Superboy (TV series)

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Gerard Christopher
Gerard Christopher

Buy Superboy first season on DVD

Superboy is a half-hour live-action television series based on the fictional DC Comics comic book character Kal-El's early years as Superboy. The show ran from 1988–1992 in syndication. The show was renamed The Adventures of Superboy at the start of the third season.


Contents

Background

The Superboy series was brought to the screen by executive producers Ilya & Alexander Salkind, the producers of the first three Superman movies and the 1984 Supergirl movie (this series and the release of the 1988 Superman animated series on CBS, coincided with the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Superman character that year). The series, ironically, came about a year after DC Comics had "erased" the character of Superboy from their continuity in The Man of Steel reboot by John Byrne. Nevertheless, the show went on in October 1988 with John Haymes Newton playing the lead role of Superboy/Clark Kent, along with Stacy Haiduk as love interest Lana Lang, and Jim Calvert as Clark's college roommate T.J. White.

This version of "Superboy" featured Clark Kent/Superboy in college at Shuster University in Siegelville, Florida (names which reference Superman's creators, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel). This was, of course, due partially to the fact that the show was filmed in Orlando, Florida. This was the first weekly TV series to be produced at the then new Disney/MGM Studios. For the second season onward, the series moved several miles down Interstate 4 to Universal Studios Florida, the largest motion picture and television sound facility outside Hollywood, where it was then showcased as that studio's first weekly television product. At first, much of the action centered around stories that Clark and T.J. reported on for the college newspaper, the Shuster Herald. All the exterior scenes shot at "Shuster University" are actually filmed on the main campus of the University of Central Florida. Siegelville, however, was depicted as a coastal city, as evidenced by imagery of both the new and old Sunshine Skyway Bridges in St. Petersburg, Florida, in the opening credits.

Comic book writers' contributions

Unlike other television incarnations of the Superman character,[citation needed] Superboy was brought to life by many actual comic book writers. Superman editors Mike Carlin and Andrew Helfer penned several episodes, such as "The Alien Solution", its sequel "Revenge of the Alien", and "The Bride of Bizarro". Other comic book writers that contributed to the series include: Denny O'Neil, Cary Bates, J.M. DeMatteis, and Mark Evanier.

Series history

Season 1

The first season of the series, which began airing in October 1988, focused on Superboy/Clark Kent (John Haymes Newton), his childhood friend and love interest Lana Lang (Stacy Haiduk), and his college roommate T.J. White (Jim Calvert), nephew of Daily Planet editor Perry White. Scott James Wells played Superboy's arch-nemesis Lex Luthor. Clark's adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, were portrayed by Stuart Whitman and Salome Jens, respectively. Clark, Lana, and T.J. are freshmen at Shuster University in Florida, a fictional university named after one of Superman's creators, Joe Shuster.

Thirteen episodes were initially filmed for Season 1, beginning with "Countdown to Nowhere". This episode featured Superboy's first public appearance as he prevents a group of saboteurs from selling a powerful laser weapon developed by the U.S. government to an arms dealer. "Countdown to Nowhere" aired in two versions: an "uncut" version in which the story plays in the present day, and a second version in which the main story is introduced as a flashback through two additional scenes with Lana, Clark, & T.J. in the office of the Shuster University newspaper, the Shuster Herald. The second version has some scenes cut from the main story in order to fit the flashback lead-ins into the episode. This episode is the first episode of the series chronologically, but was the 5th aired in most markets and appears on the first season DVD set as the 5th episode.

The first thirteen episodes of Superboy were rather crude compared to later episodes. The producers, not sure whether any additional episodes would be ordered, did their best to save money on the first thirteen. As a result, the special effects are a bit rougher, and the episodes have a grittier, real world feel to them. This brought about more character oriented stories, and stories with more ordinary villains like drug dealers and crime bosses.

After thirteen additional episodes were ordered for the first season, special effects improved and the show took on a more professional look. More fantastic enemies were introduced, such as a gaseous alien who could possess the bodies of others in "The Alien Solution", a life-force vampire in "Succubus", and long-time Superman villain Mister Mxyzptlk (guest star Michael J. Pollard) in "Meet Mr. Mxyzptlk".

Superboy's nemesis, Lex Luthor, was introduced in "The Jewel of Techechal" (the first episode broadcast) as Clark's classmate at Shuster University. This version of Luthor was more interested in fixing basketball games and humiliating Superboy than anything else. But the season finale, "Luthor Unleashed", completely changed his character. This episode adapted Lex Luthor's silver age comic book origin, in which Superboy rescues Lex from a lab accident that causes him to lose all of his hair, becoming the familiar bald villain Superman fans have come to recognize. Luthor blames Superboy for his hair loss, and gains a new, more intense hatred for the Boy of Steel. From this point on in the series, Luthor is determined to destroy Superboy, rather than just humiliate him.


