Superheroes inspire audiences with acts of bravery, the ethics of self-sacrifice, and an unending commitment to protecting the weak and upholding justice. And that’s all very nice in fiction. In the real world, humans are humans and they are often not so super.
In today’s new Golden Age of superhero TV shows, it’s easy to forget that there are ordinary mortals both behind of and in front of the cameras. After all, when our favorite butt-kickers in tights are giving the bad guys hell, we can get a carried away in dreams of heroics.
Real life sometimes takes its toll when the actors and producers of these shows are put under a searchlight. Abuse, feuds, and even deaths have plagued many a metahuman television program, and they're often kept under wraps. Which totally makes sense. Who wants to burst the bring the audience down with ugly truths when they’re trying to enjoy escapist fantasy?
Nevertheless, stuff has happened. That doesn’t mean we have to stop believing in our super folk. It’s just that we really do have to keep things real. Ready to hear some inconvenient truths?
Here are 15 Superhero Shows That Had to Hide Secrets.
It turns out Superboy’s best friend has gotten up to some very dubious activities. Sam Jones III, who played a young Clark Kent’s BFF on the show Smallville, got into some serious trouble with the law, potentially tarnishing the image of a goody-two-shoes superhero property.
Back in 2009, Jones was busted for conspiracy to sell 10,000 pills and faced 20 years behind bars. To be fair, that was a year after his role on Smallville ended, but his activities were happening during production, and there’s speculation that some people knew he was up to no good. Still, things were kept under wraps.
On top of that, Jones made a tape with a Playboy Playmate – which isn’t a crime, but again, not copacetic with the squeaky clean Superboy image.
14. Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones is one hell of a role model. It’s not just that she’s super strong, she’s also super surly. All the strength in the world can’t hold up a candle to that much attitude, and her immense popularity pretty much proves it.
It kind of ruins the image to hear that actress Krysten Ritter got the stuffing beaten out of her on set.
While filming season 2 of the hit Netflix show, the titular star filmed her own fight stunts – and got clocked in the head for her troubles.
Knocked out cold, Ritter landed in such a way that she hurt her tongue. She’s telling the story now, but the production didn’t let the truth out when it happened. We are guessing they had to be sure she’d survive her wounds first!
Supergirl is not only a tough, compassionate champion of justice, she’s a guiding light of hope. In a sea of “dark” superhero adaptations, the Melissa Benoist series leads instead with the promise of a better world. Unfortunately, behind the scenes, showrunner Andrew Kreisberg was reportedly behaving like more of a villain.
The producer, who also ran The Flash and helped develop Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, had apparently been engaging for years in seriously inappropriate behavior. Kept secret for years, 19 allegations of harassment were made public with the advent of the #MeToo movement.
Although the Warner Bros. did the right thing in the end, Kreisberg’s conduct had been going on for far too long. We would like to think that in one of DC's alternate universe, Kara Zor-El was able to step in and stop things before things went that far.
12. Mutant X
For many fans of the late great TV show Mutant X, the series ended far too soon, leaving unanswered plot points and just disappointing an immense fan base. So what really put the kibosh on the show? For one thing, the production company creating it went out of business.
But still, how did Marvel allow a successful property to die after just three seasons?
The answer could be the lawsuit Fox filed against Marvel. After all, all X-Men project rights were sold to Fox in the late '90s. Mutant X was seen as a breach of that contract, and so Marvel was taken to court. There was a secret settlement right around the time the show was abruptly ended. Coincidence? We’ll never know - at least not until the day Professor Xavier mind-reads those pesky lawyers!
11. Xena: Warrior Princess
When she wasn’t battling warlords, brigands and even the Greek Gods, the unstoppable Xena: Warrior Princess was…suffering from a broken pelvis?
It turns out that Lucy Lawless, star of the iconic TV series, broke some bones and missed an entire episode’s worth of filming.
She not only had to be shot around with guest stars and stunt doubles, but Xena’s only appearances in the show were from leftover footage from past filming.
We would like to say that Lawless got her injuries from serious on-set swordplay, but she actually fell off of a horse rehearsing a skit for The Tonight Show. Not exactly the way we picture the warrior princess.
The tale was kept quiet at first, but Lawless eventually spilled the truth.
Believe it or not, the super kid-friendly 1966 TV version of Batman was hiding a big secret, and it was apparently inside of Robin’s tights! Actor Burt Ward has confessed to being a real Boy Wonder when it came to sleeping around in Hollywood.
According to Ward’s own tell-all autobiography, ladies loved the Dynamic Duo of him and costar Adam West. He goes on to explain that the costume designers had to contend with his “sidekick junk” as apparently it was hard to hide his metahuman manhood in those tight green shorts.
Apparently, the production knew all about these exploits, but kept a lid on it to keep up a squeaky clean image. Have we ruined your childhood yet?
9. Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
Turns out that Lucy Lawless wasn’t the only person from her fictional universe to miss filming. Kevin Sorbo, star of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, also had to miss some episodes of his series, but for far more terrifying reasons than broken bones.
In fact, Sorbo suffered from three strokes in 1997, incapacitating him for weeks.
The producers had to rewrite episodes and focus on secondary characters to stick to the schedule. The show kept the matter private, and only years later did the truth come out when Sorbo himself revealed what had happened.
Fortunately, Sorbo fully recovered and has gone on to star in lots of geek favorites, including a guest stint on Supergirl. Looks like recovery may have been the 13th labor for this Hercules!
