Marvel’s comic strip character Spiderman appeared on television in 1978 in an American television starring Nicholas Hammond as the superhuman, web-hurling, skyscraper crawling superhero. The series could easily have been called The (Not So) Amazing Spiderman.
The character of Spiderman first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962. Created and written by Marvel Comics publisher Stan Lee, and drawn by Steve Ditko, the character only appeared in one of the several stories featured in that issue. But response was quick and it was overwhelming. Within a year, Spiderman had earned his own comic book, Amazing Spider-Man, and went on to become the single most popular character in the Marvel Comics canon. (Interestingly, Spiderman was the only character to truly challenge the characters of Superman and Batman in terms of popularity.) Lee’s dictum of creating real world superheroes with real problems proved a new spin on the superhero, one that brought super heroics down to size and created a new inwardly drawn superhero.
In the 1970’s Spiderman was one of several Marvel comic characters - The Incredible Hulk, Dr Strange, The Human Torch and Submariner - that were purchased for development for television. It was the era of The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-8), Wonder Woman (1976-9) and just before the huge success of the Superman theatrical movie (1978) when the superhero was at a height of popularity. The Incredible Hulk had already been turned into a somewhat bland but popular combination of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and The Fugitive, starring Bill Bixby (1977-82) and its pilot released cinematically as The Incredible Hulk in 1977.
Dr Strange followed as a TV pilot in 1978 but never went to series. Submariner was never developed into series format mainly as it was felt that the character was too close to television’s The Man from Atlantis (1976-8). The Human Torch also never progressed to series as it was felt at the time that the character might inspire children to set themselves alight and jump out of windows. Of the original 5 comics purchased for television development, only Spiderman remained.
Spiderman became the basis of a short-lived television series, The Amazing Spiderman (1977-8) that only lasted thirteen episodes over two extremely brief seasons. The series debuted April 19, 1977 with a 90-minute pilot film on the CBS network. The pilot showed how Peter Parker (Nicholas Hammond), a student scientist and aspiring news photographer, is bitten by a radioactive spider and quickly acquires the power to climb walls, as well as developing an arachnid’s sixth sense. Using his scientific know-how, Parker invents a special adhesive fluid that can be shot from a special holder, solidifying on contact with air to form a strong rope. Hiding his true identity behind a distinctive spider-costume, Parker uses his powers against the forces of crime and evil.
The series proper followed a year later with an abbreviated first season of 5 episodes beginning on April 5 and running until May 3, 1978. A second season followed that fall with the first of 8 episodes beginning September 5. Sadly, The Amazing Spiderman must be considered one of the single most dreary superhero series ever made. There was a complete lack of super-villains - the series merely involved Spiderman taking on run-of-the-mill criminals and other than the costumed title character was really no different from the average cop show of the time such as Kojak or Starsky and Hutch. It was directed in the dullest way imaginable and Nicholas Hammond was extremely weak as Spiderman, although to be fair, he didn’t have a lot to work with as far as the scripts were concerned.
Hammond had been acting for several years when he took on the role and at the time was best known for his role as the eldest of the Von Trapp boys in “The Sound of Music”. The series also featured Chip Fields as Rita, Robert F. Simon as newspaper Editor J. Jonah Jameson, Ellen Bry as Julie Masters, Irene Tedrow played Parker’s Aunt May and Michael Pataki as Captain Barbera.
The series was badly received by public and comic book fans alike: It was bland and there is much silliness that overrides most of the proceedings. Though it should be mentioned that there were occasional plusses too. It does get some of the characters right, albeit watered-down - like Parker’s nervousness and edgy double-identity dilemma, although it is badly overplayed and without subtlety by Hammond, who may well have realised that he’d been cast in a dud.
The series failed to find an audience, and the network never truly gave it a chance to develop into something better. The series was quickly cancelled in September 1978, and for the rest of the 1978-79 television season, CBS intermittently scheduled the show as nothing more than a filler.
Published on March 12th, 2021. Written by Bob Furnell for Television Heaven.