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Thursday, May 14, 2015

SUPERBOY: THE TV SERIES (1988 - 1992) - An Alexander and Ilya Salkind Production

By Rennie Cowan

The Superboy TV series was a half-hour syndicated television series that debuted on October 8th, 1988, and after four seasons, finished on May 17, 1992. A total of 100 episodes were accumulated. It was produced by the same producers of the first three Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve as Superman: The Salkinds. The Salkinds also produced the Supergirl movie (1984).

The series was distributed by Viacom. The producers are famously known as Alexander and Ilya Salkind. The series depicted Superman in his early years as ClarkKent/ Superboy while he was attending college (at Shuster University) with his childhood friend, Lana Lang. The show was shot in Florida, USA, at Disney/MGM Studios for the first season, but for the second season (and on-going) was shot at what was called the brand new Universal Studios lot in Orlando, Florida (USA). The show was also shot on campus at the University of Central Florida and in surrounding areas when various, realistic locations were needed.

There were two Superboys who played the role of Clark Kent / Superboy during its' television heyday: John Haymes Newton and Gerard Christopher. John Haymes Newton starred in the first season and did 26 episodes. He practiced Tai Chi to prepare himself for flying techniques on Superboy and played Clark as an oridinary young 19 year old. He also used his knowledge of martial arts to fight an alien fight sequence in the episode "The Alien Solution". You can watch and enjoy his love for martial arts in the movie he did called "Desert Kickboxer" - also, be sure to watch him perform the voice of Superman in the fanmade animated 2011 short "Superman Classic". John and co-star Stacy Haiduk (Lana Lang) dated during the first season. Ilya Salkind who had been concerned over the ratings of the show decided to give the cast a complete make-over and replaced John Haymes Newton with Gerard Christopher, Scott Wells (Lex Luthor) with Sherman Howard, and Perry White's son, TJ White (played by Jim Calvert) with IIan Mitchell-Smith (Andy McAllister). After playing Superboy, John Haymes Newton moved on to work on Broadway plays, and a number of major motion pictures including "Cool as Ice" (with Vanilla Ice) and the critically acclaimed "Alive".

John has a small, loyal Superboy fanbase and some fans proclaim they liked him better than the later Christopher, however, season one felt like a TV show of its' own. Newton certainly had the drawback of the mediocre scripts of the first season. But during season two, the writing on the show improved drastically. It became far more comic-booky. Plus, pressure was put on Gerard Christopher to succeed, otherwise, there would be no show said Ilya Salkind. So top DC writers came on board, and Gerard even wrote two later episodes himself titled "Wish for Armageddon" and "Cat and Mouse" . Gerard Christopher also became the producer of the series. Naturally, Gerard had brains and good looks to; he had a degree in Business and was a tri-athelete, making him college smart and physically strong. He also appeared on the front cover of Muscle magazine.

Gerard Christopher starred in the last three seasons and is the one who is most remembered and loved for the role. He was in a total of 76 episodes. Gerard Christopher had starred in the early 1980's teen movie called "Tomboy" with Besty Russell who later appeared in a second season episode of Superboy called "Superboy...Rest in Peace". Betsy Russell played an android and went on to star in the mutually successful horror franchise "Saw". Gerard played Clark Kent as "nerdy", wonderfully in-tune with Christopher Reeves's portrayal in the movies. He was very entertaining, and Stacy Haiduk who played Lana Lang in all four seasons professed to me during a lunch outting one day that watching him play Clark used to make her die laughing.

Gerard loosened up on the "nerdiness" by the third season which, ironically, mirrored John Haymes Newton's original portrayal of the character but not fully. Gerard still did the "nerdy Clark" but only when humor took call. He wore suspenders which was not the latest fashion, but a signature of the new business-nerdy Clark. The full-on "nerdy" portrayal was missed but maybe Clark was growing up afterall. Gerard's second season Superboy costume was also completely in-tune with John Bryne's current DC Superman suit design of that time.

Lana Lang was played by the attractive, red-headed Stacy Haiduk. She was in all four seasons as Clark's best friend and romanic interest. The chemistry between Superboy and Lana appeared to deepen - Gerard and Stacy made it extremely believable and by the second season Lana would talk more and more about being in love with Superboy. By the thrid season, she was madly in love with Superboy. In the episode "Mindscape", Superboy has a nightmare about Lana loving Clark, his alter-ego. The romantic tension was at an all-time high; if you watch the two-part episodes "A Change of heart" Part 1 and 2, you will see Lana about to give up on Superboy as she gets serious with the rich mongul Adam Verell. However, Verrell turns out to be a thug like every other man in her life except for Superboy.

