Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Overlooked TV: It's a bird! It's a plane! Nope, it's You-Know-Who

Here's one you don't see TV anymore (and least I don't), but it used to be a GIANT. Luckily for kids like me, the whole series is now available on DVD, and I've been watching it again.

The Adventures of Superman ran from 1952 to 1958, for a total of 104 episodes. The show was originally broadcast in black and white, but half the episodes were filmed in color, and are presented that way on DVD.

Though the show was aimed at kids, some of the episodes are surprisingly well done. Two very early adventures seem like mini-movies starring Jimmy (episode 2) and Lois (episode 4), with Superman merely swooping in at the end to save the day. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that these, and perhaps many others, were based on earlier feature films.

Other episosdes, of course, are purely kid stuff. One has an organ grinder's monkey dressed in a Superman suit, and another is about a sick girl whose fondest wish is for Supes to take her to the fair. But even the most sacharin stories have redeeming elements, like bad guys with guns.

The Season One set has 26 episodes, plus the 1951 feature film Superman and the Mole Men. That's where George Reeves debuted in the role, taking over after Kirk Alyn had done his stuff in two 15-chapter serials, Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs Superman (1950) (You can see movie posters for those HERE.)

Superman and the Mole Men also introduced Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane (who had been played by Noel Neill in the serials). Phyllis continues that role in the first season of the TV series, and the more familiar Noel takes over in the second.

Check it out. It ain't too late to be a kid again.

For links to more Super Overlooked Films & Stuff, put on your cape and fly on over to Sweet Freedom.


Cap'n Bob said...

I loved that show. Crackers the Clown, the crooks in the lead helmets, a gigantic Caesar speaking from the sky and scaring Perry White--I rememeber them well.

Todd Mason said...

This series certainly did cover most if not all the bases, going from the kind of relatively saccharine episode you describe to high camp to fairly rousing adventure...and I haven't seen episodes in decades, and still remember some of them, but mostly pretty vaguely. Also notable for being an original syndicated, rather than network, offering during a good chunk of its run...should go look if it went to color after a budget boost by being picked up by, iirc, ABC. Between this and SEA HUNT and HIGHWAY PATROL and DEATH VALLEY DAYS and not a few more, the networks in the 1950s particularly were missing not a few good commercial tricks, at least...and they had some holes in their schedules, much as the smaller-big commercial networks as the CW and MNT (MyNetworkTV) do today, that these shows plugged into rather handily.

Deka Black said...

To tell the truth, i am more a Batman follower. Superman never reached me how Batman did.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I loved that show and I can remember it very well. The faces of the actors who played Lois, Jimmy, Perry White etc. I am sure it would look very crude today but I think I would still love it.

Mike Doran said...

For Todd Mason:

The decision to film Superman in color was made in 1954 by National Periodical Publications (as DC Comics was then known). National , in partnership with Kellogg's Cereals, provided the financing for the series, assisted by the Leo Burnett ad agency in Chicago, which was in charge of Supermans station placements. ( That's why Superman went on the air in Chicago a full six months before it aired anywhere else in the USA.)
A handful of other series (most notably The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid) filmed in color in the '50s, generally at the behest of advertisers who felt that color would prolong the shelf life of shows when Color TV finally took hold - which wasn't for almost a full decade thereafter.

Getting back to Superman, the ABC network entered the picture in 1957, for what turned out to be the last cycle of new episodes. This placement was from Kellogg's and the Burnett agency, which had placed the show mainly on ABC stations in its earliest years (they wanted primetime slots, and ABC left many timeslots open in the early going).
The 1957 show airede in a late afternoon slot. Had Superman been picked up again in 1959 (if George Reeves hadn't died), I'm guessing the same deal might have occurred.

Todd's point about syndication is valid as far as it goes, but you have to remember that in the '50s, advertisers had more control over programming than anybody, networks included. Many of the shows Todd mentions were sold to local stations by ad agencies on behalf of local or regional sponsors.
The system was called 'barter': the sponsor would take half the commercial minutes, and the stations could sell the rest locally for pure profit.
This system went under when the FCC decided that advertisers had too much control over shows and gave that control to the networks, thus cutting local stations out.

So much for history.

(By the by, I liked theSuperman show too.)

Evan Lewis said...

Wow. Thanks for info, Mike!

Anonymous said...

That's fascinating information, a good look into the nuts & bolts of early commercial broadcasting.

I always felt the character needed to be more. That is, more athletic and less...chunky, I guess. If my memory is any good, it seems to me there was also a TV version of Green Hornet about this time that I thought was better.

Evan Lewis said...

I would have thought The Green Hornet (from '66 & 67) would be better, but I watched a few from the recent Syfy Channel martathon. B-o-r-i-n-g. These old Supes episodes are far superior.

Mike Doran said...

Can't resist following up from my earlier post ...

One of the joys of collecting videos of ancient TV shows is finding the occasional local commercial spot, frequently for something like a brewery or a bank.
The Cisco Kid, for example, was sponsored in its original run by Interstate Bakeries, makers of Butternut Bread - in the midwest, at least ("Tut-tut Nothin' but Butternut Bread!").
But I've got a few episodes in my collection with spots for Weber Bread - same packaging, even the same jingle ("Can't get enough o' that Weber Bread!").

I also recall how Lloyd Bridges would appear at the close of Sea Hunt to say a few kind words about Heileman's Old Style Beer - here in Chicago,anyway. I don't doubt that he spoke with equal fondness of other brands in other markets.

During its original run, Kellogg's sponsorship of Superman was proclaimed right in the opening credits, accompanied by commercial spots by the cast members - all of which had to scrapped when the show went into its later syndication phase.

This is a fun hobby to have, isn't it?