TV’s ‘Superman’ Undergoing a Planetary Shift
In last season’s finale of ABC’s “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” Lois Lane’s fairy tale wedding to Lex Luthor was rudely interrupted when police barged in and revealed Luthor’s involvement in the criminal underworld. After a brief chase, Luthor leaped from the balcony of his penthouse apartment.
His untimely exit turned out to be merely the first in a parade of sweeping cast and crew changes that mark a new comic-book direction for the series, which launches its second season Sunday night.
After the final episode last spring, “Lois & Clark” creator Deborah Joy LeVine left the series, and Michael Landes (who played Jimmy Olsen), Tracy Scoggins (who played Catherine Grant), the visual effects supervisor and the entire writing staff, among others, were either eliminated or replaced. Original executive producer David Jacobs had already parted ways after six episodes.
In an effort to attract a greater number of men and boys this year, Superman will be less shy in flexing his steely muscles. The show, which was weighted toward romance and wit last season, will offer more action sequences packed with bigger stunts, new special effects and villains galore, ranging from Bronson Pinchot as the Prankster to Emma Samms as Luthor’s ex-wife.
“We don’t want to change what really worked well last year. The Lois and Clark repartee and banter is funny and clever. People like it, and we want to keep it,” said executive producer Bob Singer, who directed a couple of episodes early last season before replacing Jacobs.
“But by the same token, when we come up with a villain, we want to make him a little more credible--a job for Superman--to heighten the action and suspense and to provide more jeopardy in the show,” Singer said. “We’re going to try to mix the villains up more this year. That burden really fell to Lex Luthor last year.”
In a sense, Luthor, played by John Shea, was symbolic of the creative split that emerged last season on “Lois & Clark.”
“I was very interested in keeping Lex Luthor, exploring his character, making him a regular part of the show,” said LeVine, a former story consultant on “Equal Justice.”
The network felt differently. “You can’t keep bringing back the same villain week after week. At some point, Superman needs to vanquish the villain,” said Brian McAndrews, vice president of current series programs for ABC.
When Lorimar Television was purchased by Time Warner--changing its name to Warner Bros. Television--executives at the TV studio began poring over the catalogue of properties owned by Time Warner and found DC Comics, including Superman. Warner Bros. decided to create a breezy show for the 1990s, reminiscent of “Moonlighting,” to attract women. So it asked LeVine to put a humorous, romantic spin on the man in tights.
“This originally began as a Tuesday or Wednesday show for 10 p.m., so relationship, relationship, relationship was the important thing,” said Leslie Moonves, president of Warner Bros. Television.
But ABC chose instead to air it Sundays at 8 p.m., a heavy family viewing hour when there are more TV sets on across America than any other time of the week. At the last minute, LeVine had to retool her modern comic vision of Lois and Clark, played by Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain, in order to accommodate viewers of all ages.
“When we were scheduled on Sunday at 8 p.m., we needed more than just romantic comedy,” Moonves said. “To get men and to get kids, we needed much more Superman stuff. There were certain revisions made along the way that became more clearly defined as the season ended.”
In the end, LeVine sighed, “I really wasn’t very interested in doing an action show or a superhero-saves-the-day show. I was interested in doing a relationship show.” She is now co-executive producer of NBC’s new “Sweet Justice,” a legal drama, although she remains an executive consultant on “Lois & Clark.”
The show now belongs to Singer, who created “Reasonable Doubts” and was executive producer of “Midnight Caller.” “I don’t view the changes here as terribly drastic,” he said. “There have been lots of reports in the press that we’re really overhauling the show, going for more action and losing the charm of Lois and Clark. That’s not true--the charm is going to be there every bit as much as last year. We’re just going to improve the things we didn’t do real well.”
There still appear to be growing pains, however. Jim Crocker was brought in by Warner Bros. and ABC to work as an executive producer with Singer. Crocker was a producer last season on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” “His charge is really to temper my adultness, and to keep the kids happy,” Singer said. “He’s real steeped in comic books and action superheroes.”
But the latest word is that Crocker is not working out and may not stick around. “It’s not turning out to be a marriage made in heaven,” one source said.
Other changes seem to be progressing more smoothly. Last season, the offices of the Daily Planet newspaper where Lois and Clark work was designed for beauty and not function; moving cameras to meet the rigors of an eight-day shooting schedule was tough. The set was blown up by Luthor in an episode late in the season, giving Singer a chance to have a new one designed over the summer.
Mark Zarate, the new visual effects supervisor, filmed lasers that he will composite into shots to make Superman’s X-ray vision and heat vision more realistic. He’s also working up elaborate flying sequences, with Superman diving and cutting around structures, rather than just drifting over the tops of buildings.
“I was told to make this like a roller-coaster ride,” Zarate said. “From the teaser through the end of the show, they really want to keep a lot of action sequences going and keep Superman in the show.”
“Lois & Clark” finished second in its time slot last fall, behind CBS’ powerful “Murder, She Wrote” but ahead of NBC’s much-ballyhooed “seaQuest DSV,” and it scored high with adults ages 18 to 49, a key demographic for which advertisers pay a premium. ABC ordered a full season’s worth of 22 episodes. Still, the network is banking on a better overall performance. The series finished No. 65 out of 132 prime-time programs last season. (“seaQuest,” also undergoing an overhaul this season to play up the science-fiction elements, finished No. 83.)
* “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42).