot or purged from your memory banks. Here at CBR we’re going to take a look at 15 horrible superhero TV shows you desperately tried to forget ever existed.
Superman is the world’s most iconic superhero. Following the success of the movies, Warner Bros. decided to go ahead and make a Superboy TV show, telling the stories of young Clark Kent before he became the Man of Steel. What’s interesting here is that Superboy wasn’t necessarily an abhorrent show. In fact, quite the opposite; the reception was fairly positive, actor John Haymes Newton actually looked the part. If you look back, plenty of the special effects don’t hold up terribly well, but Superboy was earnest in its delivery of content.
After lasting four seasons however, disaster struck. A gaggle of licensing issues hit Warner Bros. harder than the youthful Kryptonian ever could. So eager were they to maintain a stake in the rights, they quickly cast aside Superboy and created Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, leaving Superboy to be forgotten; and forgotten it was.
Captain Marvel, or Shazam as he’s called nowadays, has continually struggled to find his place in the figurative spotlight. An incredible character through and through, it’s a wonder he isn’t super popular; hopefully the upcoming live-action version of the DC Comics character starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, will bring some credibility to the superhero.
In the meantime, all we’ve seen of Captain Marvel was the awful 1974 TV show. Brought to life by Filmation and trying to follow the success of other serial superhero programs, Shazam! resulted in being absolutely laughable. Despite maintaining the proper origin story, with Billy Batson running off in to the woods and yelling the magic word that turned him into Captain Marvel, things went off the rails. The effects were terrible, the stories were nutty, and even though it lasted three seasons, the show also didn’t have any villains from the comics.
13. MUTANT X
After Blade hit the silver screen, X-Men followed shortly thereafter and changed the superhero cinematic landscape for good. After X-Men, studios rushed to figure out how they could cash in on the superhero and mutant frenzy. And so the TV show Mutant X was made. With the full backing of Marvel, there was every opportunity to create something great, but rather than include any of the X-Men or the very idea of mutants, the show decided to tell the story of rebellious test subjects who had acquired superpowers thanks to some nefarious government experiments.
While Mutant X maintained the branding of the X-Men, it had nothing to do with either the movies, the comics, or really anything Marvel-related at all. While it ran for three seasons back in the early 2000s, it ended as a disappointment and people forgot it with little difficulty.
Say what you will about the Blade cinematic franchise as a whole, but it was the movie, starring Wesley Snipes, that genuinely helped kick off the superhero movie phenomenon. Much to the surprise of everyone, the first Blade movie was a success and garnered a dedicated fan-following in the years after. Even Blade II continued the trend and turned out pretty awesome. With that in mind, a group of television executives got together and had the not-so brilliant idea to make a Blade TV show.
The demographic was there, as was the interest, but this was also a time before the wave of successful and captivating superhero programming. Unfortunately for Blade, once audiences realized rapper Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones would be taking the role, things fell apart. The show eventually landed on Spike TV, but they quickly cancelled it. Blade was too expensive to produce and by then nobody cared.
11. THE TICK
Breaking out into comics during the mid ‘80s and becoming an underground sensation virtually overnight, The Tick was the cult series adored by a special niche of people. The cartoon back in the ‘90s was received relatively well, but it was the first live-action attempt at the costumed vigilante in 2001 that left viewers shaking their heads.
In 2001 Fox made a live-action version of The Tick; despite promoting it heavily, the show flailed about. Even though it wasn’t a complete abomination, the viewership simply wasn’t there. People weren’t interested in The Tick and those that were, felt a cartoon adaptation was the better choice. Still, that hasn’t stopped Amazon from trying their hand at the character in recent days with their own live-action series.
10. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Spider-Man has always been a popular character. Nowadays, you can’t walk into a shopping center or movie theater without seeing something regarding the web-slinger. Even back in the ‘70s, the wall-crawler was just as, if not more, popular; the idea of a Spidey-related TV show wasn’t a completely alien idea. In the late ‘70s, Marvel teamed up with MGM to make a live-action TV series for CBS.
Unfortunately, despite Marvel’s best intentions, the show wasn’t well-received. Actor Nicholas Hammond was cast as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Throughout the series, Spider-Man didn’t fight any of the villains from his rogues gallery, but just fought gangsters repeatedly. Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane weren’t a part of the show, a different actress always played Aunt May whenever she appeared, and generally, everything was a mess. When Stan Lee calls you your show too childish, you know you’re in trouble.
9. FLASH GORDON
It’s pretty telling when the TV show you’ve made of a cult classic character finds little to no fanbase. That’s exactly what happened in 2007 when the Sci Fi Channel tried to breath new life into pulp action hero Flash Gordon. Despite bringing on board actor Eric Johnson, who starred in the successful Smallville, and having Peter Hume, the former producer of the fan-favorite show Charmed, guide the program, nothing could save the trainwreck that was Flash Gordon.
Even SFX Magazine once called it the worst show they had ever reviewed. There was nothing even remotely appealing about Flash Gordon. In a desperate attempt to bank on nostalgia, the show tried updating aspects that worked in the ‘80s, bad biker outfits and all. Alas, it was not the ‘80s and was extremely unwatchable.
