Long before Melissa Benoist suited up in Supergirl, there was another show about a youthful Kryptonian superhero. Superboy actually ran for four seasons (1988-1992), but is not as well remembered as other Superman-related shows, such as Smallville and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
The Adventures of Superboy
In the pages of DC Comics, there have been a lot of characters bearing the name “Superboy.” The television show, though, was about the original Superboy: a young Clark Kent himself.
Superboy followed the adventures of Kent as he attended the fictional Siegal School of Journalism at Shuster University in Shusterville, Florida. It was an obvious nod to Superman creators Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster, although neither received any proceeds from the show.
The reason for setting the show in Florida was a practical one. Superboy was the first series to be filmed at the newly-built Disney/MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) in Orlando. Starting with the second season, production moved to Disney’s rival, Universal Studios Florida. Exterior scenes made it obvious that Shusterville was in a coastal region, hence the Florida setting.
Executive producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind were responsible for bringing Superboy to the small screen. The Salkinds had produced the first three Superman movies with Christopher Reeve and the 1984 Supergirl movie with Helen Slater. (In case you weren’t aware, Slater now plays Eliza Danvers on Supergirl).
Superboy didn’t air on any particular network; instead, it was released in syndication like other popular shows at the time, such as Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The first season of Superboy featured actor John Haymes Newton as Clark Kent/Superboy. The stories revolved around Clark, his friend Lana Lang (Stacy Haiduk), and his new college roommate, T.J. White (Jim Calvert), the son of Daily Planet editor Perry White. Superman’s classic foe Lex Luthor was played by Scott James Wells. He spent most of the season doing nothing more menacing than playing a few silly pranks, but by season’s end, his intense hatred of Superboy had emerged.
Season Two completed revamped the show. Producers had never been satisfied with Newton’s performance as Superboy. So after a well-publicized DUI arrest and a demand for a 20% salary increase, Newton was fired. The new Superboy was played by actor Gerard Christopher. T.J. White was also written out of the series and replaced with Clark’s new roommate, Andy McCalister (played by Ilan Mitchell-Smith). Actor Sherman Howard took over the role of Lex Luthor, with the change in appearance actually becoming a plot point on the show.
In Season Three, producers made even more drastic changes. The title of the show changed from Superboy to The Adventures of Superboy. Clark lost another roommate as Andy McCalister was written out of the show. There was a good reason, though — the setting of the show was no long Shuster University. Instead, the show took place at The Bureau of Extra-Normal Matters in Capitol City, Florida (sort of like Supergirl‘s Department of Extra-Normal Operations). Clark and Lana were interns, tasked with investigating aliens and other paranormal activity. At the behest of star Gerard Christopher and new producer Julia Pistor, the show took on a darker tone.
The fourth and final season was the only one in which no major changes took place. The new, darker tone continued, with Clark confronted by mature and challenging obstacles. The season is notable for the guest appearances of Jack Larson and Noel Neill, who had played Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lance, respectively, on the 1950s TV series, The Adventures of Superman.
The Death of Superboy
Shortly after the fourth season, Warner Bros. filed a lien against the Salkinds to reclaim the intellectual rights to Superman. As the parent company of DC Comics, Warner Bros. owned the rights to Superman but had licensed them to the Salkinds to create new film and television properties. The lien prevented the Salkinds from making any more Superboy episodes or television movies (as was their plan), and so Superboy ended with Season Four.
Warner Bros. then went ahead with their own Superman series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Ironically, Gerard Christopher auditioned for the role of Clark Kent and was actually chosen for the part by the casting director. When producers learned Christopher had already essentially played the role, he was dismissed in favor of Dean Cain. (Supergirl now features Cain in the role of Jeremiah Danvers)
A Forgotten Chapter in Superman’s History
For years, the show was hard to come by. After its cancellation in 1992, Superboy has never been rerun again on television. As a result of a dispute over which elements of the show were owned by the Salkinds, the show wasn’t released on VHS or DVD. For a time, star Gerard Christopher sold bootleg VHS tapes of the seasons he appeared in. They were available on his website or for sale at comic book conventions.
At long last, the first season of Superboy was eventually released on DVD in 2005. Due to lackluster sales, the remaining seasons were never made available in stores. All four seasons can now be ordered through Warner Archive and Amazon’s CreateSpace, both of which manufacture DVDs on demand.
The legacy of Superboy is a sad one. While it was never exactly groundbreaking television, its place in the Superman mythos is mostly forgotten due to the lack of reruns or home video releases. While actors like Laura Vandervoort (Smallville‘s Kara Zor-El), Helen Slater, and Dean Cain are honored with new roles on Supergirl, John Haymes Newton and Gerard Christopher continue to be overlooked.
Finally, for a taste of what Superboy was all about, here’s a look at the different opening credits sequences for all four seasons: