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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #485

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Welcome to the four hundred and eighty-fifth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and eighty-four. In honor of the release of Amazing Spider-Man 2 on DVD this week, it’s an all-Spider-Man edition of CBLR! Was the 1970s live action Spider-Man series canceled despite good ratings? Was Firestar originally going to be Mary Jane? And did Paul Jenkins re-write a Howard Mackie issue of Amazing Spider-Man that crossed over with Jenkins’ Peter Parker: Spider-Man?

This week also is unique for another reason. See if you notice why!

Let’s begin!

NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).

COMIC LEGEND: The late 1970s Spider-Man live action TV series was canceled in spite of its good ratings.

STATUS: I’m Going with False

Reader Bob H. wrote in about this question, based on a piece of trivia that he came across about the short-lived live action Spider-Man television series from the late 1970s…

spiderman1977

that starred Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker/Spider-Man…

nickhammondpeterparker

The show’s IMDB page has probably the best distillation of the trivia in question

Contrary to popular belief, “Spider-Man” was not canceled because of low ratings. In fact, the series performed well in the ratings, but TV politics were believed to have played a role in the cancellation; CBS executives apparently wanted to shed the network’s image as “The Superhero Network,” so they canceled the show, in addition to “Wonder Woman.” (However, “The Incredible Hulk” remained at the network until 1982.)

Nowadays, television viewers are mostly familiar with the fact that television ratings, as a whole, are not the deciding factor in whether a television series is going to be renewed. There are other factors included, the most important being demographics. Due to the fact that older audiences tend to watch more television, advertisers are not all that worried about reaching them. In other words, you can pick a network television show seemingly at random and you’ll likely reach an older audience. Therefore, the important ratings are the “18-49″ ratings, how a show does with that specific demographic. People 18-49 watch less television so they are harder to advertise to and therefore shows that don’t do well with that demographic are unlikely to be renewed. Another significant factor is cost. This one’s obvious – if a show costs X amount to make and it brings in less than X amount of revenue, it’s going to be canceled even if that X amount of revenue is greater than another, cheaper show.

Demographics really came into focus in the early 1970s when CBS discovered that a number of their seemingly hit shows were doing poorly in the 18-49 demographics, so coupled with a reduced prime time schedule due to some government regulations (you can read about the whole thing in this old TV Legends Revealed), they canceled a whole pile of older-skewing shows like Hee Haw, Mayberry RFD and The Jim Nabors Show.

So right off the bat, it is very often misleading to see people refer to a show “being canceled despite strong ratings” without including the demographic information.

Okay, but how does this apply to the Amazing Spider-Man TV series?

It is true that in the 1977-78 season, both Amazing Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk debuted strong in the ratings for CBS (they both debuted with TV movies that led to a short first season for each show). In fact, ratings-wise, Amazing Spider-Man did slightly better than the Hulk.

However, the Hulk did better in the aforementioned demographics market, as Spider-Man’s audience skewed a bit younger. In addition, Spider-Man was a good deal more expensive to produce than the Incredible Hulk. Finally, Hulk was produced by a famous TV producer of the time, Kenneth Johnson (I’ve featured a few Comic Book Legends Revealed about Mr. Johnson in the past, like his views on the name “Bruce” and whether he wanted the Hulk to be red, because red was the color of anger) and was made by a major studio, Universal, while Spider-Man was produced by an independent production company Charles Fries Productions.

All of those were factors in the Incredible Hulk getting a regular spot on the 1978-79 television schedule (and a nice time slot, as well, 9pm on Friday nights) while Spider-Man was instead given a smaller episode order for season 2 and a non-regular time slot.

So if you wanted to say that Spider-Man got short shrift in season 2 despite solid ratings, then you’d have a point. It was hurt by its demographic numbers and its higher cost.

However, once season 2 began, Spider-Man’s ratings were flat out NOT good.

After averaging 21 million households (HH) in its first season, in the second season here were Spider-Man’s ratings number (Courtesy of the awesome poster DuMont):

1. Tue.Sep.05/1978: 12.8HH (aired against NBC’s LITTLE MO and fresh ‘Laverne & Shirley’ on ABC)
2. Tue.Sep.12/1978: 12.7HH (aired against fresh one-hour ‘Happy Days’)
3. Sat.Nov.25/1978: 15.3HH (aired against fresh ‘Welcome Back Kotter’ and ‘CHiPs’ episodes)
4. Sat.Dec.30/1978: 19.1HH
5. Wed.Feb.07/1979: 16.2HH
6. Wed.Feb.21/1979: 12.6HH
7. Fri.Jul.06/1979: 13.9HH (final 2-hour episode aired over July 4th weekend)

Those were NOT good numbers and that is not even including the demographics, which I actually don’t know for season 2, but I imagine were not different than season 1 (which I know were poor).

The Incredible Hulk, meanwhile, averaged about 18.1 households its second season, with better demo numbers (demographics also hurt Wonder Woman that season).

So add in the high cost of production and it sure seems that Spider-Man was canceled specifically BECAUSE of its poor ratings, not despite them (it was likely dead in the water as soon as its first two fall episodes flopped). Nicholas Hammond has even spoken about the ratings, noting in Mark Phillips and Frank Garcia’s Science Fiction Television Series: Episode Guides, Histories, and Casts and Credits for 62 Prime-Time Shows, 1959 through 1989:

[T]hey thought, ‘Well, this is going to appeal to the same age group that watched Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, we’ll put Spider-Man against that.’ I begged them not to! I said, ‘There’s no way we can take on the Fonz and Happy Days!’ At that point it was an absolute American institution! And sure enough, we didn’t! We did very badly against them. And it was kind of the beginning of the end of the show, which was a pity, but for the time we were on, we did enjoy a great deal of popularity and success in the first year.

