'The New Adventures of Superman' - the Television Series Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'The New Adventures of Superman' - the Television Series

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Superman is what I can do. Clark is who I am.
- Clark Kent to Lois, The New Adventures of Superman

The New Adventures of Superman, also known as Lois and Clark in America1, was a tremendously successful television series that ran for 87 episodes between 1993 and 1997. Starring Dean Cain as Clark Kent, also known as Superman, and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane, it was the first television series about Superman to keep the same actors to play both lead roles.

Curiously, although Superman is often called the ultimate American immigrant story, the series was far more popular in the UK than in the US.

The New Adventures of Superman

The pilot was broadcast in the UK on 8 January, 1994. The television series instantly established itself as a hit, earning BBC1 ratings of 8-10 million. It was broadcast in the Saturday evening family viewing slot that had previously been, and later would again be, enjoyed by Doctor Who, another programme about an alien and his female companion. Although the BBC had intended to only broadcast the first half of the first series, holding back the second half for later on in the year, its instant popularity meant that the whole first series was broadcast continuously. In fact, by series four, satellite channel Sky One outbid the BBC for the rights to show it in the UK first, using it as a key part of their strategy to attract new viewers.

Main Cast

Clark KentDean Cain
Lois LaneTeri Hatcher
Perry WhiteLane Smith
Jonathan KentEddie Jones
Martha KentK Callan
Jimmy OlsenMichael Landes (series one)
Justin Whalin (series two-four)
Lex LuthorJohn Shea
Catherine 'Cat' GrantTracy Scoggins

Series One

The first series began with a double-length pilot which introduced the main characters2. Clark arrives in Metropolis and gets a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet newspaper, where Elvis-loving editor Perry White partners him with top reporter Lois Lane. Surrounded by people needing help, Clark creates an alternate identity to be able to rescue those in need while retaining anonymity to protect the people he cares for. His costume is made by his adopted mother, who uses a piece of cloth embellished with a yellow 'S' that was found in the spaceship that had brought him to Earth. This secrecy is well-founded, as corrupt Government agency Bureau 39 considers Superman an intergalactic threat, planning to hunt him down and kill him.

Series One establishes some characters who would not return in the following series. The first was Cat Grant, the man-eating vamp who wrote the Daily Planet's gossip column, and the character of Jack, established as a homeless orphan who stole a Kryptonian artefact in order to buy food for himself and his younger brother. Jack is later employed by the Daily Planet and considered a sufficiently important character to be framed by Lex Luthor in the first series' penultimate episode for the destruction of the Daily Planet's offices.

Most episodes involved Clark and Lois investigating corruption or criminal activity in Metropolis, which Superman foils, rescuing Lois from perilous danger in the process. Many schemes were secretly masterminded by Lex Luthor, the charismatic, wealthy businessman who not only is the richest man in Metropolis but also gets engaged to Lois Lane.

Series creator Deborah Joy LeVine established her aim with the words,

I wanted it to be a romantic comedy with family values, rather than action-packed like the movies.

Following Series One

While the show's popularity leaped tall buildings with a single bound in the UK, in the US Superman was in danger of being defeated, not by Kryptonite, but by an indifferent audience. At the end of series one the disappointing American viewing figures led to a radical restructuring of the programme. The actor playing Jimmy Olsen was recast, apparently on the grounds that his hair was almost the same colour as Dean Cain's and so viewers with poor quality television sets might possibly find it difficult to tell them apart from a distance. Both Jimmy Olsen and Perry White were given less to do, becoming more supporting comic relief3, and the characters of Jack and Cat Grant were written out completely. Lex Luthor, a masterful villain manipulating hearts and minds while appearing saintly, who had been a regular in the first series, only appeared on rare occasions in the remaining series, although this was also due to the actor John Shea's availability.

Threats to Superman instead became either the criminal network known as Intergang, corrupt government organisation the National Intelligence Agency or, more often, a villain-of-the-week. These villains were usually someone with some sort of connection with research company STAR Labs and were obsessed with killing Superman or seeking nothing more than to get revenge on Lois Lane for some reason or other. Rather than investigating dodgy goings-on as part of their professional reporting relationship as they had previously, Clark and Lois had more time to flirt and talk about their feelings in each episode while waiting for the adventures to come to them.