Season 2

Gerard Christopher and Stacy Haiduk as Superboy & Lana Lang in a Season 2 promotional photo.
Gerard Christopher and Stacy Haiduk as Superboy & Lana Lang in a Season 2 promotional photo.

In the second season, drastic changes took place. The producers of the show accepted John Haymes Newton's resignation due to a contractual dispute. He was replaced by Gerard Christopher in the lead role. As opposed to other actors who have portrayed the Man of Steel, Christopher was actually a longtime comic book fan who relished the opportunity.

Scott Wells was also replaced as Lex Luthor by Sherman Howard. The change in Luthor's appearance was explained in the second season opener "With This Ring, I Thee Kill". The two-part episode revealed Luthor had plastic surgery to assume the appearance of Warren Eckworth, the wealthy inventor of the "Superboy Gun", which Luthor believed could kill Superboy. The character of T.J. White was written out of the series (he went to work for the Daily Planet), and Andy McCalister, portrayed by Ilan Mitchell-Smith, became Clark's new roommate. Andy McCalister was very different from T.J., and was constantly looking to make money with his get-rich-quick schemes. He also flirted with Lana frequently and his advances were always refused, though Lana did consider Andy a friend.

The villains were amped up in the second season, as additional comic book characters were introduced to the series, many of them appearing for the first time in live-action. Metallo (Michael Callan), Bizarro (Barry Meyers), and the Yellow Peri appeared in the second season, and Mister Mxyzptlk (Michael J. Pollard) made a return appearance. Gilbert Gottfried appeared in two episodes as a nasty, wisecracking criminal genius named "Nick Knack" who used toys to commit crimes. The episode "Superboy... Rest in Peace" featured guest star Betsy Russell, who was reunited with series star Gerard Christopher for the first time since the two had worked together previously in the 1985 movie Tomboy. Also notable is the guest star appearance of former James Bond actor George Lazenby as an alien disguised as Superboy's Kryptonian father, Jor-El in two episodes, "Abandon Earth" and "Escape to Earth." (Marlon Brando previously played Jor-El in the 1978 superhero feature Superman.)

Season 3

With the third season, the series saw more changes. The show's title officially became The Adventures of Superboy, and the setting shifted from Shuster University to The Bureau for Extra-Normal Matters in Capitol City, Florida, where Clark and Lana were interns. The Bureau is depicted as a government agency which investigates paranormal activities and aliens, including Superboy.

Andy McCalister was dropped from the series, though Ilan Mitchell-Smith would make a final guest appearance in the episode "Special Effects", which features Andy working as an intern at a movie studio. The new supporting cast consisted of Clark and Lana's co-worker at the Bureau, Matt Ritter (Peter Jay Fernandez), and the Bureau chief C. Dennis Jackson (Robert Levine).

The tone of the series changed dramatically as darker stories were produced and the overall look of the series took on many characteristics of film noir. A few journalists at the time suggested that this darker look was largely due to the success of Tim Burton's Batman movie from a year prior. Many stories dealt with more mature themes, a change new producers Julia Pistor and Gerard Christopher implemented. In "Rebirth", Superboy is confronted with the possibility that he may have accidentally taken a human life, and gives up his Superboy identity in guilt. "Mindscape" deals with Superboy's deepest fears as an alien life-form brings those fears to life in Superboy's nightmares while simultaneously draining his life energy. "Roads Not Taken" shows the different paths Superboy's life may have taken, as Superboy travels to alternate earths where his life is very different. He meets a version of himself who killed Luthor in a fit of rage and another who has become a despotic ruler of earth. The alternate version of Superboy who took Luthor's life was shown wearing a black leather jacket and sunglasses which bears some resemblance to the Conner Kent version of Superboy as he first appeared in the "Death of Superman" storyline. The third season ended with the two-part "The Road to Hell" with former TV Tarzan Ron Ely guest-starring as an adult, retired Man of Steel from an alternate reality.


Season 4

The fourth season maintained the darker look and feel of the third, and was the first in which no major cast changes took place. Noel Neill and Jack Larson, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen in the 1950s series Adventures of Superman, made a guest appearance in the episode "Paranoia" as employees of the Bureau for Extra-Normal Matters. The trend of more mature stories also continued in episodes such as "To Be Human", in which Bizarro becomes human, only to be forced to give up his humanity to save Superboy's life, and "Into the Mystery", in which a mystical, ghostly woman leads Superboy to his dying aunt's bedside. A memorable Luthor tale, "Know Thine Enemy", appeared in this season, and featured Superboy re-living Luthor's tortured memories of childhood via "psychodisk" while Luthor threatened to destroy all life on earth.

The series' demise

The fourth season would be the series' last. A finale for the fourth season was filmed in which Superboy died at the hands of Luthor. The episode was intended to end on a cliffhanger and the story would be resolved in a series of TV movies. Soon after the episode "Obituary for a Superhero" was filmed, a lien was filed by Warner Bros. against the series. The show's ratings were still high, and the Salkinds were planning on a fifth and sixth season for the show, but the series concluded in 1992 with the two-part episode entitled "Rites of Passage". The planned Superboy finale episode, "Obituary for a Superhero", was reworked and aired within the season, with Superboy showing up alive at the end, having only faked his death to lure the killer out of hiding.