8. NO ORDINARY FAMILY
No Ordinary Family emerged at a time when superhero shows had moved beyond being seen as fledgling ideas. With a fun and energetic concept, akin to what made The Incredibles such a momentous film, No Ordinary Family told the story of a suburban family with superpowers. It could’ve been great, yet such things were clearly not meant to be. Forgotten to time, you’ll be hard-pressed to discover anyone who clearly remembers anything about the show.
Starring actor Michael Chiklis from The Shield, and produced by juggernaut superhero show producer Greg Berlanti over at ABC, No Ordinary Family wasn’t horrible. Still, it struggled to find an audience; viewers just didn’t give it the time of day. Despite lasting 20 episodes, by the time the first season ended, No Ordinary Family was already lost to obscurity.
7. NIGHT MAN
If you’re unfamiliar with the 1997 show Night Man, then you’re probably not the only one. Just plain bad in nearly every way imaginable, Night Man was based off the little-known character from Malibu Comics during the ‘90s. 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. Okay…anyway, Glen A. Larson, also responsible for the kooky show Manimal, was brought on to helm Night Man. Like with Manimal, Night Man was a total failure and even featured guest stars like Donald Trump, which didn’t help with ratings in any way.
6. SWAMP THING
Back in the early ‘80s, despite the success of Superman and shows like Wonder Woman, the concept of mainstreaming superhero movies and TV shows was still an obscure notion. That didn’t deter the young USA Network from diving right in and giving it a whirl with their dreadful Swamp Thing. The show itself was fueled by interest thanks in part to the cult-classic Swamp Thing movie by Wes Craven.
Stuntman Dick Durock, who played the part of Swamp Thing in the movie, reprised the role again for the television show. Wearing a suit that weighed over 80 pounds, all the while forced to run through the grueling Florida heat, Swamp Thing wasn’t easy to shoot. Despite the show’s general horribleness, it lasted for a staggering 72 episodes; not something one could get away with these days.
Producer Glen A. Larson had a knack for taking popular movies and turning them into a carbon copy TV series. Despite ripping off plenty of work, Automan was one instance involving a team-up. Pairing with Donald Kushner, who was responsible for the insanely popular cult-classic video game action film TRON, the two men got to working on what they hoped would be an equally successful TV program. It didn’t quite go as planned.
While they were able to transfer the stylistics over from TRON into their new TV series, the actual show was an incredible letdown. As opposed to TRON, where we saw people thrust into the world of video games, there’s no video game world in Automan, but rather a video game character who ends up in the real world. It lasted only 12 episodes.
4. SAVAGE DRAGON
There are plenty of amazing and captivating animated superhero shows out there. The animated TV show version of Savage Dragon is not one of them. Back in 1992, several Marvel writers and artists broke away from “the man” and formed their own comic book company: Image Comics. Incredibly successful and hotter than the sun, the early days of Image Comics were without peer. Plenty of new characters and stories were developed, and one of the longest lasting was Erik Larsen’s The Savage Dragon.
Back in the day when the book was on fire, TV producers wanted to cash in on a potential goldmine. They only came up short. You see, their rush to bring Savage Dragon to the screen ended in a horrible mess. The cartoon itself was uninteresting, the animation was awkward, and it’s a surprise it lasted two seasons.
3. THE CAPE
There was a time when Tim Kring’s Heroes was a worldwide sensation. It was the show on everybody’s lips. Like all good things, Heroes took a nosedive, becoming practically hated during its final season. Still, it paved the way for NBC to consider other potential superhero shows and so The Cape was birthed into existence.
One year after Heroes ended, NBC tried to launch The Cape. It served as a throwback to the age of gritty, pulp heroes from the Golden Age of superheroes and comics. Taking place in a small modern California town, the trailers leading up to the show looked promising enough. Yet after it aired, the actual content was another matter altogether. Despite the show’s sincerity in taking the material seriously, the idea of someone’s superpower being “cape manipulation” was too lame to be taken seriously. Ultimately, only 10 episodes were made.
Even if you’ve never seen the oddity of a show that was Manimal, odds are you’ve heard about it in hushed whispers throughout your life. Glen A. Larson, a name you should recognize by now, if for nothing else than his involvement in such horror-shows as Automan, should be lucky he made Battlestar Galactica; his one redeeming program. Yet it was Manimal, the crazy, almost surrealist show that won Larson notoriety…and not the good kind.
Manimal was about Dr. Jonathan Chase, played by Simon MacCorkindale who could shapeshit into any animal. He used this awesome power to turn primarily into either a hawk or panther and 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. To this day, Manimal is not remembered fondly.
1. BIRDS OF PREY
In theory Birds of Prey was a really snazzy idea. You had a group of female adventurers/superheroes who patrolled the streets of Batman’s Gotham City and delivered justice whenever necessary. So even though it would be cool, and shouldn’t have been that difficult to have Huntress, Batgirl and Black Canary teaming up and kicking butt, the show made liberties with the characters that made it indistinguishable from it’s comic book origins.
Debuting in 2002 on the WB, Birds of Prey loosely tied itself to the comics. There was an Oracle character and a bizarre iteration of the Huntress in something of a throwback to the Silver Age version of the heroine. Anyway, despite its stylistic approach, the show only lasted a few episodes before it was promptly cancelled.
Which of these superhero shows did you watch? Let us know in the comments!
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