By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
While the Incredible Hulk was enjoying great ratings and success, an attempt was made to bring Spider-man to the small screen as a live-action series. This was a brave move because technology could only do so much in those days; there was none of your CGI enjoyed by Toby Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Hol,land.
Between 1977 and 1979 there were two seasons which, between them, consisted of thirteen episodes, including television movies like the last episode the Chinese Web, a two-hour special. Over the course of the episodes, Spiderman never fought any of his iconic enemies. The closest he got was an evil clone of himself and the telekinetic Mandak in the Curse of Rava. It was the lack of supervillains that brought heavy fan criticism, who also disliked changes to the comic book storylines and a reluctance from the network CBS to be known as the superhero network meant the show didn’t get the support it needed, despite solid ratings.
It probably also didn’t help that Spider-man creator Stan Lee disliked the show and was very vocal about it despite the fact he had a credit as a script consultant. The show was far from a failure and was cancelled at the behest of the CBS executives who cancelled Spider-man and Wonder Woman at the same time. The Incredible Hulk survived due to being so well loved by a broad range of audiences.
They did a great run at keeping Spidey’s powers as close as possible to the comics eg his spider sense and spider tracers which were a fan favourite. Even the webbing looked quite good but it was hard to disguise the fact he was swinging on a rope between buildings or ledges just like a stuntman but what could you do? It remained the only live action Spider-man until the movies.
What a difference the years make; there was superhero shows storming the ratings in the late 70s and the networks were frightened of being labelled like some sort of geek channel Now they are scrambling over themselves for the latest superhero property. Rumours abounded that they were going to amalgamate the cast of the Incredible Hulk and Spiderman for a new show. As I told you in my Hulk article, the Hulk made several TV movies that brought in other Marvel characters such as Thor and Daredevil. Spider-man and She Hulk were due to feature next but it never came to pass.
Did you know that the Spider-man comics were read by 84 million people back then? That is astounding, so putting time and effort into a top notch Spider-man show would have been brilliant but again we have to remember that technology was against the makers back then. There really was only so much you could do especially when the abilities that Spidey had in the comics – the aerial acrobatics – would be difficult, not to mention dangerous, above the streets of New York.
Nicholas Hammond, a child star most famous for being one of the Von Trapps in the Sound of Music, became the first face of Peter Parker. Although he seemed slightly older than the teenage Peter in the comics, he did manage that same life hates me attitude especially when he came up against newspaper boss J. Jonah Jameson played by David White in the pilot, then Robert F Smith in the series. However no other characters from the comic books appeared. This was fine for the Hulk, but the supporting cast of the Spider-man comics were vital to the entire structure of the Spidey-verse. This, and the pretty standard storylines, did the show no favours and 13 episodes over three years isn’t a great thing. It’s little wonder the webslinger fell by the wayside; the victim of stigma rather than popularity and ratings.For this young fan though it was truly amazing!