So did CBS want to move away from superhero shows? Perhaps, but if they did, it was because the ratings weren’t good enough to keep them. They kept the Hulk around because its ratings WERE good enough to stick around. So I don’t think it was anything other than the ratings not being good enough.

Thanks to Bob for the suggestion! And thanks to DuMont for the ratings info!
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Check out my latest TV Legends Revealed at Spinoff Online: Was Laverne Cox really the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy?
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On the next page, was Mary Jane originally going to be Firestar?

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88 Comments

RE: The Amazing Spider-Man; it was a cool show…but it was obvious that it was made cheaply, no matter how expensive it might have been. It looked cheesy. I “remember” a lot of the shows of the ’70′s being pretty much the same, whether it was a cop show, a private eye show or a medical show…they all had basically the same plots and storylines. Neither Spider-Man, The Hulk or Wonder Woman had ANY Super-villains from the comics. Johnson may attribute The Hulk to Les Miserables, but what it looked like was The Fugitive mashed-up with The Hulk. I’m still a fan of the show!

But, Marvel was STILL beating DC even back then. Super Friends on Saturday mornings and only Wonder Woman in prime time; Superman in the theaters…at the time, The Incredible Hulk was one of the few long-running series, The Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America and Doctor Strange. Marvel has always been actively pushing their characters off the comics page into cartoons, television or film…

Yeah, it was a weird situation where even the stuff that looked cheap was expensive to film. All that location stuff is pricey as heck.

Bernard the Poet

August 22, 2014 at 10:00 am

In Britain, the pilot for the Spiderman series was shown at the cinema. It was years later, before the series aired on television. The same is true of the pilots for Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers.

God, I dragged my father to see a lot of rubbish in the ‘Seventies.

TV SF has a long tradition of shows that look like The Fugitive (protagonist wanders across country pursued by antagonist). The first was Christopher George in The Immortal (man with healing factor flees billionaire who wants to use it to live forever) but there’s also Starman, Otherworld, the dreadful pilot Dr. Franken and any number of others.
The worst visual in the Hammond show was the flimsy cobwebby webbing. Didn’t look like it could hold anyone.

Looks like you pulled a transparent GIF for that Dr. Doom vs. Amazing Friends image; it might need to be on a black background to display properly.

There was still weird stuff going on, like the fact that the first season did well, but the second season wasn’t scheduled to air regularly, and instead was renewed for a limited 8 episodes to air sporadically through the season, as you can see in this newspaper article from the day of the season 2 premiere
http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Cu4eAAAAIBAJ&sjid=cyQEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4547,518146

I was not aware that John Romita Sr designed Firestar. That’s an interesting fact. It certainly also explains why some people see a similarity between her and Mary Jane Watson. Romita’s women do have a distinctive look to them. After all, I’ve long thought that his Princess Lyra of the Femizons from Savage Tales #1 bears more than a passing resemblance to MJ :)

it’s funny how times change. if a tv show got 21 million viewers nowadays it would be earth-shattering, heralded as the best show on tv ever. but there’s so much more competition now

Was Peter supposed to be Norman’s son?

With very few exceptions (Twilight Zone, Outer Limits), I do find pre-1990s TV Shows uniformily boring. But the Hulk character arguably fits the format of wandering, persecuted hero rather well. The comics were the same, except that he often wandered into interesting places like Asgard and Counter-Earth, and could meet any hero or villain in the Marvel Universe.

But, Marvel was STILL beating DC even back then. Super Friends on Saturday mornings and only Wonder Woman in prime time; Superman in the theaters…at the time, The Incredible Hulk was one of the few long-running series, The Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America and Doctor Strange. Marvel has always been actively pushing their characters off the comics page into cartoons, television or film…

Well, that’s really overstating the case. Marvel really struggled to break into movies. After 1986′s Howardthe Duck flopped, that was about it until 1998′s surprise hit Blade opened the floodgates. Meanwhile DC was doing well with its Superman and Batman franchises. You have to be pretty selective to make a case for Marvel’ doing particularly well onscreen relative to DC before the last couple of decades.

RE: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN TV show,

Frankly, the biggest mark against it is the fact that they didn’t even follow the origin. On the TV show, there was no Uncle Ben, no burglar, no guilt over failing to prevent his uncle’s death. Peter just gets bitten by a radioactive spider and starts fighting crime.

I can forgive bad special effects, but screwing up Spider-Man’s origin like that……

@ buttler:

Yeah, I’d make the opposite case. DC was so intent on pushing their properties in animation, TV and even film that it hurt their comics. Superman, Batman (with Robin) and Wonder Woman were all over kid-friendly franchises that generated a lot more revenue than the comics. Aquaman, Green Lantern and The Flash all were prominently featured on Saturday Mornings. That made DC Comics very conservative in how they depicted their major characters.

It is not as though that perception has gone away. To a lot of people, the DCAU is the real DC brand. Batman TAS, Superman TAS, Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans Go! and Batman: Brave and The Bold are held in much higher esteem and with much greater fondness than all but a handful of DC Comics released in the last couple decades.

Marvel has historically been the exact opposite. The comics have always the real version for Marvel fans. Their lack of success in adapting their properties allowed them to continue experimenting while DC remained pretty stagnant.

I can really empathise with the younger demographic preferring Spiderman, I was a kid myself in the 70′s (10 in 78) and bing in the UK we only got the Nick Hammond TV movies.

Having said that they were massively more enjoyable to me as a kid than the Bill Bixby Hulk series which i always remember as being a bit like David Carradine’s Kung Fu, the best part of an hour bored and just a few minutes of the stuff you tuned in for, IE the Hulk

Whatever happened to Nick Hammond?

