Aquaman just swam into theaters in his first solo movie, but over a decade ago, he could have been the main character in his own television series. In 2006, the DC comic book character was the potential face of a series for the now-defunct WB network. Writing and producing partners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar had several films under their belts when they brought Smallville to the WB in 2001. Right in the middle of the successful Superman prequel series, they began working on a concept for another superhero series, where the duo wanted to bring Aquaman to the small screen.
Justin Hartley landed the role of Arthur “A.C.” Curry, with Lou Diamond Phillips, Ving Rhames, Denise Quiñones, and Amber McDonald rounding out the main cast. Set in the fictional Florida locale of Tempest Key, the story would modernize classic Aquaman lore. The project never made it beyond the pilot presentation, and many fans were crushed by the results. However, fans did get the chance to see the pilot episode online, so this version of Aquaman wasn’t completely lost to the TV pilot graveyard. If you want more Arthur Curry after seeing Jason Momoa’s version, we’ve got Aquaman: 25 Wild Details About The Canceled TV Show for you.
25 Justin Hartley Wasn’t The Original Star
For DC fans glued to their entertainment news in 2006, they know that Justin Hartley nabbed the role of Arthur Curry. What they might not realize is that Hartley wasn’t the first choice for the role. Instead, the WB auditioned actors from across the United States, Australia, and England to find their would-be prince of Atlantis, and they originally cast Florida native Will Toale. A model who attempted to break into the acting world, Toale had a few background roles in television and movies, but he appeared more often on the stage.
Ultimately, Hartley was chosen right before the pilot started filming as producers decided to “go in a different direction” with the character.
24 The Series Could Have Starred Competition Veterans
Will Toale might have been a model, but the Aquaman that preceded him on Smallville, Alan Ritchson, was an American Idol contestant, who competed on the reality series. If Ritchson had been a contender for the pilot, he would have joined another competition veteran for the show.
Denise Quiñones, who starred as a military pilot, was a former Miss Puerto Rico and actually won Miss Universe in 2001, a few years before she was cast. Later, Quiñones returned to Puerto Rico and started working in the pageant scene, coaching on reality television shows and being on pageant judge panels.
23 Lois Lane Almost Edged Out Aquaman
When Millar and Gough began considering which DC comic book property should be brought to television screens, their focus wasn’t always on Arthur Curry. Instead, they considered a series that focused on Lois Lane.
Smallville was already in its fifth season and Lois had yet to be introduced to the mythology. A series that focused on her could have allowed for a later crossover between the two, but ultimately, Millar and Gough saw a “100 episode” potential with Aquaman and not with Ms. Lane. Of course, just a couple of years later, a Smallville spinoff called Metropolis was also considered, focusing on Lois Lane and Oliver Queen, but that one didn’t pan out either.
22 The CW Was Responsible For The Cancellation
When Aquaman’s pilot had the final touches in place in early 2006, it had just made the deadline for consideration in the 2006-2007 TV schedule. However, there was just one little problem: the series was in development for the WB, and by the time pickups for the season were announced, the WB didn’t exist anymore.
Instead, WB and UPN merged, giving birth to The CW and placing Dawn Ostroff in charge of the freshman network. Most TV insiders thought the Aquaman centered pilot was a lock for WB as buzz steadily increased until the merger actually happened, but The CW passed on the “sure thing,” much to everyone’s surprise.
21 Aquaman Could Have Been A Contender
The CW’s reasoning for not picking up Aquaman was that there were only two open spots on their fall schedule, and by deciding to renew a lot of the series that were staples for WB and UPN, it didn’t leave a lot of room for new content. What were the new shows picked up that season you ask? The Game and Runaway.
20 The Pilot Filmed In Florida
Most of the series created for the WB (now CW), filmed in Vancouver. Pilot presentations aren’t yet locked into place, so producers get the freedom of a larger budget and location shoots, and for the Aquaman project, producers chose South Florida.
Though the series would have been set in Tempest Key and near the Bermuda Triangle, the pilot did not film in the Florida Keys. Instead, it filmed in various locations around Miami and Coconut Grove, Florida. Even though producers hoped to make Florida their home base, as A.C.’s abilities were dependent on being near the water, not getting to film near the ocean would have made things very difficult if the show went to series.
19 Mercy Reef Held Significance
In one version of the Aquaman comics, the title character saw himself abandoned as an infant on Mercy Reef as his royal parents believed him to be cursed. Raised by a dolphin, he survived, and that particular reef also became the final resting place of Arthur and Mera’s infant son, whom they lost in an attack from Black Manta in a more modern comic.
For the television series, Mercy Reef would have also held significance for the title character, but instead of being the place where he was abandoned, it was the location where his father found his mother washed ashore. Although being 25 minutes away from the primary setting of Tempest Key, A.C. still swam there in the pilot.
18 The Title Wasn’t Supposed To Be Aquaman
Though the pilot episode released with the title Aquaman, that wasn’t the intended title. Instead, the series was supposed to take a route similar to Smallville, with a focus on the hero before he became a costumed crusader.