From series two onwards, Lois and Clark spend so much time talking about their feelings, wanting desperately to date but inexplicably deciding not to, that Superman starts seeing a psychiatrist. Lois felt that Clark is never there for her. Whenever she starts opening up about how she feels, an emergency desperately requires Superman. This causes Clark to dash off while coming up with a flimsy excuse. These pathetic last-minute reasons, such as 'I've got to return an overdue library book', soon become an integral, and enjoyable, part of the show. Yet by the start of series three, Lois has learned Clark's secret identity, and their relationship blossoms.

The final episode ends with Clark and Lois discovering a baby in the middle of the night, complete with a note saying that the baby is theirs.

The Wedding: Will They, Won't They, What Now?

One of the most notorious and frustrating aspects of the series were the delays that kept cropping up, stopping Lois and Clark from initially dating and then finally getting married. In the series, they encountered:

  • An evil Superman clone.
  • An evil Lois Lane clone.
  • A woman who had undergone plastic surgery to look exactly like Lois.
  • A time-travelling villain who killed Clark as a baby.
  • A parallel universe without Superman.
  • Lois suffering from amnesia.
  • Lois falling in love with various other people.
  • Various other people falling in love with Clark.
  • The revelation that, as a baby, Clark was married to someone else.
  • The Wedding Destroyer.
  • A curse that predicts disaster should any marriage be consummated.

And so on. Many of these delays were instigated by the comic publishers, who did not want Lois and Clark to marry on the television before they had in the comic books. Eventually a long-drawn out arrangement was made to ensure that they married at the same time in both comics and on television.

Clark aka Kal-El: Kryptonian Heritage

The series largely downplayed Clark's Kryptonian heritage, with the exception of the existence of Kryptonite, a commodity all villains seemed to get free in their breakfast cereal. In the first series Superman's origins are learnt, his spacecraft found and Clark sees a message from his Kryptonian father, Jor-El, played by David Warner. By the end of series three, Jor-El, now played by François Giroday, provides another message, informing his son that he is in fact a married man.

In the storyline that forms the series three cliffhanger it is revealed that Kal-El is not the only survivor of the destruction of his planet. Other survivors have colonised an asteroid they name 'New Krypton' and live in a spaceship they call the Palace. These survivors' aristocratic society is formed around the basis that Kal-El was married as a baby to Zara; if this marriage isn't consummated, civil war will erupt with the evil Lord Nor claiming the throne. In events similar to Superman II, Lord Nor comes to Earth planning on conquering it and renaming it 'New New Krypton'.

In the show it was possible for Superman to either share or transfer his powers to ordinary humans, either through electrical discharge such as lightning, or, in one instance, through a Red Kryptonite-powered laser beam. Lightning strikes create Resplendent Man and give a baby superpowers, leading to accusations that Superman had a secret love child, but superpowers given through these means are short-lived. It is not just lightning that affects Superman. Green Kryptonite physically weakens, and prolonged exposure can kill Superman, whereas Red Kryptonite mentally weakens him, making him apathetic, or unable to control his powers.

Memorable Adventures

Among the many adventures, perhaps the fondest remembered recurring villain was Tempus (Lane Davis), a time-traveller from the future who at first tried to kill Clark as a baby, but later escaped to a parallel universe and would return to wreak havoc. He often appears accompanied by HG Wells (played by Terry Kiser and Hamilton Camp), the inventor of the time machine.

Another memorable adventure was series three's 'Ultra Woman'. Superman's powers are transferred to Lois Lane after they are both hit by a beam of Red Kryptonite. For an entire episode Lois has Clark's powers, although her x-ray vision is pink rather than blue. Lois learns how difficult it is to have superpowers and the responsibility that goes with them, making her appreciate how well Clark copes with the burden. Yet it is for her striking skin-tight pink outfit that the episode is most fondly and vividly remembered.

In series four's 'Brutal Youth', Jimmy's youth is stolen from him, with the artificially-aged Jimmy played by Jack Larson, who had played Jimmy in the 1950s series.

Lois & Clark - A Superman Novel

One measure of reflecting the success of the television series can be seen in the fact that in 1996 a spin-off novel, written by the highly-respected award winning author CJ Cherryh, was published. This was set during the third series, after Lois had found out that Clark is Superman, and they are planning on developing their relationship. As the novel's title shows, the story concentrates on the relationship between the two lead characters, with the front cover of the novel showing the start of a steamy, intimate moment between the two.

Supermen and Lois Lanes

Dean Cain is the sixth, of nine actors to date, to substantially play Superman on film or television:

  1. Kirk Alyn, in serials:
    • Superman (1948)
    • Atom Man vs Superman (1950)
  2. George Reeves, in:
    • Film Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
    • Adventures of Superman (104 22-minute episodes 1952 - 58)
  3. Christopher Reeve, in films:
  4. John Haymes Newton
    Television series Superboy (26 22-minute episodes, 1988 - 89)
  5. Gerard Christopher
    Television series The Adventures of Superboy (74 22-minute episodes, 1989 - 1992)
  6. Dean Cain
    Television series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (87 45-minute episodes, 1993 - 97)
  7. Tom Welling
    Television series Smallville (218 42-minute episodes, 2001 - 2011)
  8. Brandon Routh
    Film Superman Returns (2006)
  9. Henry Cavill, in films:
    • Man of Steel (2013)
    • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Teri Hatcher is only the fourth Lois Lane of seven to date, following:

  1. Noel Neill, in serials:
    • Superman (1948)
    • Atom Man vs Superman (1950)
    • And television series Adventures of Superman (series two onwards, 1953 - 1958)
  2. Phyllis Coates, in:
    • Film Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
    • Adventures of Superman (series one only, 1952)
  3. Margot Kidder, in films:
  4. Teri Hatcher
    Television series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (87 45-minute episodes, 1993 - 97)
  5. Erica Durance
    Television series Smallville (2004 - 2011)
  6. Kate Bosworth
    Film Superman Returns (2006)
  7. Amy Adams, in films:
    • Man of Steel (2013)
    • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Difference From Superman's Earlier Televised Adventures

No other television series has concentrated so much on devoting itself to the story of Lois Lane and Clark Kent. In other Superman series, one of three things had happened:

  • Either the actor playing Clark Kent was recast. This had happened with John Haymes Newton, who had been replaced with Gerard Christopher on Superboy, later renamed The Adventures of Superboy.

  • Or the actress playing Lois Lane was recast, such as in The Adventures of Superman.

  • Or Lois either does not appear at all, or at least not at the beginning, only turning up in later episodes.

The Midlands region was the first part of the UK to see Superman on television. This was a selection of The Adventures of Superman episodes broadcast from February 1956, over three years after the show debuted in America (1952). When this was shown in the UK it was broadcast in random order, with the second actress, Noel Neill (who played Lois Lane from series two onwards), seen first, with occasional episodes in which Lois Lane was played by Phyllis Coates4 (Lois Lane in only series one) shown now and then. Overall, the show had little impact, not helped by its regional rather than national audience.

The next television series about Clark Kent was Superboy, later renamed The Adventures of Superboy, (1988-1992). This was made by the same team responsible for the first three Christopher Reeve Superman films and showed the adventures of Clark Kent in college, before he met Lois Lane. In the UK, only 11 episodes were shown terrestrially before ITV dropped the show following poor ratings, and when a scene in which a character is tortured led to complaints of the show being too violent. The rest of the show was broadcast in a graveyard slot on Sky One, and has never been repeated.

In 1992, Warner Brothers, who owned the rights to Superman, vetoed and cancelled The Adventures of Superboy, ending it at the end of series four. This made way for their own Superman television series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman between 1993-1997.

