Tom Welling explained why audiences never got to see his Clark Kent don the Superman suit on Smallville. The CW (formerly WB) comic book series told the story of teenage Clark Kent (Welling) learning to harness his abilities -- not powers, as the show's executive producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar had once explained -- as he juggled high school (and young adult) life with fighting crime and saving the world from otherworldly threats.
Despite introducing several of Superman's iconic (superpowered) abilities throughout the series -- including the one time that Clark had taken flight -- the show existed under the pretense that Clark simply wasn't Superman. He was The Blur, and he fought crime wearing clothes that were red and blue, but they never resembled the Superman suit. That's because the show operated under the condition that they would never use Superman's suit nor would they show the character flying; it was called the "no tights, no flights" rule.
Welling has been silent on the matter and hasn't really discussed Smallville since the series concluded six years ago. However, he has finally revealed his thoughts on why they never showed him wearing the Superman suit, at least not entirely. In an interview with EW, Welling said that they wanted to keep the show grounded, and making turning Clark into Superman made his life "too easy."
“It was something that we discussed before we ever shot the pilot with [creators] Al [Gough] and Miles [Millar]. We literally had a sit down where we talked about the show and I asked about the suit and the tights and the flying, and they said, ‘No, absolutely not,’ part of the reason being is that show is about a teenager trying to figure out who he is. They felt that once Clark put on the cape and the suit, life became too easy, in a sense. They wanted to focus on who this character was before that. And, at the time, because of where visual effects and special effects and stunts were, it would be too expensive. That’s mainly why they save that for movies, more or less.”
Welling's comment about special effects being sub par compared to shows nowadays is understandable, though that wasn't necessarily the main reason for prohibiting Clark wearing the Superman suit. The "no tights, no flights" rule was something that show's producers, as well as the network, had abided by since the beginning, yet it was something that Warner Bros. TV boss Peter Roth wanted to bypass with the series finale. It turns out, Welling vetoed that decision, and instead, they ended up with only a tease of the actor donning the iconic suit.
“Our series finale was supposed to be, in the first act, Clark puts on the suit and flies around, saves Lois on a plane, and does this other stuff. It was a call that I had with Peter Roth, who is the head of Warner Bros. Television, who’s a good friend of mine and we have a great relationship. I said, ‘That’s not our show, Peter.’ He’s like, ‘No, it’s going to be great,” and I go, ‘Yeah, but just think about what we’ve been doing. If we just jump into that, we haven’t earned it.'
“We jumped onto this idea that at the end of the show, the idea is that Clark becomes Superman and he’s out there, and we know he’s out there, but we can’t go with him, but that we know and we feel good that he’s out there doing good. That was what we strove for, and I think we hit it. I liked the ending of the series, because it’s like, ‘Yes, he did it!’ I hope the audience didn’t feel like we didn’t show them something that they needed to see. I felt like we gave them the jumping off point for their imagination as to what could happen.”
Of course, the series' fans have always wanted to see what Welling would look like wearing the full Superman suit, which is why people had campaigned for the actor to appear in The CW's Supergirl as the iconic Man of Steel. However, the decision to only tease fans with Clark wearing the Superman costume made sense considering the show's background and the establishment of the "no tights, no flights" rule.