Welcome to Part Two of a series devoted to mostly-forgotten superhero live action TV shows. The shows are listed alphabetically, with Part One covering ‘Automan’ through ‘Man From Atlantis’. What other programs made the list? Read on!
‘Manimal’ aired for eight episodes on NBC in the fall of 1983, featuring Simon MacCorkindale as Dr. Jonathan Chase, who had the power to turn into animals. Though he could theoretically turn into any creature, he tended to stick with either a hawk or black panther. The shape-shifting effects were created by Academy Award SFX artist Stan Winston. The series was created by Glen A. Larson, who was also responsible for ‘Automan’.
The series was more popular in Europe and was released on DVD in the UK and France in 2012. It was released in the US by Shout! Factory in 2015.
Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are working on producing a live-action film version.
Larson later created the series ‘Nightman’, which you can read about below. On that series, he revived the character of Jonathan Chase, again played by MacCorkindale, for one 1998 episode, entitled– what else?– ‘Manimal’.
‘M.A.N.T.I.S.’ has quite a pedigree. The two-hour pilot was developed by Sam Hamm, who wrote the first Tim Burton ‘Batman’ movie and the story for ‘Batman Returns’. It was produced by Sam Raimi. In it, wealthy doctor Miles Hawkins, played by Carl Lumbly, is paralyzed after getting shot in the spine. Using his company’s resources, he invents an exosuit, which he calls ‘M.A.N.T.I.S.’– Mechanically Augmented Neuro Transmitter Interception System, that not only allows him to walk, but gives him enhanced abilities. He also establishes an underwater lab and travels via hovercraft.
As the series progressed, the plots became more comic book-style with time travel, parallel universes, and other far-out concepts.
Due to high production cost and low ratings, the show ended after 22 episodes, which ran from 1994-97 on FOX. In an unusual twist, the lead character, Miles Hawkins was killed off at the end, but thanks to time travel, there was a possibility that the idea could be resurrected. The series is available to download from Amazon and on DVD.
‘Misfits of Science’
This comedy may be best known because the cast included a young Courteney Cox as Gloria Dinallo, a troubled teen with telekinetic powers. The cast also included Kevin Peter Hall as Dr. Elvin “El” Lincoln, who can shrink down to doll size– except his clothes don’t change size with him; Mark Thomas Miller as “Johnny B” Bukowski, a rocker that was electrocuted on stage and now possesses electrical powers; and Dean Paul Martin as their non-powered leader Dr. Billy Hayes. Max Wright played the head of the Humanidyne Institute, and would later go on to star as Willie Tanner on ‘ALF’.
In the first episode, they were also joined by Mickey Jones as Arnold “Ice Man” Beifneiter, who has cryogenic powers and is the reason why the group has to travel in an ice cream truck. But after Marvel– who have their own Ice Man– threatened legal action, the character was dropped but the others inexplicably continued to ride around in the ice cream truck.
There were 16 episodes of ‘Misfits of Science’ but for some reason, the finale episode was not aired. The show ran on NBC during the 1985-86 season. It has only been released on DVD in Germany in 2008, and France in 2012, where it was known as ‘Superminds’.
Not to be confused with the DC Comics character of the same name, this ‘Mister Terrific’ was a comedy that aired on CBS in 1967. Both ‘Mister Terrific’ and NBC’s ‘Captain Nice’ were created after ABC struck gold with the Adam West ‘Batman’ series.
Stephen Strimpell starred as nerdy gas station attendant Stanley Beamish, who secretly worked for the government. He could take a “power pill” which granted him the strength of 1,000 men and the ability fly, although he had to flap the wings of his silver jumpsuit. His pills only granted him super abilities for one hour, although he could take booster pills which gave him an additional 10 minutes of powers. Much of the show’s humor stemmed from Stanley losing his powers at inopportune times.
Coincidentally (?), CBS aired ‘Mister Terrific’ at 8pm EST on Monday nights, while NBC’s ‘Captain Nice’ aired at 8:30pm on Mondays, allowing fans to watch both back-to-back. There were 17 episodes of ‘Mister Terrific’. It has only been released on DVD in Germany in 2009, under the title ‘Immer wenn er Pillen nahm (Whenever He Took Pills)’.
The intro doesn’t appear to be available, so here is the first episode:
In 2001, Marvel Studios, along with Fireworks Entertainment, Global Television Network, and Tribune Entertainment, unleashed a syndicated series called ‘Mutant X’ which focused on a group of “New Mutants” who, very much like the ‘X-Men’ use their abilities to seek out and protect their fellow “New Mutants.”
Marvel even created a comic book tie-in ‘Mutant X: Origin’.
20th Century Fox sued Marvel, Tribune and Fireworks, stating that they had exclusive rights to develop ‘X-Men’ projects and that ‘Mutant X’ was too similar. Marvel then counter-sued Fox, and a judge allowed production on ‘Mutant X’ to continue as long as it was made clear that there was no connection to the ‘X-Men’. Marvel and Fox settled their case, but then Tribune turned around and sued Marvel for breach of contract.
