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TV Superheroes who failed their missions

William Daniels as Captain Nice, Michelle Hurd as Fire, Chuck Wagner as Automan and Adrianne Palicki as Wonder Woman. Pic. credits: IMDB.

Comic book fans are still smarting from Netflix’s cancellations of Luke Cage, Daredevil and Iron Fist, but they are not the first superhero series to be cut short.

For every successful Batman or Superman TV series, there are plenty of others that failed miserably on the small screen or never made it past the pilot stage. Here are just a few of the shows that nobody remembers.

Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince? (1967)

After the success of the Adam West and Burt Ward Batman series, TV producer William Dozier set out to create a Wonder Woman-ish show.

A portion of the show’s script was filmed starring Ellie Wood Walker as Diana Prince and Linda Harrison as her alter ego, Wonder Woman.

It’s unclear from the video below if this Diana Prince was actually Wonder Woman or if she just thought she was. The project never got off the ground beyond the sexist film clip below.

Wonder Woman (1974)

ABC’s first attempt at a Wonder Woman TV show came about in 1974, but the made-for-TV movie looked very different from the actual series that materialized in 1975.

First, the star of the movie with blond Cathy Lee Crosby and not dark-haired Lynda Carter and her costume looked nothing like the iconic one we are so familiar with.

The story featured Diana Prince hunting down Ricardo Montalban as the villain (an inspired choice) and a donkey of all things.

Wonder Woman (2011)

Years after the successful Wonder Woman series, Warner Bros. Television teamed up with David E. Kelley to bring a new incarnation to the small screen.

While others passed on the project, NBC agreed to order a pilot of the proposed show which would star Adrianne Palicki, Cary Elwes, Elizabeth Hurley, Justin Bruening and Tracie Thoms.

The show had problems from the get-go with some complaining the new costume was seen as “trashy.” It was changed before the pilot was shot.

This version of Wonder Woman was about Diana Themyscira who was a successful businesswoman by day and vigilante crime fighter by night. The video below is fan-made, created with scenes from the pilot.

Justice League of America (1997)

Another made-for-TV movie wanting to become something more was this comedy said to have been a hybrid of the Justice League comics and TV’s Friends.

The CBS movie starred Matthew Settle as a software salesman and The Green Lantern, John Kassir as a science teacher and The Atom, Kenny Johnston as an unemployed Barry Allen and The Flash, , Michelle Hurd as a struggling actress and Fire, Kimberly Oja as a meteorologist and Ice and David Ogden Stiers as Martian Manhunter, the leader of the JLA.

Aquaman (2006)

Created by Al Gough and Miles Millar (Smallville), this series was intended for the WB Television Network. When the WB and UPN merged, the project was dropped, but the pilot was actually made available to view on iTunes. It became one of the most downloaded TV shows, so it’s hard to know if this show would have failed if it actually landed on network TV.

The story centered on Arthur “A.C.” Curry (played by Justin Hartley) as a young guy living in the Florida Keys learning about his underwater powers. The pilot also starred Lou Diamond Phillips at AC’s father.

Automan (1983)

Partially inspired by Disney’s TRON (at least the costume was) this show featured Desi Arnaz Jr. (the son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) as Walter Nebicher, a cop and computer specialist who creates an A.I. hologram called Automan (Chuck Wagner) as the first “automated man.”

The comedy even starred singer Laura Branigan in one episode. The series ended after 13 episodes with many people never knowing that it ever existed.

Captain Nice (1967)

Another show many don’t know existed was the comedy Captain Nice created by Get Smart’s Buck Henry.

The short-lived NBC series starred William Daniels as a police chemist who swallowed a “super serum” that gave him special powers that, of course, he wouldn’t know how to control and comedy would ensue.

The show also starred Alice Ghostley as his mother and Ann Prentiss as the meter maid love interest.

Misfits of Science (1985)

Long before Cougar Town, Friends and even Family Ties, Courteney Cox once starred in the one-and-only short season of Misfits of Science.

Created for NBC, the paranormal action comedy was too expensive to produce or justify the show’s low ratings.

The wacky comedy had a very distinct 80’s vibe to it as you can see from the show’s beginning below. It also starred Kevin Peter Hall and Max Wright, the dad on ALF!

Night Man (1977-78)

Loosely based on a Marvel comic, Night Man was the most successful of this list of flops lasting two seasons.

The syndicated show was created by Manimal’s Glen A. Larson and starred Matt McColm as Johnny Domino, a saxophone player who gets struck by lightning causing him to no longer be able to sleep but acquires the ability to detect evil telepathically.

The show was able to air 44 episodes before getting unplugged.

No Ordinary Family (2010)

In what some saw as a live-action Incredibles rip-off, No Ordinary Family was an original ABC superhero show starring Michael Chiklis as Jim Powell whose family survives a plane crash in the Amazon only to find that they had gained superpowers.

The show also starred Julie Benz, Kay Panabaker, Jimmy Bennett and Stephen Collins.

The drama/comedy had a strong premiere but ratings fell dramatically and the full season was cut down to just 20 episodes before getting cancelled.

The Cape (2011)

In what should have been made a comedy but was instead treated as a serious drama, The Cape was an original NBC superhero show that starred David Lyons as an honest police detective framed for murder and left for dead.

Trying to clear his name but still staying incognito, Vince Faraday becomes a superhero whose only superpower comes from a magic cape he picked up at a traveling circus.

There were 13 episodes initially planned for the first season but it was reduced to 10 due to low ratings and then the show ended with the finale only being shown on the NBC website. Ouch.

Legends of the Superheroes (1979)

Although airing as two TV specials, not as an actual on-going show, it just feels right to include Legends of the Superheroes as another failed attempt of a fairly good idea.

Created by Hanna-Barbera Productions, Legends of the Superheroes served as a reunion of Adam West, Burt Ward and Frank Gorshin, reprising their roles as Batman, Robin and The Riddler in the live action specials for NBC.

The SuperFriends-ish special also featured the Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, Black Canary, Hawkman, The Flash, The Atom, Huntress, Solomon Grundy, Sinestro, Giganta and others.

The specials also starred the likes of Ruth Buzzi, Ed McMahon, Pat Carroll, Marsha Warfield and Gary Owens as the narrator. The end result was low budget silliness with a laugh track and wasted talent.


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