Superboy was 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. It was renamed The Adventures of Superboy at the start of the third season.
The series was brought to the screen by executive producers Ilya and 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. Ironically, the series 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. Superboy 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.
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 nemesis Lex Luthor. Clark's adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, were portrayed by Stuart Whitman and Salome Jens, respectively.
In an interview with Boys' Life prior to the show's debut, Newton also spoke of the importance of overall character development and his focus would both be on Superboy and Clark Kent. "When Clark is not Superboy; he ought to be a well-rounded individual. I think people have gotten tired of seeing the nerdy Clark after four movies".
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 and T.J. The second version contained 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 fifth one that was aired in most markets. It also appears as the fifth episode on the first season DVD set. The first season's story editor was Fred Freiberger, who also scripted a few episodes.
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, named Alien Gas, 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.
In the second season, drastic changes took place. The producers of the show were not enamored of Newton's portrayal of Superboy. This, combined with a demand for a 20% raise by the actor and his well-publicized DUI arrest resulted in his removal from the show. He was replaced by Gerard Christopher in the lead role. A new direction was made this season with the second season's stories guided by Executive Story Consultants Mark Jones and Cary Bates.
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) as well as the Yellow Peri appeared in the second season and Mister Mxyzptlk (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. Another villain was a dhampir who found a way through a serum to gain human abilities such as repelling his craving for blood and gaining a tolerance for sunlight. Thus, he became a friend of both Superboy and Lana but would turn vicious without his medicine. 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."
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. "Carnival" shows a satanic individual named 'Deville' trying to acquire Superboy's eternal soul by tempting him to give in and kill a man who is implied to be a rapist. "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 episode "The Road to Hell" with former TV Tarzan Ron Ely guest-starring as an adult, retired Man of Steel from an alternate reality.
The fourth season maintained the darker look and feel of the third one and was the first in which no major cast changes took place. Noel Neill and Jack Larson (who portrayed Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen on the 1950s TV series Adventures of Superman) made guest appearances 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, apparently an angel of death, leads Superboy to his dying aunt's bedside. A memorable Luthor tale, "Know Thine Enemy", appeared in this season, featuring 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 was 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, with the story being 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 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 faked his death to lure the killer out of hiding.
The lien was placed as a result of Warner Bros. wanting all the film and television rights to Superman back under their umbrella. The film and TV rights to Superman, Superboy, Supergirl and Superpup were leased to the Salkinds (the producers of the first three Christopher Reeve Superman movies and the 1984 Supergirl film) in 1978 and throughout the early eighties. When Superman III and Supergirl did not meet box office expectations, the Salkinds sold the Superman rights to Golan Globus (who produced Superman IV: The Quest for Peace) leaving them with the rights to Superboy, Supergirl and Superpup. This enabled them to create the Superboy TV Show.
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 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 (now CBS Television Distribution) and Salkind.
After Warner Bros. put the lien in place and regained the film and television rights 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).