One of Stacy Haiduk's most remembered performances was in the episode "Neila" (playing alongside attractive guest appearance by Christine Moore as Neila). Neila tries to force Superboy to marry her or else. Lana begs Superboy, utter tears, to go with Neila and marry Neila, not her, only to save the people of Capital City. Neila was threatening Superboy to marry her or else innocent people would suffer. Lana pled to Superboy: "You have to," then said "but I'll make it easy." In that moment, Lana threw herself over a ledge in turmiol. Superboy flew down to save her like he always did. It wasn't clear if they were in a relationship by the end of the series but Superboy and Lana would most definitely kiss in various scenes. The final epside "Rites of Passage" Part II was their last screen-kiss.

Lex Luthor was played by both Scott Wells (season one) and Sherman Howard (or sometimes credited as Howard Sherman) for the remaining three seasons. Sherman Howard gave a very Joker-like performance and is the one who is most remembered for the part of Lex Luthor on the series. Fans often compare him to Gene Hackman; and some say Sherman Howard is the best Lex Luthor of any Superman/Boy movie or TV series in Superman history. He often built Lex Luthor robots, exact replicas of himself in order to fool Superboy (depicted below).

Tracy Roberts (now Tracy Lewis) played Darla, Lex Luthor's girlfriend (Lex-Girl) and romantic interest on the show. Many point out that Darla was very much in-tune with the Harley Quinn character of Batman nostalgia. Harley Quinn is Batman's girlfriend in Batman the animated series and DC comic books. Like Darla, she is his partner in crime filled with twisted and "mad love" - just like the Darla and Lex Luthor relationship of the Superboy series. Darla disappeared from Luthor's life after the two-part episode "Know Thine Enemy". Fans believe that she may have finally got fed up with Lex and left him for good. Today, Tracy Roberts is actively promoting the Superboy series at conventions around the USA.

In addition, the series had a round-up of iconic guest-stars like Joaquin Pheonix, George Lazenby, Michael J. Pollard, even to iconic comic book writers such as Mike Carlin and Cary Bates. Even the creator of Superman himself, Jerry Seigel, took a stab at writing for the series. Kevin Kiner, the music composer of such notable series as 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars', composed the music for all four seasons of the Superboy TV series (which was very synth-like). Every character had their theme music on the Superboy TV series.

Ian Mitchell-Smith who had been an early 1980's teen star for his role in the major motion picture "Weird Science" became a co-star for the second season as Clark's roomate, Andy McAllister. Andy was the comic relief of the show and though he relentlessly tried to date Lana, he settled for her friendship by the end of the second season. Andy also appeared in a cameo for season three in the episode "Special Effects" with Superboy monsters.

By season three, the show changed the name from 'Superboy' to 'The Adventures of Superboy' where the show began to look more like the movie the 'Dark Knight' and have a classic film noir feel to it. Gerard Christopher loosened up on his Clark Kent protrayal from a nerdy Clark to a more in-control Clark (but still with some nerdiness, he dressed in suspenders). Superboy also got tougher, breaking through walls was his favorite past-time. The show's major set scene of the college dormatory moved to the Bureau of Extra-Normal Matters (which became a permanent set) where both Clark and Lana worked as interns, investigating paranormal activity. This scenario very much resembled the Mulder and Scully from the 'X-Files' TV series (yet it must be noted, Superboy aired before the "X-Files" did).

Interestingly enough, each season had its own unique feel and development. Most agree that the series made dramatic improvements by the second season and far surpassed its' expectations by the third season. The demise of the series was due to a legal debacle (lien) that was filed by Warner Brothers in 1992. WB claimed they owned the rights to the Superboy character (and franchise). WB wanted to make a Superman TV series under their studio name. However, the Salkinds proclaimed they still owned Superboy. WB didn't want Superboy airing at the same time as "Lois and Clark", so DC Comics made it difficult for the Superboy series to get script approvals. Salkind filed a lawsuit against DC comics in 1993. This more or less killed what both Viacom and the Salkinds planned to do with the show. Viacom planned Superboy telemovies and even promised the fans they would get telemovies all the while "Lois and Clark" was on the air. But according to Gerard Christopher, this, WB did not want; it would have been confusing. Ilya Salkind wanted to do a season 5 and 6 and confirmed this at Wizard Con in Anaheim, and Viacom was right behind the Salkinds ready to distribute. Viacom and the Salkinds eventually agreed that the Superboy series would end with Season 4.