8. Wonder Woman
File this one under "Our Bubbles Are Totally Busted." There are few superhero TV shows as iconic and well-remembered as the Lynda Carter version of Wonder Woman. It had a driving theme song, a colorful heroine, and loads of super-powered action.
Crucial to the mythos of our favorite Amazon is her relationship with army officer Steve Trevor. Created alongside Diana of Themyscira by William Moulton Marston back in the '40s, the pair’s bond was meant to be the core relationship for the story. But as it turns out, Carter and costar Lyle Waggoner absolutely despised each other.
It was so bad that Diana and Steve's romance was scaled back as the series’ writing progressed. Over the years, Carter has walked back some of the reports of their animosity, but the damage has been done. .
7. Blade: The Series
It’s easy to forget it now, but back before the cinematic superhero revolution of today, the three Blade movies were a really big deal. Not only did they provide top-notch comic book action before the days of the Marvel and DC cinematic universes, the franchise gave prominence to people of color in a genre dominated largely by white folks. Wesley Snipes’ performance gave the films a gravitas which is appreciated to this day.
Eventually, Blade: The Series was created, which Snipes was supposed to star in and produce, but a lawsuit with the movies’ production company kept that from happening. The show subsequently only lasted one season. It may have gone longer had Snipes been the star, but as it was, the vampire-hunter show had a steak driven through its heart.
6. Incredible Hulk
Nothing can stop the Incredible Hulk! But when it comes to David Banner, things are different (and yes, his name is David – not Bruce – in this version of the jolly green superhero).
The classic TV show from the '70s and '80s starring Lou Ferrigno as the jade-jawed giant was a huge hit and holds a special place in many a geek’s heart to this day. Despite it being canceled in 1982, the show kept coming back as made-for-TV movies which kept the original cast.
The final one was planned for 1990. It was titled The Revenge of the Incredible Hulk, but unfortunately, star Bill Bixby was fighting cancer at the time. Producers hoped he would beat it and hid his battle from the public. Once Bixby succumbed to his disease in 1993, TV's iconic Hulk was finally and forever defeated.
5. The Amazing Spider-Man
Looking back at the '70s TV version of The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s easy to conclude that the short-lived series was cancelled due to lousy ratings. After all, there were no supervillains, poor special effects for web-slinging, and a lack of CGI technology to make the show look anything less than goofy. But the reality is that that in its day, Peter Parker and pals actually had really good ratings.
So why was the show pulled after just 13 episodes?
Believe it or not, the top network brass at the time ran away from it because they felt the show was too superhero-ish - which they probably should have known from day one. Just goes to show what a bunch of super-dummies television executives can be sometimes.
4. The Greatest American Hero
Was it The Greatest American Hero or was it really The Greatest American Rip-off? If one were to ask DC Comics, the beloved '80s show outright stole this superhero from none other than Superman. Never mind that their origins and powers weren’t really that close at all.
Alas, the thing went to court – and Superman lost.
In a ruling which would impact future copyright law, the Second Circuit stated that the two characters were “profoundly different,” citing even Sherlock Holmes to support its judgment. While the litigation can’t be blamed for the show’s early cancellation, news of the corporate battle had to be kept as quiet as possible, lest a whole slew of comic book fans be alienated and abandon ship.
3. Kung Fu
These days, there’s a lot of talk about the Hollywood whitewashing of superhero characters. Glaring examples include Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange and Scarlet Johansson in Ghost in the Shell (who are supposed to be Tibetan and Japanese respectively). But back in the '70s, an even more glaring incident happened when David Carradine was cast in the lead for Kung Fu.
Here was a white guy with no martial arts training at all, starring as a Chinese fighting master. To make matters worse, none other than Bruce Lee – who is both Chinese and the greatest fighter ever – was turned down for the role. Talk about wasted opportunities!
Things have improved somewhat over the years. Today, AMC's martial arts series Into the Badlands stars Daniel Wu, an awesome martial artist who shows off what a true master can bring to fight scenes.
2. The Lone Ranger
Yes, yes, we know. The whole mystique of The Lone Ranger is that he’s a mysterious masked man, who can appear and disappear from people’s lives seemingly at will. But when the star of the original TV version of the Lone Ranger went AWOL for 52 episodes, things got really weird.
The show’s star, Clayton Moore, didn’t show up for a full season of work.
In fact, he was replaced for all those episodes by actor John Hart. The production said it was over a wage dispute. Moore claimed it was creative differences. But other theories were thrown around, with no real conclusion as to why it all went down.
Moore eventually returned to star in the final season of the show, and the Hart episodes were kept from playing in reruns for over 20 years.
This is Superman we’re talking about. He’s supposed to be bullet proof. He’s supposed to be the eternal optimist. He’s supposed to be stronger than the rest of us. Alas, George Reeves, the 50s star of one of the very earliest superhero TV shows ever, died from what seems to have been a self-inflicted wound. There is some controversy to this conclusion – he may have been murdered – but either way, he was all-too human that day.
Obviously, there was no hiding his death, but producers of the show hoped to keep it going beyond Reeves’ death, and so tried to keep the suicide part of it hidden. Eventually, the truth came out, as was dramatized in the Ben Affleck film Hollywoodland.
What other dark secrets lie behind the scenes of superhero shows? Let us know in the comments!
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