Later, between 2001-2011 the series Smallville tugged on Superboy's cape by showing Clark Kent's formative teenage years, winning a loyal fan base and doing reasonably well, but failing to match The New Adventures of Superman's success. Only The New Adventures of Superman has managed to break out of cult viewing to become a popular, mainstream show appearing in the top ten most-watched programmes of the week5.

Reasons for Success

So, what made The New Adventures of Superman such a success?

Firstly, there is no denying that in the UK, The New Adventures of Superman was scheduled in exactly the right time slot for the show. It was shown in the Saturday night science-fiction family-viewing slot that had been dominated by Doctor Who for 25 years from 1963 to only four years before the first episode was shown, and Doctor Who would again dominate that time slot from 2005 onwards. Both Doctor Who and The New Adventures of Superman involve an alien male with strange powers and abilities (flight and super-strength for Superman, time-travel and regeneration for the Doctor) who enjoy a will-they-won't-they relationship with a strong, feisty woman.

The New Adventures of Superman shares similarities with The Avengers, a British television series that also didn't take itself too seriously. In that series the hero, perfect gentleman John Steed, foils the baddies' knavish tricks and saves the day with the assistance of his capable female companions. One act that confirmed how The New Adventures of Superman had taken on The Avengers' mantle came when Teri Hatcher followed in the footsteps of her female Avengers predecessors. Both Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg were promoted from the earlier television series to become Bond Girl film stars. Teri Hatcher, despite being pregnant, was quickly cast as a Bond Girl in Tomorrow Never Dies, the first Bond film made after The New Adventures of Superman finished in 1997.

Indeed, there can be no denying that much of the success of the series comes down to Teri Hatcher. After all, in the series' original title, it is Lois who is mentioned first. Dean Cain establishes himself as an excellent Clark Kent, but Superman can only be Christopher Reeve. Yet Teri Hatcher is the definitive, and definitely sexiest, Lois Lane of the 20th Century; a photograph of her wrapped in Superman's cloak quickly became the most downloaded picture on the Internet in 1995.

Both Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher wrote for the show. Dean Cain wrote two episodes, the first of which was the second series' Christmas episode. These were:

  • 'Seasons Greedings' – series two
    A toymaker creates a toy rat that turns Lois' voice squeaky, and makes everyone else greedy.
  • 'Virtually Destroyed' – series three
    Lois is trapped in a virtual reality prison by a villain wanting to know her favourite baby names - only Jimmy's computer knowledge can help.

Teri Hatcher also wrote6 an episode:

  • 'It's a Small World After All' – series three
    Lois faces an evil shampoo that shrinks those who use it.

One thing that made the series stand out from previous Superman films and television series was the chemistry between the two leads. In the 1940s serials and 1950s television series, the relationship between Superman/Clark and Lois was strictly platonic. By the time of the Christopher Reeve Superman films, although the audience could see Lois being attracted to Superman, there was no spark between Lois and Clark, leading to the introduction of other love interests for Clark in the form of Lana Lang and Lacy Warfield. Only The New Adventures of Superman shows a passionate relationship between the two, including scenes in which Lois tries to seduce Clark while belly dancing. The balance of both passion and action in the series ensured that it appealed to both male and female viewers, with a strong dollop of humour attracting the kids.

1In America the series was known as Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, abbreviated to Lois and Clark to avoid confusion with an American 1970s cartoon series called The New Adventures of Superman. As this cartoon had not been shown in the UK, the BBC marketed it as The New Adventures of Superman.2Including Lois' younger sister Lucy Lane, who only appeared twice more in the show, despite initially sharing the same apartment as her sister.3Although in series three, Jimmy Olsen transforms overnight into a computer genius.4Phyllis Coates later cameoed in The New Adventures of Superman episode 'House of Luthor', the initial series' finale, as Lois Lane's mother Ellen Lane. Teri Hatcher would later play Lois Lane's mother, now named Ella Lane, in Smallville.5Dean Cain would later play Supergirl's adopted father Jeremiah Danvers in Supergirl (2016).6Co-written by Teri Hatcher and Pat Hazell, based on a story by Teri Hatcher.

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