How a Gimmick Show on an Obscure Network Defies the Odds and Flies in the Face of Everything that’s Wrong with the Modern Television Series: A Multi-Part Article:
When asked about the best shows on T.V., the average viewer (after rolling their eyes and muttering “what good shows..?”) will spout off titles such as Lost, 24, House MD, CSI, etc. Almost never mentioned is a quiet hit on the CW (of all places) about the life and times of a young Superman called Smallville. Despite its being largely overlooked by the mainstream Hollywood Douche-Bags, this show will be entering its eighth year (damn impressive for any serial drama/comedy) with no significant drop off in viewership or show integrity.
Outside the halls of the extreme comic-book purists, whose acne-encrusted faces contort in horror at anything that deviates from their comic-book fantasy-world, this show can be viewed without nausea by fans and laymen alike. This begs the question: how do they do it? In an era where television success is measured by net-tonnage of meaningless awards, obscene production costs, marginal talent in acting and writing, and pandering to the largest demographic available (read: morons), how does a show such as this manage to survive seven seasons relatively unscathed by the cancerous plagues that haunt most other TV shows?
There are several answers to this question, and I will slavishly and selflessly review them all for you. So, how does a show with a dangerous, limited concept (more on this later), virtually no star power, and a brutal time slot (Thursday prime-time) manage to outlast most shows, and even the network it premiered on? For the next several days, we’ll play “Why is this one not like the others” and examine the successful tactics, habits and characteristics of this enigmatic show.
Part I: “Casting the Net”
- The show premiered without any “big-name” stars. (Those of you shouting “What about John Schneider and Annette O’toole” need to take some Geritol and settle down.) This becomes huge as the show progresses, because the casts’ celebrity is solely associated with the show they’re on; limiting their opportunities to “quit to do real work in the movies” (looking at you, David Caruso and George Clooney)
- The actors are good, but not great. Plus they’re all gorgeous. Guys, there are four (or eight, depending how you count them) excellent reasons to watch this show even if you leave the mute button on the whole time. They are called: Erica Durance (Lois Lane), Allison Mack (Chloe Sullivan), Kristin Kreuk (Lana Lang) and Laura Vandervoort (Kara Kent). Ladies, if you can’t get behind former Calvin Klein model Tom Welling (Clark Kent), and the bald beauty of Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor) its time to turn in your naughty parts to someone who knows how to use them properly. Virtually every other actor who touches this show either in a recurring situation, or as a guest is at least presentable, and often distractingly beautiful.
- Clever Stunt Casting. With the entire Superman mythos to choose from, the producers of Smallville are able to cherry-pick “special-guest” actors who are known from other Superman movies or shows. Some are subtle (Annette O’Toole [Martha Kent] played Superman’s girlfriend in the third movie now she’s him MOM…ick…) some are less so (two previous Supermen appeared on the show as guest stars). BUT…none reprised their original roles! In a rare realistic look at circumstances, producers decided that a wheel-chair-bound Christopher Reeve was probably not the best choice to play “older Clark Kent”. Stunt-casting went down in a manner that allowed viewers to say “hey, that’s cool” and smugly remind their fellows where they have seen these folks before. Notable stunt- casting instances: Anette O’toole (see above), Christopher Reeve ( Movie Superman in I-, sadly IV) as Dr. Virgill Swann, astronomer and Krypton enthusiast. Dean Cain (Superman in “Lois and Clark” TV series) as evil doctor organ-stealer, Margot Kidder (Movie Lois Lane) as Dr. Swann’s shadowy assistant, Helen Slater (Movie Supergirl) as Laura El, Supe’s biological mom, and Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman in TV series) as Chloe’s mom.
- The best move Smallville’s producers made was locking the principle actors into a seven-year contract. This kept cast turnover to a minimum (are you listening, ER?). and allowed multiple-season character development. Character development is key in any series expecting to last beyond a couple of seasons.
Part II of this series will examine how and why the character development on this show outclasses nearly all of the competition. “class”, by the way, is why this show is ignored by “Mainstream Hollywood”. Tune in tomorrow!