There was still weird stuff going on, like the fact that the first season did well, but the second season wasn’t scheduled to air regularly, and instead was renewed for a limited 8 episodes to air sporadically through the season, as you can see in this newspaper article from the day of the season 2 premiere

Don’t I discuss all of that in the piece?

Looks like you pulled a transparent GIF for that Dr. Doom vs. Amazing Friends image; it might need to be on a black background to display properly.

Thanks! Fixed it!

ASM was really popular here in the UK as were Wonder Woman and the Hulk. Amazing Friends too

I was scared of Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk as a child.

Ha. I do remember ASM #25 being the only halfway decent issue of Mackie’s run, but it never occurred to me to credit Jenkins for it.

Dean -

Yep, I agree that the Timmverse, as a distillation of all that is best in the DCU, has a better batting average than the comics.

However, Marvel may have been heading this way with the current movies, IMO. With the various Avengers and the X-Men movies, the characters have been better served than the concurrent comics versions.

I remembered there was a time when CBS pulled The Incredible Hulk from their popular Friday lineup, and put it on their poorly-rated Wednesday slot, only to have preempted in many places by a miniseries about King Edward VII. After three episodes, they yanked Wonder Woman to put the Hulk back to Friday. I’m wondering if this would make a great legend to talk about.

I believe that, too, was a straightforward ratings/demo situation. Hulk’s ratings sagged on Wednesday while its midseason replacement, Dukes of Hazzard, was a huge hit. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman was getting hurt by NBC’s midseason replacement Diff’rent Strokes, which appealed to the same young demo as Wonder Woman. So CBS counter-programmed by bringing Hulk back and airing it at 8pm.

I remember seeing those old episodes on USA network back in the 90′s it was like during Thanksgiving and I recorded them and watch them over and over for years, yeah they had a LOT wrong but being the spideyfan I was it was still cool, also I had never heard of them before so pre- internet days I felt all special having these episodes and knowing more then my friends! Do they have these on DVDs by any chance? I love collecting these things, like the captain marvel serials where they slid a dummy down a zip line to make cap fly lol

By ASM 25, I wasn’t even buying Mackie’s run anymore. I did get PP:SM 25, and read and enjoyed without feeling I’d missed out on anything.

Do they have these on DVDs by any chance?

Sadly no. Since Universal Warner Bros. owns the rights to the series, Disney can’t put it out on their own and since Disney owns the rights to Spider-Man, Warner Bros. can’t put it out on THEIR own.

So they’re in the same stalemate Fox and Warners were in for years with the Batman TV series.

Man, those JRJR Spidey pages are so good. Why doesn’t he look this good anymore?

Any idea why they changed the name from Heatwave to Firestar, Brian? Was it because of the Flash villain of the same name?

@ Brian,

There’s always this…

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077328/?ref_=tt_rec_tt

Yeah, there were a few VHS releases luckily before the rights got all tangled up.

Manzanas, no, but the idea Norman would prefer Peter to Harry is one that’s cropped up over and over through the years.
While I didn’t care for the Spider-Man series much (just too mundane–at least Wonder Woman attempted super-villains and mad scientists), I do remember what a jarring shock it was to see Hammond crawling up a wall after his powers kick in. It made me appreciate how much weirder comic-book stuff would look in real life.

Any idea why they changed the name from Heatwave to Firestar, Brian? Was it because of the Flash villain of the same name?

They had a bunch of different names they were thinking of. I think Heatwave was always intended as a placeholder (as in, they had to put SOMEthing on it for the pitch, but it was never intended as a final name).

I seem to remember the first Hulk movie prempting Wonder Woman. in fact The Hulk was on before Dukes for at least a year. It’s true that Spidey had no villians and beat the wall climbing thing to death. but it was still fun. They even managed having Isis’ Joanna Cameron for one show.

interesting for never heard of the rumor that firestar was suppose to be mary jane even though she looks a lot like her on the old spider man and his amazing friends cartoon . and always though the spider man tv show got canceled due to it getting to expensive for cbs to have spider man using his webbing. instead that it was not bringing in the demos cbs was after.

Does it really have anything to do with “how hard a demographic is to advertise to” (wouldn’t a demographic you KNOW is going to see your commercials be more valuable?) and a lot more to do with the buying potential of the demographic? Young people buy a lot of stuff. Old people already have a lot of stuff, and aren’t as likely to change their ways to buy different stuff than the limited stuff they’re already buying.

And it’s funny….CBS has apparently been for decades and decades the network with really high ratings that appeals to the older, less desirable, crowd.

@Dean

That’s because the DCAU had guys like Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, and Paul Dini working on those cartoons and were willing to take chances and do things their own way when building an animated universe that instead of copying the comics helped to shape them into being even better.

Every time someone tries the same thing with Marvel, some goof up like Jeph Loeb comes along and ruins it, like throwing away a great Avengers cartoon so they can put out a kid friendlier movie-lite version.

First off, I love the page regardless of my question, it’s great! You may have already addressed this , but why do you not save your comic legend answers until the end like you do with your other legends (Entertainment, etc)? Kills the mystery right off the bat …

@ renenarciso

Absolutely.

I play the Lego games with my kids and you cannot miss the movie flavor to the Marvel game (with the exception of X-Men stuff). Marvel knows what they have in their film franchises and are making a concerted effort to that type of content down lots of channels. On the other hand, the nu52 seems to have mixed DC up. They are treating it like a massive hit and pushing everything into the mold, when it really hasn’t been. In fact, seeing Cyborg as a member of Justice League has become my signal that something is skip-able.

@ Jacob:

Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes was a good show, but it was mostly grinding through re-tellings of old stories from the comics. There is nothing wrong with that, but the Timmverse had more ambition than that. Their stories were generally than the comics that inspired them.

Dean -

Regarding Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

Batman and Superman have a certain advantage in that it’s possible to tell “timeless” stories with them, and the Timmverse did it gloriously.

But the Avengers… I dunno. It’s a different beast. They have too much soap opera continuity, IMO. Batman and Superman are timeless, but the Avengers and the X-Men are inserted into time.

I would love to see Timm’s take on a timeless Spider-Man though. It’s funny. Spidey is soap operatic when it comes to his civilian life only. With his villains and his costumed life, a timeless Timmverse take would be totally possible.

I would speculate that besides the issue, one thing about keeping the Incredible Hulk, was that it wasn’t really a “super hero” show and appealed to a wider audience than Spiderman. For example, my older sister really liked the Hulk partly because it reminded her of “The Fugitive”. She wouldn’t watch Spiderman though.

Michael P “I was scared of Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk as a child.”

I’m scared of him now!

So part of Firestar’s powers was to make her hair wavy at will?

I had heard that the fire-based superhero for “Amazing Friends” was originally suppose to be Johnny Storm, but they decided not to use him for some reason.

Man, did Norman always call Peter “m’boy”? That just leapt out at me in these pages.

@Edgar
I suspect you may be getting mixed up on your rumors, or someone else was and passed it on to you. There were rumors that Human Torch was deleted from the Ruby-Spears Fantastic Four, because of the fire element (he was replaced by HERBIE the Robot). The truth was that the character had been optioned separately. I suppose it’s possible that Torch might have been considered; but I haven’t heard anything like that, from anyone involved.

Meanwhile, why do fans always want to do the DC vs Marvel thing with their media properties? Most fans I knew watched it because it was a comic book tv show, cartoon or movie, regardless of which company’s characters were involved.

To me, it’s just interesting to look behind-the-scenes and compare the companies, but I really have no preference. I’d rather both produce good stuff than see one ahead of the other.

@ Jeff Nettleton:

Meanwhile, why do fans always want to do the DC vs Marvel thing with their media properties? Most fans I knew watched it because it was a comic book tv show, cartoon or movie, regardless of which company’s characters were involved.

As a consumer, it is often better when corporations that produce content have a well-defined house style: Warner Bros gangsters, Universal’s horror, Marvel Comic’s superheroes, ABC’s ‘Jiggle TV’, NBC’s ‘Must See TV’ sitcoms and on and on. Usually, there are 2-3 strong choices within a genre that allow meaningful contrasts. Looney Tunes wouldn’t be regarded the same without Disney shorts to compare against.

Right now, Marvel is basically competing with itself. That isn’t healthy for the genre long-term.

You have to love the leather elbow patches they had on the business suits on that show. The 70s had some odd fashion to it.

Anyway, I have the Spider-man #25 (volume 2) and I thought it was a great twist and could bring the book back to where it needed to be. Spider-man is actually the son Norman Osborn really wanted. I think that was the point of the book, it’s been a long time. The book hadn’t got its mojo back since the Clone Saga and I thought with Jenkins on the other books, him and Mackie could really pull it out of its rut.

I seem to remember the first Hulk movie prempting Wonder Woman. in fact The Hulk was on before Dukes for at least a year. It’s true that Spidey had no villians and beat the wall climbing thing to death. but it was still fun. They even managed having Isis’ Joanna Cameron for one show.

Yes, Hulk’s first season pre-dated Dukes. Its first season it was Wonder Woman at 8, Hulk at 9. Its second season was the one where it lost its time slot to Dukes but then later came back to take over Wonder Woman’s time slot.

What’s funny, even there, a more popular show than Hulk took Hulk’s time slot and Hulk took the time slot from a show that it was more popular then and people still look at it and say years later, “Wonder Woman was canceled despite good ratings.” But “good ratings” doesn’t mean anything if the ratings are lower than other shows the same network has, ya know? To wit, most CBS shows that get canceled get better ratings than shows on ABC or Fox, but they’re lower than CBS’ shows so they get canceled. It is still a matter of the ratings not being good enough to stick around.

Does it really have anything to do with “how hard a demographic is to advertise to” (wouldn’t a demographic you KNOW is going to see your commercials be more valuable?) and a lot more to do with the buying potential of the demographic? Young people buy a lot of stuff. Old people already have a lot of stuff, and aren’t as likely to change their ways to buy different stuff than the limited stuff they’re already buying.

Yes, it is entirely about how hard the audience is to advertise to. A demographic that you know is going to see your stuff is less valuable because the supply far outstrips the demand. If you want to advertise to post-50 or pre-18, there are so many shows to choose from that hit those demos that the networks know that they can’t charge a lot for the ads. Shows that hit the 18-49 demo are few and far between, so shows that consistently attract that audience can charge a king’s ransom for ads (Professional sports, The Voice and Big Bang Theory, basically – American Idol for years, as well).

And it’s funny….CBS has apparently been for decades and decades the network with really high ratings that appeals to the older, less desirable, crowd.

Yeah, they’ve always been sort of seen as the high prestige network. That’s why their nickname is “The Tiffany Network.” While CBS is best known for high rated shows that appeal to less desirable demos, their shows are still hits even with the 18-49 demo (NCIS, for instance, is the #1 network drama among the 18-49 demo). They’ve recently begun to sag a little bit in the demo, while continuing their mastery in overall ratings (Blue Bloods has, like, 10 million viewers on average, but barely a 1.5 rating in the demo).

Mr. Cronin! Can you please investigate why the 70s “Spider-Man” live-action series hasn’t yet made it to DVD yet? Is it because Avi Arad has put the kibosh on anyone getting the video rights to the series? I remember reading he had the Roger Corman-produced “Fantastic Four” film of the 90s buried, so it would never come out in a proper video release. Since Arad is still more or less at the helm of the Spider-Man movie franchise at Sony/Columbia, did he pull the same thing with the 70s “Spider-Man” live-action show?

Brian already said that the rights are stuck in limbo. Disney owns the character but another studio owns the series outright. He says it’s Universal, but I remember WB logos on the syndicated prints. So unless a deal is made between the two studios there’s no chance in hell that this series will ever have a home video release. If it is Warner Bros that stil owns the distribution rights (I know they did distribute the series in it’s initial run) then a partnership with Disney their biggest rival will never happen.

I loved the Spider-Man show as a kid, it was the most exciting show ever. In retrospect, of course not so much.
Never dug the Hulk, though. It was awkward, boring and depressing even back then.

Even today, with all the CGI effects, I don’t like most superhero movies/shows. How hard could it be to get an origin, haircolor, costume or story adaptation right? Don’t get me started on the whole “no killing” or “secret identity” stuff….and the only excuse is “It doesn’t translate well to film”. Yeah, right.
But I digress… ;)

Brian already said that the rights are stuck in limbo. Disney owns the character but another studio owns the series outright. He says it’s Universal, but I remember WB logos on the syndicated prints. So unless a deal is made between the two studios there’s no chance in hell that this series will ever have a home video release. If it is Warner Bros that stil owns the distribution rights (I know they did distribute the series in it’s initial run) then a partnership with Disney their biggest rival will never happen.

Yeah, crap, my bad, I got mixed up in my head with the Hulk. The Hulk was MCA/Universal. Spider-Man was, indeed, Warner Bros. So there ya go – you’re unlikely to see Warners and Disney working together on something like this.

Travis Stephens

August 22, 2014 at 9:59 pm

To wit, most CBS shows that get canceled get better ratings than shows on ABC or Fox, but they’re lower than CBS’ shows so they get canceled. It is still a matter of the ratings not being good enough to stick around.

Brian makes a good point. People don’t remember how dominant CBS was in the ratings during the 1970′s. Having a show with a 15 share on a given night would rank in the bottom twenty of CBS shows. However, for poor ABC during the same time period, a 15 share would rank among their top 2-3 shows.

It wasn’t until the late ’80′s when NBC’s “Must See TV” muscled CBS out of the top spot in the ratings.

Andy E. Nystrom

August 22, 2014 at 10:00 pm

I suspect the rights issue is only one factor limiting the DVD release. The Incredible Hulk is also a Universal show and it’s had numerous DVD releases (Best of, Pilot, seasonal sets, complete series). Of course most if not all these releases predated the sale to Disney but conversely The Amazing Spider-Man could have been released prior to the sale, Also, Batman had much bigger rights issues, including the window cameos. Furthermore, the Captain America TV movies were also Universal but finally got released by a third party (Shout Factory) after the Disney sale.

I think it’s important not to also ignore the sale potential. While I’m not a fan of 1960s Batman myself, the reason why the rights issues were finally solved is there’s a huge market for the series, The Incredible Hulk also has a large fan following. In the case of The Amazing Spider-Man though, not everyone recalls the Spider-Man series and not all of them that do recall it that fondly, except maybe as a so-bad-it’s-good series. It’s likely that it’s a combination of the ratings and the perceived profit potential that’s holding it back, even though there’s been plenty of movies to piggyback the DVD release to.

Of course that begs the question about the Captain America TV movies. Maybe because there’s only about three hours of material, so less expensive to clear the rights to?

Andy E. Nystrom

August 22, 2014 at 10:05 pm

I posted the above before I noticed the WB bit. Still, I think my point stands. There is a market for The Amazing Spider-Man (I like owning superhero stuff and oddball stuff so I’d buy it) but I’m not sure that the profit would offset the costs. If the DVD release could net WB and Disney the kind of money that Batman will likely bring, the two rivals would probably work something out.

Frankie Addiego

August 22, 2014 at 10:10 pm

About that first comment: so the MERE fact that they had more characters in live action meant they were “beating” them? Really? That’s the only criteria for this “victory?” It didn’t matter that “Superman: the Movie” was the second biggest movie of 1978, nope. Just quantity is important.

Now, if I were interested in challenging that, I’d note that there was a comedic “superhero roast” that featured several D.C. characters–Batman & Robin, the Flash, Captain Marvel, Hawkman, the Green Lantern and even Black Canary and Huntress–but it was intended as a parody, okay fine. The real point is that this whole “who’s beating who” thing is so annoying, especially when the criteria is simply who has made more material in live-action, regardless of how good/bad or successful/unsuccessful it was.

By this logic, Marvel “beat” D.C. in 1989 because they had “the Punisher,” (the version where they couldn’t even be bothered to put a skull on his shirt) and “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk” (featuring Daredevil) while poor D.C. only had “Batman” to offer us.

Regarding the Firestar/Mary Jane thing, the way I heard it was that the Human Torch was initially going to appear on “Amazing Friends” in Firestar’s place, but as the animation rights to the character were held by another company, the show producers chose to use the Mary Jane design originally created for the show as a basis for the new character, Firestar’s, civilian identity. Mary Jane was going to appear on the show when all three of the Amazing Friends were male, but was written of the show when her design was used to create a female Amazing Friend.

It is not exactly the same scenario that you are refuting, Brian, so could you confirm whether the scenario I am talking about is false too?

Re: Spider-man TV Show: In Germany came the series as 3 Movies Spider-man, Spider-man strikes back and
Spider-man: The Dragon’s Challenge. It was cool to see that in the cinema-theatre, as well the show Incredidle Hulk Pilot , Buck Rogers, 3 Battlestar Galactica Movies and two Green Hornet movies with Bruce Lee.
In germany TV show only Wonder Woman , Hulk and the 66er Batman in the late 80s (! not before!)
The Pilot from Wonder Woman shown on TV as a Movie, the series camw out much later on Privat TV

Amazing Spider-man TV Series – never aired complete in Germany, only 3 Movies in theatre
Incredible Hulk – the pilot shown in theatre 1980!, the series aired finally 1987- 88
3 Incredible Hulk TV Movies – on air 09/16/23.08.1991
Wonder Woman Pilot – aired in ARD in the late 80s
Wonder Woman – complete series started 1993 – 1994
Green Hornet – never aired in TV, 2 movies( 3 epi. each movie ) only in theatre
Batman the movie – in theatre 1979 ! later sometimes in TV (but only this movie)
Batman (66er series) – aired complete and for first time in germany 1989 – 1999!!!

“Old people already have a lot of stuff, and aren’t as likely to change their ways to buy different stuff than the limited stuff they’re already buying.”
The alternative explanation (which I’ve heard several times) is that a product that’s a hit with twentysomethings and teens is “cooler,” and therefore has more status. Particularly if it targets boys or men.

Yes, it was weird that the Spider-man tv series could only be shown in theatres around Europe… maybe the rights were too expensive? On the other hand, the Hulk Show was aired in the Spanish Public Televisión…

Question: if it is the case that Firestar was deliberately made to look like Mary Jane, that leads to the obvious next question: why? Why was there an effort to make her MJ’s near-double? Thanks!

Great set of legends, this week. Sends the old nostalgia engine into overdrive.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the live action Spider-Man show. I feel as though I, must, somehow, see it at some point if only for the cheese factor. Loved the Hulk show, though. It was more sustainable than Spider-Man and appealed to a broader audience. I believe cost was what, eventually, did that show in, too. Spider-Man may have cost more, but Incredible Hulk was, still, a pretty expensive show for it’s day. The fifth season was cut short and the series, rather, abruptly ended. If Kenneth Johnson had a bit more pull in the matter, he would have wanted to have given the series a proper finale.

I adored “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends”. That show was my gateway to the Marvel Universe. I heard about the Firestar/MJ thing. I seem to, also, recall reading somewhere that the character model for Bobby Drake was, originally, meant to be used for Flash Thompson, suggesting they had a different cast dynamic in mind before the whole “Spider-Friends” angle. We all know that the Spider-Friends went through a few changes, too. They, originally, wanted the fire-based friend to be the Human Torch, but they couldn’t use the character due to licensing issues. And, thus, Firestar was born.

I really liked the Hulk tv show back then because it treated the material seriously, most other shows were campy and the actors were obviously winking at the audience, “hey, I know this is stupid, but hey, it’s keeping your kid out of your hair isn’t it?” When I was little, I didn’t notice the camp and the silliness, but by the time the Hulk show started, I was at the age where I realized I was being talked down to in most of those shows. So it was nice to get a show about a superhero that treated the character with the seriousness it deserved, or at least, I felt that it deserved.

OK, I give up. What’s unique about this week?

I really want Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends to get a home video release. Did they even do an on-demand release of it?

Back in the 1960s and 70s, reworking TV shows into “movies” by running episodes together was a staple trick to squeeze more profit out of them. Some of them showed up in syndication in “movie” slots as well as airing overseas as movie-movies. I would guess not showing the Spider-Man series was less about money than who they could find that was interested, but I don’t know that for a fact.

@Darren I suspect its because they’re all false.

I am,of course, open to correction…

Andy E. Nystrom

August 23, 2014 at 4:39 pm

For people in North America wanting a Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends DVD release,you can order it from the UK. VLC Player ignores region encoding so if you download that software you should be able to play it on your computer. I was able to get the whole series inexpensively from Amazon UK

@Darren I suspect its because they’re all false.

I am,of course, open to correction…

In this case, you are open to confirmation! :)

Rodney –

The Wonder Woman show was silly as hell, but was it camp? I don’t remember. Maybe I was too hypnotized by Lynda Carter’s… ahem… attributes to care.

Andy E. Nystrom

August 24, 2014 at 6:12 pm

Re: Wonder Woman aside from the, well, obvious, the other thing that the show had going for it was Lynda Carter’s earnestness and conviction. I would say that the show itself was often campy but not her performance.

Andy, Lynda Carter’s earnestness and conviction did help sell the show, but let’s not ignore her other assets helping things out.

I’m curious, while a lot of folks here are of an age to be familiar with the comic characters through the books first, hiw many were introduced to them from the cartoons? Aside from seeing covers of some of my older brother’s comics back in the day but not really reading them, I think I first learned of many characters through Super Friends and the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. Superman, Batman and Spider-Man were hard to miss but I’m pretty sure I first got to know Aquaman and Green Lantern from them, and the X-Men’s guest appearances on Spidey and Friends introduced me to them.

I’m sorry, but you’re just wrong about this-

Yes, it is entirely about how hard the audience is to advertise to. A demographic that you know is going to see your stuff is less valuable because the supply far outstrips the demand. If you want to advertise to post-50 or pre-18, there are so many shows to choose from that hit those demos that the networks know that they can’t charge a lot for the ads. Shows that hit the 18-49 demo are few and far between, so shows that consistently attract that audience can charge a king’s ransom for ads (Professional sports, The Voice and Big Bang Theory, basically – American Idol for years, as well).

While it’s certainly a part of it, and maybe becoming a stronger part of it, it’s certainly not entirely about it…particularly when talking about shows pre-Internet back in the 1970′s.

Advertisers are convinced that older viewers are set in their ways and won’t try their new product. Younger viewers, they believe, are more malleable and open to the advertising.

http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2009/apr/23/tv-column-not-18-49-age-group-tv-execs-wr-20090423/

Chief among these conventional marketing premises are that:

This consumer age range is more open to buying new products and changing brand loyalties than older demographics.
They also spend more on products and services as they become more independent and set up their own family and households
It takes more effort to reach the 18-49 age group, while older demographics are much easier to reach.

http://www.dmn3.com/dmn3-blog/conventional-wisdom-of-advertising-demographics-no-longer-applies

If anything, the new thinking in advertising is that they might be a less desirable demographic because they are NOT watching.

http://www.thewrap.com/tv/article/cbs-waning-18-49-viewers-fewer-number-living-mom-and-dad-106756/

So while it has certainly been a part, to say it is the only, or even the main reason, isn’t really accurate.

So while it has certainly been a part, to say it is the only, or even the main reason, isn’t really accurate.

The citations you used were all mistaken. It is a frequent thing that people get incorrect, even newspaper articles. Heck, David E. Kelley WORKS in television and he got it incorrect when he did a whole plot in an episode of Boston Legal in its final season about how Boston Legal was getting canceled despite doing well with older viewers (“They think we don’t buy things!” Nice straw man, Mr. Kelley). He did the same thing with his follow-up, Harry’s Law when it was canceled for similar reasons (although there they just made a passing comment, unlike Boston Legal where they had a whole episode based around the topic). The only one of those three articles that was written by someone who actually knows what they’re talking about was the last one, which was simply CBS lying about the effect of 18-49 because they are not doing as well among 18-49 viewers while continuing to do well among post-50 viewers (heck, the article even points out that that is likely what CBS was doing). You’ll see networks often talk about how 18-49 is not that important anymore or that they’re looking at other things and then every year they make their decisions precisely based on 18-49 ratings. CBS last year was no exception.

The only notable exception is The CW, which has such low viewership that pretty much all of their shows should be canceled, so the shows that they pick to continue are usually based on political reasons more than anything (the shows are a split between shows owned by CBS and shows owned by Warner Bros. and pretty much all the shows getting halfway decent 18-49 ratings are shows owned by Warner Bros. so CBS insisted that they keep a few CBS-owned shows on the air despite awful ratings so that the ratio would be more even as they were not prepared to co-finance a network consisting of predominantly shows owned by a rival studio).

I should note that obviously there are occasionally other exceptions that are quite rare, but do exist. Stuff like a show being primarily funded by an outside source, making it easier to renew a poorly rated show. That is how Hannibal is still on the air.

Also, once a show is renewed for a third season, it will get a fourth season (provided that its first three seasons were all full seasons so that the fourth season would make the show eligible for syndication) no matter what its third season ratings are, but that doesn’t really count as an exception since the renewals for the first two seasons were all based on 18-49 ratings.

You say they’re all wrong (and there are dozens more to back them up) but you don’t really cite anything to the contrary. I mean it’s cute that you think you know more about how television works than David E. Kelley, but unless you want to post some actual evidence it’s not Kelley who is putting up straw men…heck, you’re not even doing that, because you’re not posting anything other than “because I said so.” Most of what you posted here has nothing to do with the subject, and if anything contracts the notion that it’s one thing and not more nuanced.

Nothing needs to be cited except the fact the networks all cancel and renew shows strictly by their 18-49 demographic ratings (besides the few exceptions I mentioned, of course). Boston Legal was canceled despite its strong overall ratings because its 18-49 demographic rating got too low. Hell, Boston Legal specifically garnered the richest audience in all of television (since affluent people tended to watch it) and it still got canceled because it didn’t have enough of the 18-49 demo. In fact, it even only got its shortened fifth season as part of an arrangement with Kelley over the remake of Life on Mars (he was the producer on it originally and they wanted someone else to try so they made him an offer – we’ll give you a short fifth season of Boston Legal if you agree to let us give Life on Mars to someone else). Harry’s Law was a major hit among overall viewers (for a network that was doing terribly overall) but was still canceled because of its anemic 18-49 rating.

Ethan -

I will admit that my first exposure to the Marvel and DC characters came from television.

Superfriends and the Wonder Woman TV show for the DC characters. The Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man TV show for Spidey, plus the Spidey and Fantastic Four cartoons from the 1960s (re-runs, I’m not that old).

If anyone’s at the NY State Fair this week, in the Center of Progress building, there’s a booth with DVDs and the live action Spidey show is available.

Of course, so is the Batman TV show, so I hope you’re comfortable with bootleg DVDs. Apparently NYS is.

The fact that networks cancel shows heavily on their 18-49 demographics was never in dispute; only what reason (or reasons) that demographic is valuable. But you’re just going to keep going to circular arguments that are in base “it’s a fact because I say it’s a fact” so there’s no point in having any discussion since that’s all you have to back it up. C’est la vie.

renenarciso:

Regarding Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

Batman and Superman have a certain advantage in that it’s possible to tell “timeless” stories with them, and the Timmverse did it gloriously.

But the Avengers… I dunno. It’s a different beast. They have too much soap opera continuity, IMO. Batman and Superman are timeless, but the Avengers and the X-Men are inserted into time.

I would love to see Timm’s take on a timeless Spider-Man though. It’s funny. Spidey is soap operatic when it comes to his civilian life only. With his villains and his costumed life, a timeless Timmverse take would be totally possible.