With that idea in mind, much of the press referenced the series as either Tempest Key or Mercy Reef, and journalists often highlighted Mercy Reef as the working title for the series. In fact, if you search for Mercy Reef online now, you’re more likely to pull up information about the television series rather than the comic book location.
17 It Broke An iTunes Record
When the CW passed on Mercy Reef, Millar and Gough tried to find another home for it. Despite the interest, no network picked up the series, but Warner Brothers eventually found a way to get the project out.
In some countries, like Canada, the pilot aired as a TV special, and in the United States, the pilot landed on iTunes. Fans could buy the episode for $1.99 and after its release, it became the most downloaded TV episode for the company at the time, spending two weeks in the top spot. It’s still available to purchase, but it’s also getting a new home soon: It will be available on the DC Universe streaming platform in January 2019.
16 Lou Diamond Phillips Is The Nicest
Lou Diamond Phillips played the role of Tom Curry, A.C.’s father in the pilot, but fans didn’t see a lot of him beyond his discovery of a woman on Mercy Reef and his admonishing of A.C.’s exploits. However, that didn’t mean that Hartley and Phillips didn’t get to know one another on set.
When interviewed by KryptonSite, Hartley gave details about some of the actors he worked with on the pilot. He noted that all of the actors were great, but he cited Phillips in particular as “the nicest guy I’ve ever met.” It’s always good to hear that an actor is just as nice as he appears in interviews.
15 It Filmed On A Real Military Base
When many television shows feature government or military offices, set designers often have to create their own approximation of what it would look like. However, that wasn’t the case for the team behind Mercy Reef.
Instead, the film crew received permission to film on a real Air Force base in South Florida, which was called “Tempest Key Joint Training Base” in the series, and the location was actually the Homestead Air Reserve Base. The scenes involving fighter jets and military personnel were all filmed there and some real-life military members even filmed scenes to give the show a more authentic feel. Several photos of the experience were shared on the base website.
14 It Was Never A Smallville Spinoff
Residents of Tempest Key and Smallville both had roots in DC comics, but their television shows weren’t intended as part of the same universe. Critics mistakenly referenced Aquaman as a “failed spinoff” of Smallville, but in reality, Alan Ritchson nabbed the part of Aquaman on Smallville a year before the other series became a consideration.
Ritchson’s first episode of Smallville was the highest rated for season five, which prompted Millar and Gough to consider the character as the face of a new series and got WB to commission a pilot. If the pilot was part of a spinoff, it would have featured Alan Ritchson and Elena Satine, who played Mera for Smallville.
13 A Crossover Wasn’t Ruled Out
Despite the series not planned as a Smallville spinoff, Alfred Gough didn’t think a crossover between the two series was impossible. In fact, he didn’t rule out the idea in interviews.
When Gough chatted with KryptonSite in honor of Smallville’s 100th episode, he fielded a few Aquaman questions and one of those was in regards to the potential for a crossover between the two series. The interview occurred when Aquaman was still in the planning stages, so Gough remarked that it wouldn’t happen in the show’s first season, but that “down the road,” it was possible. He further explained that it was better for a show to establish itself first, and then make the decision.
12 Casting Smallville Actors
An eventual crossover with Smallville might have ended up pretty awkward for fans who keep an eye on performers as many of the cast of Mercy Reef appeared in the other series as well.
In addition to Hartley eventually becoming Smallville’s Oliver Queen, five other cast members appeared on both shows: Adrianne Palicki played a siren for Aquaman, but a proto-Supergirl for Smallville; Denise Quiñones starred as a pilot in Aquaman, but as the Angel of Vengeance in Smallville; with Rick Peters, Kenny Johnson, and Amber McDonald also having parts in both shows.
11 Rumors Of An Aquaman Movie Emerged in 2007
When the pilot stalled, the buzz around Aquaman remained, with comic book fans holding out hope for more. In fact, with the surge in purchases of the pilot from iTunes, fans speculated that the show could resurface again; after all, weirder things had happened, like UPN reviving Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Roswell after the WB canceled them years earlier.
The hit show Entourage featured an Aquaman movie as a major plot point as well. The events that unfolded in 2006 and 2007 created the perfect storm for the rumor mill as the Los Angeles Times reported that “four people familiar with the idea” said movie rights to the character had been investigated, though officially, Warner Brothers had no plans for an Aquaman movie.
10 Adrianne Palicki Was Not A Series Regular
These days, Adrianne Palicki is known for her genre cred: she wrote a comic book with her brother, became Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Mockingbird, and was almost Wonder Woman. Not long after CW passed on the Aquaman pilot, critics referenced her as a series regular for the would-be series, but that wasn't the case.
Palicki appeared as a character named Nadia. On land, she favored a bikini, but in the water, she was a Siren with razor sharp teeth and wicked claws, and by the end of the hour, her character was neatly disposed of with a spear.
