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"Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound! ("Look! Up in the sky!" "It's a bird!" "It's a plane!" "It's Superman!") Yes, it's Superman! Strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman! Who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!"

The first Superman TV series, running from 1952 to 1958 and starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel. The supporting cast included Phyllis Coates and later Noel Neill as Lois Lane, Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen, John Hamilton as Perry White, and Robert Shayne as Inspector Henderson. Those actors that are still alive often have cameos in more modern Superman projects. This show is the way most children in the 1950s were introduced to Superman, and also the main reason that Jimmy Olsen got his own comic book.

The show was produced during the Mort Weisinger era of Superman comics, and he and Whitney Ellisworth were even on the staff. As a result, a lot of the plots are carbon copies of comic book stories from the time (for example, the story "The Phantom Superman" became the episode "Superman in Exile".) As a result, the series is probably the purest adaptation of late golden/early silver-age comic books out there.

Sadly, the series is now mostly remembered for George Reeves' mysterious death [1], which formed the basis of its own movie: Hollywoodland.


In addition to all the Superman tropes, this series provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Badass: Clark Kent. Budget reasons required that Superman only show up in the last act, so the focus for most of the episode had to be on Clark. As a result, he was made less wimpy and less bumbling than in the comic book and became essentially Superman in street clothes.
  • After Show: After George Reeves' tragic death, the producers shot a pilot on the same sets for The Adventures of Superpup - using little people in giant dog head masks portraying such characters as "Bark Bent" and "Puppy White". Jimmy Olsen, meanwhile, became a smart mouthed mouse (a hand puppet) that lived in Bark Bent's drawer as well as narrated the story.
  • All-Natural Gem Polish
  • Bungling Inventor: Professor Pepperwinkle.
    • Also, Professor Twiddle from "Through the Time Barrier".
  • Canon Immigrant: Inspector Henderson was brought over from the radio show; he actually showed up in the comics from time to time after this series. Twenty years later, so did Professor Pepperwinkle.
  • Catch Phrase
    • Perry White had "Great Caesar's Ghost!" and "Don't call me Chief!" to his credit.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The Professor Pepperwinkle episodes depend on this. Any time Pepperwinkle invented something, a gang of crooks would somehow learn of the invention and gain the Professor's trust so they could use it to commit crimes.
    • "Through the Time Barrier" uses this as well; Clark and company are transporting a gangster when Professor Twiddle, who is sharing the elevator with them, chooses that moment to demonstrate his Time Machine.
  • Costume Copycat: George Reeves gets the chance to use a Brooklyn accent.
  • Criminal Doppelganger: One episode featured a villain who was a dead-ringer for Jimmy Olsen, of all people.
  • Enforced Method Acting: In "Night of Terror", the actor playing the thug who knocks out Lois accidentally hit Phyllis Coates hard enough to render her unconscious.
  • Episode Title Card: During the first season.
  • Fun with Acronyms/Have a Gay Old Time: "The Lucky Cat" features a group of skeptics called the Anti-Superstition Society.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Lois Lane. Perry at times blows his top at the trips she takes to get a story, but she tends to be following solid leads. On at least one occasion Lois was scheduled to be a key witness of a senatorial committee investigating organized crime.
  • Opening Narration: One of the most memorable, one that sums up everything you need to know about Superman. Very much based on that of the radio show.
  • The Other Darrin: Noel Neill replaced Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane in the second season. In an interesting twist, Noel Neill was also the first actress to play Lois Lane on live action film, having first played the intrepid reporter on the 1940's Superman serials (episodic shorts that used to be played in movie theaters before the main feature).
  • Phrase Catcher: Jimmy Olsen. Who did you think kept calling him chief?.
  • Pro Wrestling Episode: "No Holds Barred"
  • Reverse Cerebus Syndrome: The first season was dramatically different from the rest of the series. The villains were more intense, there were several on-screen deaths, Superman fought with his fists, and Phyllis Coates played Lois as a tough, serious Action Girl type. Subsequent seasons dialed the zaniness way Up to Eleven, the villains never died anymore, and Superman almost never laid a finger on anyone--instead, the villains would obligingly knock themselves unconscious by barreling headlong into walls, doors, and eath other's heads. The new Lois, Noel Neille, was much Lighter and Softer too.
  • Series Continuity Error: In one episode, Jimmy gives his middle name as "Bartholomew". In another, his name plate reads "James J. Olsen."
  • Shooting Superman: Probably the first TV series to feature this trope (duh).
  • Somewhere a Paleontologist Is Crying: Averted... sort of. To its credit, the Time Travel episode "Through the Time Barrier" featured no dinosaurs in 50,000 BC. However, it plays it straight with regard to the cave people, who shouldn't be in Metropolis (or anywhere else in North America) at that date.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: In "The Phony Alibi", Professor Pepperwinkle invents a system for transporting people through telephone wires.
  • The Walls Are Closing In: Superman, Lois & Jimmy are trapped in a concrete bunker, with Supes out of commission due to a Kryptonite ray. Then the walls start closing in. Luckily there happened to be a discussion of hypnotism earlier in the episode. Superman hypnotises Lois, which somehow makes him able to levitate her. Her body stops the walls, and Jimmy is able to climb up to the top and redirect the Kryptonite ray.

Notes

  1. Fans are still arguing about whether it was murder or suicide
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