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The Wayback Machine: The Amazing Spider-Man (1977)

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Posted by: Byron Brewer, Managing Editor
created 03/02/2014 - 2:21pm, updated 03/02/2014 - 3:15pm

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The first time I saw a live action version of Spider-Man, it was on The Electric Company on PBS. By this time, I was in college, of course, and not too keen to mention I watched the show after Sesame Street just to see a live action Spidey portrayal.

But I did.

Luckily for my Nerd Herd, the live action series The Amazing Spider-Man hit CBS in 1977, around the same time as (sorry, Webs) the more excellent and much more enthralling and entertaining Incredible Hulk.

Let’s take a look at this noble attempt to present the World’s Greatest Superhero by hopping in the old Wayback Machine and dialing up 1977, a year after our nation’s bicentennial.

It was my second year at the University of Kentuckyand Marvel-based movies were starting to pop up on TV with regularity, but this was the one we were waiting for. Spidey, J.J., Mary Jane, Doc Ock …. Aunt May, for Chrissake!

The Amazing Spider-Man was shown on CBS between 1977-79 and consisted of 13 episodes, which included: a pilot movie in the fall of 1977; five one-hour episodes in the spring of 1978; six one-hour episodes aired in the fall of 1978 and early 1979; and then a final two-hour episode in the summer of 1979.

None of the episodes are available on DVD, but almost all of them have been released on VHS. Just find something to play them on. (CBN does rent out the Wayback for such trips, or there is always Doc Doom. Dial Latveria 549.)

Despite being set in the Big Apple, the series was mostly filmed in LA. Maybe that is where things began to ... well, go wrong.

For some reason, there was never the House of Ideas “feel” to this program like there was to The Incredible Hulk. The series began as a backdoor pilot in the form of a two-hour film known simply as Spider-Man. In it, university student Peter Parker gains super powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider and uses his new super powers to get a job at the Daily Bugle newspaper and stop a con man who is using mind control. In the pilot J. Jonah Jameson was played by actor David White (Larry Tate, Darren’s boss on Bewitched) and subsequently replaced with Robert F. Simon for the weekly series.

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The series was then picked up for a limited series of five episodes, which aired at the end of the season in April and May 1978. This run of episodes debuted very well, with the first obtaining a 22.8 rating with 16.6 million viewers, making it the best rated program for the week on CBS, and the eighth best rated program for the week overall. The series ended up being the 19th best rated show of the season, but that didn't stop CBS from canceling it in May 1978. (Go figure.)

It was later picked up for another limited series, this time of eight episodes, to air sporadically through the 1978-79 TV season. The show was officially cancelled after that. Reportedly, one of the problems was that CBS was cautious about being labeled the “superhero network,” as it was airing other comic book content including Wonder Woman and the aforementioned Hulk as well as movies such as Captain America (terrible) and Doctor Strange (still a favorite of mine, Doc meets Star Wars!).

Another problem was that, in spite of the show's popularity, fans were highly critical of the series for the changes made to the comic book storyline and the lack of any real super-villains (a continuing problem for any fantasy TV show except 1966’s Batman).

Final nail in the coffin? In addition, Spider-Man co-creator Stan “The Man” Lee disliked the show and was vocal about his dissatisfaction with it; he once said in an interview that he felt the series was “too juvenile,” a controversial statement given his credit as script consultant on each episode.

Glad to see efforts today with the excellent Arrow and the highly anticipated new effort on The Flash. My Nerd Herd, each separated by miles and time, is happy too, I am sure.

(But truth to tell? I was with Stan and the fans and did not care for CBS's Spider-Man either.)

 

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