I wouldn’t. The soap operatic, continuity-heavy nature of Spidey’s civilian life was always the main appeal of the character for me. And I believe most Spidey fans feel like that, as I always hear people saying that Peter Parker is the most interesting part about Spider-Man. Taking that away and focusing on his costumed adventures would make him a generic superhero with no depth. It be doing a big disservice to Spider-Man and miss the point of the character, as he was conceived as a regular person who happens to be a superhero and still has to deal with the problems of his everyday life.

In fact, I would have enjoyed DCAU cartoons more if they had focused more on developing the title characters and their personal lives. Keeping them “timeless” made them boring and stale in Batman and Superman’s cases for me, as it meant that they couldn’t get any character development.

The ultimate Spidey cartoon for me wouldn’t shy away from continuity. Instead it would respect and follow it, changing things only when the writers feel they can improve upon it, or when it’s necessary to keep things fresh, not changing things for the sake of it.

I’ve always wondered why networks take such a wide swath of an age demographic with 18-49, especially in this day and age where your average 49 year old and your average 18 year old might as well be from different planets. It feels like a holdover from an era where that demographic had only, essentially, three choices to pick from, and basing decisions on it now (when your average 18 year old is likely watching someone on Netflix while the 49 year old is watching an entire season of a show on blu-ray) strikes me as remarkably antiquated. I’m not particularly certain it’s ever made sense to cancel a show with healthy ratings because it scores low in a 30 year wide demographic, but wow, it makes zero sense now.

I’ve always wondered why networks take such a wide swath of an age demographic with 18-49, especially in this day and age where your average 49 year old and your average 18 year old might as well be from different planets.

They are “different planets” but just with one significant thing in common that is the whole reason they are being catered to – neither watches much broadcast television (it is fair to say that there is an even smaller demo that gets mentioned sometimes that is the true “pick of the litter,” as it were, when it comes to lack of watching broadcast television and that’s 18-34, but that’s such a small demo that it is only recently coming into play – a show like The Mindy Project, for instance, was at borderline cancellation levels with their ratings in the 18-49 demo but fared much better when looking at the 18-34 demo, and as a result, it was renewed).

Hi Brian, nice article as always. But I am curious about this quote:

“All of those were factors in the Incredible Hulk getting a regular spot on the 1978-79 television schedule (and a nice time slot, as well, 9pm on Friday nights) while Spider-Man was instead given a smaller episode order for season 2 and a non-regular time slot.”

For the record, my “13-year old self at the time” reviews the Spider-Man series as GOD-AWFUL (loved the comics, though), Incredible Hulk as MUST-SEE, & Wonder Woman as… INTERESTING! (Again…13!!)(despite the… We’re in modern times! No! We’re in World War 2! …aspect) But was there ever a time in Network Television History when 9pm on Friday night was considered a GOOD time slot? I always thought that was the TIME. SLOT. OF. DEATH! Please, correct if you will. Thank you.

Hi Brian, nice article as always. But I am curious about this quote:

“All of those were factors in the Incredible Hulk getting a regular spot on the 1978-79 television schedule (and a nice time slot, as well, 9pm on Friday nights) while Spider-Man was instead given a smaller episode order for season 2 and a non-regular time slot.”

For the record, my “13-year old self at the time” reviews the Spider-Man series as GOD-AWFUL (loved the comics, though), Incredible Hulk as MUST-SEE, & Wonder Woman as… INTERESTING! (Again…13!!)(despite the… We’re in modern times! No! We’re in World War 2! …aspect) But was there ever a time in Network Television History when 9pm on Friday night was considered a GOOD time slot? I always thought that was the TIME. SLOT. OF. DEATH! Please, correct if you will. Thank you.

It all ties in with the demographics discussion. Plenty of people watch television on Friday nights, especially children (since they don’t have school the next day). Back during the time period discussed here (the 1970s), demographic information was only just coming into play when it came to decision-making. At the time, it was probably like an 80/20 split, with 80% of the decision-making being based on overall viewers and 20% being based on demographic information (it might have even been 90/10). In the comparison of Spider-Man and Hulk, then, the demographic information (plus the higher cost of production) was something the network would look at only after first checking the overall viewer totals of each show. In this instance, they were close enough that the demo stuff and the cost stuff came into play. If Spider-Man had significantly more viewers than the Hulk, the network would have gone with Spider-Man. By the 1990s, it was closer to a 50/50 split in importance between viewers/demo and nowadays it is pretty much a 99/1 split in favor of demographics.

So the shift in relying on demographics has also resulted in a shift in the importance of Friday and Saturday nights, which are the two nights least watched by the 18-49 demographic. Saturday’s viewership in the demo is so tiny that networks don’t even really program Saturday nights anymore and Friday’s viewership is low enough that networks tend to allow for demo ratings that would get shows canceled on other nights.

But back in the days when overall viewers were more important, Saturdays were a viable night and Friday was a downright popular night. So during the late 1970s (and well into the 1980s), 9pm on Friday was a very good time slot.

@ Philip Ayres re: ‘ASM was really popular here in the UK as were Wonder Woman and the Hulk. Amazing Friends too’

That’s interesting, I don’t even remember Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends being on TV. Was it on at 6am on Saturday or something?

At least one high-quality show in the 70s-THE ODD COUPLE-was supposedly kept on air in spite of terrible ratings for five seasons, being shuffled from one schedule to another in a desperate attempt to find it an audience. Today, it’s seen as a classic, probably the best thing Garry Marshall ever did.

Watching THE INCREDIBLE HULK TV series again as an adult, it became easy for me to see why it garnered such a following, and why it really made such an impression on audiences at the time: Bill Bixby was absolutely superb in the lead, and the scripts were surprisingly well-written and intelligent, using the fantastic elements to explore the various facets and consequences of both individual and social anger.

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