With the surprise success of both Adventures of Superman (1952-1958) and Batman (1966-1968), networks spent a lot of time and money trying to capitalize on those successes, with mixed results. Here are five shows that have seemingly been all but forgotten.
1. Shazam! (1974-1977)
The first live-action show produced by Filmation, Shazam!, follows in the same mold as Adventures of Superman and Batman, with its earnest and mildly-campy tone. Each week, young Billy Batson and his mentor travel around the United States (in a Winnebgo, no less) helping those in need. Because of its low budget, there’s not much by way of spectacle — and in true Filmation fashion, Batson (and the viewer) learns an Important Lesson at the end of each episode.
2. Superboy (1988-1992)
Now, I didn’t forget about this show, and indeed, I have fond memories of it — yet, somehow it’s mostly escaped being remembered by pop culture at large. In an attempt to revive the then-dead Superman film franchise, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind took a step back and brought Superboy to TV. After a rocky start (and mostly awful first season), the show picked up traction when Gerard Christopher replaced John Haymes Newton as the Boy of Steel.
3. Swamp Thing (1990-1993)
While seemingly created out of the sheer need to not let the sets and costumes from the two Swamp Thing films go to waste, Swamp Thing: The Series bares little resemblance to the films and even less with the comics. Odd considering it feels like it’s tied to the film, as actor Dick Durock once again plays Swampie. Surprisingly, this show lasted 72 episodes and three seasons on USA Network.
4. Night Man (1997-1999)
This has to be one origin for the history books: Jazz saxophonist Johnny Domino is struck by lighting, allow him to “tune in” to the frequency of crime. Domino uses this power — along with an arsenal of gadgets — to clean up the city, so to speak. Originally a Malibu Comics creations (Malibu was later bought by Marvel), Night Man is essentially a low-rent Batman, with a a low-rent TV show to match. I had never heard of this show until I did some research, and by all accounts I didn’t miss much.
5. Birds of Prey (2002-2003)
Comics often tell stories of established heroes in an alternate universe: Marvel has its What if? stories, DC has Elseworlds. The short-lived Birds of Prey explores the question “What if Batman was a deadbeat dad?” In New Gotham, Helena Kyle (daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle), Barbara Gordon, and Dinah Lance are a team of crimefighters. Oh, and Helena and Dinah are metahumans. Though derived from the Batverse, Birds of Prey takes its cues from X-Men and Buffy the Vampire Slayer with its characters moping about being “freaks” and trading (mostly awful) banter. At least Ian Ambercrombie — Seinfeld‘s Mr. Pitt — plays Alfred.