The Salkinds were developing Superman V while the Superboy series was still in production. It was also called Superman: The New Movie with either Christopher Reeve (who was their first choice) or Gerard Christopher as Superman in the role. Christopher Reeve was the Salkind's first choice. Even Ilya Salkind stated this himself during a panel at the 2010 Wizard Con convention. If Christopher Reeve could not fill into the red boots as Superman (as he was reluctant to do so), then Gerard Christopher would have been their man. In fact, Ilya Salkind once said regarding Gerard Christopher, "He was the only one that I didn't have to pull his leg to play the part." The Salkinds once believed that the rights to the Superman character and the Superboy characters were separate; even the courts once believed this. But according to the book "Hollywood vs. Superman" by Jake Rossen, the ruling was reversed and Superboy was WB's character once again. The battle over the rights to Superman still rages on in the courts today with the heirs of Jerry Siegel.

Because the Salkinds stopped getting approvals from DC to make further episodes, the Superboy series was pretty much dead in the water after season 4. The series ended with "Rites of Passage" Part 1 and 2 which paved the way for Superboy to become Superman. DC was being influenced by Warners and they were ready to do another Superman movie. One would expect that naturally Gerard Christopher should fill the boots of Superman. Fans of the Superboy series were not happy with Warner Brothers' jaded approach to recasting their new Superman. One would expect actors of the Superboy series to hold a grudge. Not Gerard Christopher. He told the webmaster regarding "Lois and Clark", "I would have actually watched 'Lois and Clark' if I had liked the show." Unlike the Superboy series, the ratings dwindled by the forth season. The apparent success that the Superboy TV Series had proven - that the character on television could be successful once again after George Reeves was a stepping-stone for both "Lois and Clark" and "Smallville" didn't prove the same for the end of "Lois and Clark". The Superboy series was an unfortunate ending for a well-made series. Ilya Salkind professed in an interview in the book "Age of TV Heroes" by Jason Hofius and George Khoury that the success of the Superboy series was eventually its downfall.

Shortly after season 4 of "The Adventures of Superboy" ended, in September of 1993 "Lois and Clark" the television series was produced and aired, starring Dean Cain. Gerard Christopher auditioned for the role of Superman in "Lois and Clark", and was casted. What had happened, according to Christopher, was that they were very enthusiastic about finding him; one of the producers was estatic, stood up and went crazy over finding him. He stated out loud, "We found him!" Then he looked at Gerard's headshot and asked, "Who are you?" That's when the producers discovered that Gerard had played Superboy in the TV series and suddenly, Gerard went from being their guy to being only Superboy. The "Lois and Clark" producer stated "You've done this before" and then quietly dismissed him from the room. Warner Brothers spent over $50 million dollars in development for a new Superman movie while in search of a new Superman. One has to wonder if Warner Brothers made a $50 million dollar mistake in passing off Gerard Christopher for the role, an actor who had already been well-established in the part.

Three parties have a hand to the rights of the Superboy TV series: Viacom, Ilya Salkind and Warner Brothers. The rights to season one reverted to Warner Brothers in 2006 for a one-year and half contract (to release the season one DVD set). WB has released season one onto DVD, but has been reticent about releasing seasons two, three and four, and this is not necessarily because of the legal battle over who owns the rights to Superboy (Siegel vs. Warner Brothers). It is also because all three parties have to make an agreement for distribution: WB, Ilya Salkind and Viacom. In a recent interview with Ilya Salkind at Superman Celebration 2010, he stated that Viacom would probably agree; it is all up to Warner Brothers. WB claimed the season one DVD set didn't do too well in sales. So money and profit is also a factor. The production of a Superboy DVD set (or Blu-Ray set) could be, or would be, costly to make.

An unfortunate ending for a well-made series; but the fans are currently holding a campaign to get the later seasons released onto DVD. The Superboy show was shot on 35mm film and recorded in stereo, but the original 35mm prints were destroyed by Paramount (Viacom). Stacy Haiduk told the webmaster that everything was dumped to tape, so it exists. Future DVD sets would have to be made from Ilya Salkind's BetaSP and VHS masters. Stacy Haiduk owns VHS masters of every season, and Gerard Christopher owns VHS masters of seasons 2, 3 and 4. Douglas "Barry" Meyers owns his episodes on large format tape (BetacamSP), which is better quality than the VHS masters owned by Christopher. Others involved with the series, either actors or those who worked on the set of the show own large format or VHS copies as well.

WB has every season of the Superboy series in their vaults according to Ilya Salkind who handed everything over to them to archive (not the original destroyed 35mm prints). More than likely, hi-res archival copies were made by Warner brothers of Ilya's masters as WB gave everything back to him right before the release of "Superman Returns". For more information on the show, the campaign and on the Superboy episodes that aired, explore this website and click on the episode guides posted on the sidebar. Scroll down and check out the Superboy Epi-logue which can be viewed in it's entirety on this website. In the episode guides (access them on the side bar) you can view many trailers of the series.

Gerard Christopher in a Viacom promotional photo. (photo will be placed her soon)!

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