These days, superheroes are all the rage in movies. TV series? Not so much, beyond Arrow and a few series stillin the works. But back in the 70s, TV was the natural home of the superhero, it seemed, with Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel/Shazam all getting simultaneous adaptations, and made-for-TV superheroes and heroines like Electra Woman, Dyna Girl, Isis, The Man From Atlantis and the Bionic Woman also getting a look-in.
One of the biggest comic book adaptations was The Amazing Spider-Man, which ran on CBS between 1977 and 1979. Starring Nicholas Hammond (a former von Trapp child from The Sound of Music), it sees mild mannered university student Peter Parker get bitten by a radioactive spider and as a result, become incredibly strong and gymnastic, as well as acquire the ability to stick to walls and ceilings and anticipate danger. With a little bit of scientific and engineering ingenuity, he even manages to create “web shooters” that enable him to shoot sticky and extremely strong webbing from cartridges on his wrists, so that he can swing from building to building, tie up criminals and so on.
After initially ignoring the responsibility of his new powers, Peter eventually decides to fight crime and gets a job as photographer on the Daily Bugle so that he can pay for his night-time endeavours – usually by taking exclusive pictures of himself as ‘Spider-Man’.
The show started as a back door pilot TV movie back in 1977…
…and was picked up for five episodes as a mid-season replacement in 1978. These initially did well, earning 16.6m viewers which made it CBS’s highest rated show. However, CBS, wary of being known as the ‘superhero network’ (since it already carried four other superhero shows), cancelled it. It then changed its mind and picked up the series for another eight episodes which aired sporadically: six in the autumn and winter of 1978 and a final two-hour episode in the summer. After that, the show was officially cancelled.
It’s fair to say no one was particularly happy with this Amazing Spider-Man. Fans objected to the changes made to the Parker storyline and the lack of any of Spider-Man’s super-villains from the comics. Spider-Man creator Stan Lee, despite being a consultant on the show, thought it was too juvenile. Production values weren’t great either, with the show being filmed in Los Angeles despite being set in New York, and Spider-Man noticeably always played by a stunt double rather than Hammond. With such sporadic air dates and lack of commitment from CBS, it’s no surprise that not only did J Jonah Jameson, the editor of the Daily Bugle, get played by a different actor in the series than in the pilot, Peter’s Aunt May was never played by the same actress twice.
Nevertheless, both the TV movie and the final two-part episode were released in cinemas around the world, the second movie benefitting greatly from having extensive footage shot in Hong Kong.
Since then, though, The Amazing Spider-Man has faded in many people’s memories. Unlike The Incredible Hulk, which has seen frequent repeats, DVD releases and a series of comeback movies in the 80s and 90s, The Amazing Spider-Man has instead languished in edited forms on VHS and laser-disc, the planned comeback TV series and movies never happened, and repeats have been few and far between.
But good old YouTube to the rescue. Here’s the title sequence and a playlist of all the episodes, you lucky people!