In the end, Fireworks Entertainment went out of business, and ‘Mutant X’ ended on an unresolved cliffhanger. The series had run for three seasons, each composed of 22 episodes. All three were released on DVD.
‘My Secret Identity’
‘My Secret Identity’ starred Jerry O’Connell and over the course of three seasons and 72 episodes, you can watch him grow from the fat kid from ‘Stand By Me’ to hunky leading man. This series was created for Canadian network CTV, but aired in the US in syndication. In 1989, it won the International Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Programming for Children and Young People.
The series ran from 1988-91. O’Connell played Andrew Clements, a teenager that develops superpowers when struck by a photon beam. When using his powers, super strength, speed, levitation, and more, Andrew originally used the name Ultra Man, but that was quickly dropped. In the first season, Andrew could only levitate, not fly. He had to use aerosol spray cans to propel himself forward, but that was also later dropped.
This series aired at the same time as the similar syndicated ‘Superboy’ live-action series, so it is often overlooked because of that. It doesn’t appear that it has ever been officially released on DVD.
‘Night Man’ was created by Glen A. Larson, the man behind ‘Automan‘ and ‘Manimal’. Unlike those, ‘Night Man’ was a preexisting comic book character, originally published by Malibu Comics, before it was bought out by Marvel. Matt McColm starred as saxophone player Johnny Domino, who is struck by lightning and becomes able to “hear evil.” His suit also makes him bulletproof, allows him to fly, grants him night vision and has holographic camouflage abilities.
Simon MacCorkindale reprised his ‘Manimal’ role, Jonathan Chase, in an episode entitled ‘Manimal’. In addition, pop singer Taylor Dayne played Johnny’s love interest in the pilot. ‘Real World’ cast member Jacinda Barrett appeared as the witch Selene, while Little Richard, Jerry Springer, and Donald Trump all made appearances as themselves.
‘Night Man’ lasted for two seasons of 22 episodes each, which originally aired on WGN and in syndication. A DVD release was announced by Lionsgate, but it doesn’t appear to have come out.
‘No Ordinary Family’
This comedy-drama had some pretty big stars attached. Michael Chiklis, who had played Ben Grimm/The Thing in two ‘Fantastic Four’ movies, portrayed Jim Powell Sr., a patriarch who gains superhuman strength and the ability to leap great distances when the family’s plane crashes in the Amazon rain forest. ‘Dexter”s Julie Benz appeared as his scientist wife, Dr. Stephanie Powell, who gained incredible speed. Their teenage daughter Daphne gains telepathy, while their son “J.J.” develops super intelligence.
‘No Ordinary Family’ was developed for ABC by Greg Berlanti, who would later go on to create a mini-superhero empire for The CW. The writing team included Allison Adler (‘Chuck’) and Darren Swimmer and Todd Slavkin (‘Smallville’). ABC gave the series a full season order, for the 2010-11 season, only to scale that back to 20 episodes, after it earned low ratings. The combination of family comedy/drama and superheroics didn’t seem to connect with viewers and it was gone after one season, which was released on DVD and is available on Hulu.
‘Who Wants To Be A Superhero?’
C0-created and hosted by Stan Lee, Sci-Fi’s ‘Who Wants to be a Superhero?’ was a low-budget reality competition in which contestants– most of whom don’t actually seem to know anything about superheroes or comic books– arrive dressed as their own homemade characters, such as Cell Phone Girl and Fat Momma, and participate in various physical challenges to win a chance to appear in a Dark Horse comic book and a Sci-Fi original movie.
Matthew Atherton or Feedback was the winner of season one, while Jarrett Crippen, a.k.a. The Diffuser won the second. Lee wrote the ‘Feedback’ comic, but not the one featuring ‘The Diffuser’. Both winners made cameos in low-budget Sci-Fi movies, with Atherton appearing in ‘Mega Snake’ and Crippen in ‘Lightning Strikes’.
Due to the nature of the series– it being pre-taped and heavily edited– it failed to engage viewers the way that the various singing competitions or others shows like ‘The Amazing Race’ has. The majority of the cast members seemed to be the type who just wanted to be famous and saw this as their avenue. They could just as easily have been on ‘Big Brother’. The first season only consisted of six episodes, but Season Two was expanded to eight. Both were released on DVD.
Lee also created a children’s version, produced and aired in the UK.
Based on Marc Silvestri’s Image Comic book series, ‘Witchblade’ starred Yancy Butler as Detective Sara Pezzini, who comes to possess the powerful gauntlet called the Witchblade. The series aired on TNT in 2001-02, following a pilot movie in 2000.
Despite solid ratings, it was cancelled after only two seasons. Comic book editor Matt Hawkins apparently stated that the show ended after Butler checked into rehab for alcohol abuse. Last year, it was revealed that NBC was working on an updated version of the series.
Both seasons were released in one DVD boxed set in 2008.
Well, there you have it! Ten more mostly-forgotten superhero shows. Do you have fond– or not so fond– memories of any of them? Are there any more recent projects that you think will one day be mostly forgotten? (*ahem* ‘Inhumans‘)