The lien was placed as a result of Warner Bros. wanting the film and television rights to Superman back under their umbrella. The film and TV rights to Superman were leased to the Salkinds (the producers of the first three Christopher Reeve Superman movies and the 1984 Supergirl film) during the 1970s. Although Superboy was a Salkind production of a Time Warner property, it was distributed in the United States by Viacom, which later merged with Paramount in 1994. Because of the number of different companies involved in Superboy, and due to legal issues between Salkind and Time Warner that took time to settle, the Superboy television series has not re-aired on American television since its initial syndicated run. Though Time Warner owns all the footage to every other Salkind production of a Superman property exclusively, it shares ownership of the Superboy footage with Viacom/Paramount and Salkind.

After Warner Brothers put the lien in place and regained the film & television rights to Superman from the Salkinds, the company produced Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. It is believed Warner put the lien in place only to open the door for Lois & Clark, not wanting two Superman-related TV series on the air at the same time (later on, Warner Bros. would produce other Superman related television shows such as Superman: The Animated Series and Smallville, as well as the feature film Superman Returns).

Videos and DVDs

Bootleg VHS and DVDs

Some time after the series' cancellation, there was a dispute over what rights to the character the Salkinds actually owned. For a time this prevented any official home video release of the series. Between 1992 and 2006 the only way to see Superboy in the United States was by ordering bootleg VHS and DVD copies of the series sold on eBay and other websites. The audio and video quality of these copies was varied. In 1999, Gerard Christopher began offering three VHS tapes of the series created from his personal master tapes (Christopher has masters of all of the episodes he starred in, Seasons 2-4). Each video tape featured four episodes (which were selected episodes from Seasons 3 and 4), and was sold on his website for a price of $25-$30 US. A fourth VHS video tape was released by Christopher in 2002. Christopher not only sold these video tapes on his website by mail order, but also sold them at personal appearances when attending various comic book conventions and shows.

In response to overwhelming fan demand, Christopher decided to offer all Superboy episodes on DVD, offering a complete Season 2 set on DVD in June 2004 and planning to sell complete sets of Seasons 3 and 4 in the future. The Season 2 set consisted of three discs, was produced by Christopher himself, and sold for a price of $159.00 US. The latter two seasons were planned to be sold at a reduced cost. Tapes and DVDs sold by Christopher were the best quality copies of the series available, since they were made from master tapes, rather than from off-air recordings like all other bootleg copies.

When Warner Home Video announced the official release of Season 1, Christopher announced that his self-produced DVD sets would no longer be available on his website in 2005, with the planned DVD releases for Seasons 3 and 4 cancelled.

DVD Release Summary

Buy Superboy first season on DVD

The Complete First Season The Complete Second Season The Complete Third Season The Complete Fourth Season
Year Range: 1988-89 Year Range: 1989-90 Year Range: 1990-91 Year Range: 1991-92
Episode Count: 26 Episode Count: 26 Episode Count: 26 Episode Count: 22
Release Date: June 20 2006 Release Date: TBA Release Date: TBA Release Date: TBA

The Complete First Season

The DVD set includes a behind-the-scenes featurette with new interviews with first-season Clark Kent/Superboy actor John Haymes Newton, actors Stacy Haiduk and James Calvert, creative/executive producer Ilya Salkind, and director David Nutter. The DVD also features the screen test of John Haymes Newton and audio commentaries by Ilya Salkind and Newton on two key episodes ("Revenge of the Alien" Part 2 and "Meet Mister Mxyzptlk"). The DVD was released in advance of the major film Superman Returns.

The remaining DVD sets

Creative/executive producer Ilya Salkind has revealed at the Superboy Homepage on February 7, 2008, that "It is a matter of time that the rest of the series will hit DVD." Salkind also stated that "sales (for Season 1) were relevantly on the good side according to the sales on Amazon.com back in June of 2006 it was among the top DVD sets. Season One was very successful and it would only be logical that Warner Bros will follow eventually in the future with the rest of the series."

The recent Siegel Case over the rights of Superboy have nothing to do with the Superboy TV series. Warner Bros owns the distribution rights to the series. It is WB's ultimate decision as when to release the final three season sets. The dispute between Salkinds, WB, and Viacom has been resolved which was why Season One was released back in 2006. (Sam J. Rizzo - www.superboyhomepage.com)

There are no plans as yet to put this out on Region 2.

On a recent chat session at the http://www.hometheaterforum.com/chat/chat.html on September 15, 2008 with representatives from Warner Home Video Television & Animation, a question was asked whether Superboy Season 2 will be released on DVD. Warner's answered back stating that sales for Superboy Season 1 didn't meet expectations, thus no plans to release Season 2.

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