9 A.C. Would Never Be Aquaman
With the success of Smallville behind them, Millar and Gough had a pretty good plan in place for their version of Aquaman, which was that A.C. wouldn’t be Aquaman during the show’s run.
The idea was to follow the same format as Smallville: explore A.C. learning new applications of his abilities and maybe even undertaking some vigilante activities. He, however, wouldn’t don his superhero costume during the stretch of their show. They also made a point of saying that he “wouldn’t be talking to fish” or “riding a seahorse,” two iconic items from previous incarnations.
8 Nods To The Source Material
Mercy Reef provided fans with a new take on Aquaman mythology, but the creative team behind the show knew their source material and they gave nods to the comic books where they could. In addition to A.C.’s mother washing ashore at Mercy Reef, he was also called “Orin,” Aquaman’s original comic book name on more than one occasion. He also had a definite color scheme.
Like Smallville, where Clark Kent preferred wearing red and blue on a regular basis, A.C. liked the colors that made up his comic book uniform, and in the pilot episode, he almost exclusively wore orange and green.
7 Aquaman Was Faster Than Fast
The abilities that Aquaman has in the comics usually depend on the writer at that time. Most often, he can breathe and communicate under water, talk to aquatic creatures, and he’s much stronger and durable than the typical human. Some writers also make his swimming speed on par with the fastest boats.
For Mercy Reef, A.C. was even faster than that. He was able to swim as fast as an Air Force fighter jet, keeping up with it underwater as it flew above him. To put that in perspective, the fastest fighter jet in the world could travel at mach 6, so A.C. is insanely fast in the water.
6 Justin Hartley Had No Diving Experience
The pilot episode featured a lot of scenes involving swimming and fighting on water. If the show had moved forward, there would have been plenty more water where that came from as it was the nature of having a character from the underwater kingdom of Atlantis.
Despite calling himself “a good swimmer,” Hartley had no diving experience before landing the role and even did a lot of his own water work. The crew filmed close ups in a water tank, but also worked in the ocean off the coast of Florida. Hartley even borrowed air tanks from the crew and safety divers so he could stay underwater for 20 minutes at a time!
5 A.C. Was An Influencer
With Aquaman making his home in the ocean in DC Comics, it hasn’t been unusual for the importance of a clean ocean, or compassion for the creatures of the deep, to be addressed on the page. The same was true of the pilot.
One of the events in the pilot episode involves A.C.’s father bailing him out of jail. His crime? Breaking into a marine park and releasing dolphins into the wild. The prospective audience might not have gotten a taste of A.C.’s stance on the environment, but he’s certainly an advocate of marine life living free.
4 The Star Wars Comparison
Cinefantastique began as a fanzine in the 1960s before becoming a full-fledged genre magazine in the 70s. Decades later, CFQ featured a spread on the potential Aquaman-focused series, including an interview with Alfred Gough.
When comparing the attitudes of the main characters in Smallville and Mercy Reef, Gough gave fans quite the quote to consider. He told the magazine: “If Clark Kent is Luke Skywalker, then Arthur Curry has got to be Han Solo.” The idea prompted fans to consider what A.C. could get up to in the show if he was more like a criminal than a superhero.
3 Future Storylines Revealed
Despite the series being canceled before it even made it to air, there were plans in place for what would have happened. Most creators plan out a 13 episode stretch while writing their pilots in the event that they do get their series picked up, which would give them a framework for the first season.
Gough and Millar did that as well. Gough didn’t reveal all of the details, but he did tell CFQ some highlights in his 2006 interview. People disappearing into the Bermuda triangle and reappearing decades later would have been a long running arc, but there was also “stopping polluters… stories involving the military… bandits robbing cruise ships,” and more.
2 A Jaws Reference
If you’ve seen the Aquaman pilot, you know there’s a minor plot point as A.C. doesn’t pull his weight around the dive shop and bar. In fact, his business partner (and best friend) decides to sell his boat. The fact that she technically owns part of the boat gives you a little background on their friendship, but it also places a Jaws Easter egg front and center.
If you didn’t catch the reference at the beginning of the episode, you’ll notice during the subsequent scenes that the name of the boat is The Quint, which was named after Robert Shaw’s shark- hunting character in Jaws. It’s a nice nod to another piece of ocean-related media.
1 Justin Hartley Got Over The Cancellation Quickly
Other actors might allow themselves to wallow when their pilot doesn’t get picked up, but not Justin Hartley. Hartley didn’t give himself time to get upset about the vanishing project as he jumped right into looking for his next opportunity.
He explained to KryptonSite: “I got over it pretty quickly, not because it didn’t sting, but because of this business, you deal with situations like that a lot, and if you take the time to feel sorry for yourself, the people who are nipping at your heels are going to pass you…” It’s a philosophy that’s worked out for Hartley so far. He’s now one of the stars of the critical darling This Is Us.
Did this list make you wish for an Aquaman TV series? Are you going to check out the pilot online? Let us know what you think in the comments.