OK, so this time he didn't leap tall ratings obstacles in a single bound. But he kept trying.
And now ABC's "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" seems about to prove all over again that the comic-book character created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster is truly indestructible.Once again, the man of steel from another planet is poised to triumph ove and opponent, through in this case it could be augued that NBC's "seaQuest DSV" committed suicide.
When the two shows squared off on Sundays at 7 p.m. a season and a half ago, they were battling for a network audience left over from CBS's long-running and still enormously popular "Murder, She Wrote."
Older viewers are fiercely loyal to Angela Lansbury. ABC and NBC aimed for a younger market, the 18-to-49 croud. Although "Lois and Clark," with its sardonic '90s twist on the legendary superhero, generally received the more favorable reviews, "seaQuest" took an early and seemingly insurmountable lead in the ratings.
But then "seaQuest" evidently decided to go after an even younger audience for its underwater capers. Think "Flipper." The tinkering didn't work. Worse, the star, Roy Scheider, began publicly badmouthing the series, describing it to one reporter as "childish trash."
Meanwhile, Robert Singer, the executive producer of "Lois and Clark," decided to do little more than fine-tune its original concept. The upshot? On one recent Sunday, "Lois and Clark" not only trounced "Earth 2," which was doing a replacement stint for the ailing "seaQuest," but also moved up vigorously on "Murder, She Wrote," with 19 percent of television sets in use, not much below Jessica Fletcher's 22 percent.
What has kept "Lois and Clark" on its upward curve? Its appealing cast is no doubt essential. Playing the dual role of Clark Kent and Superman, Dean Cain, a former profootball player for the Buffalo Bills, hits just the right notes of Boy Scott decency and tough law enforcement, managing to be charming even while admitting that he's just your basic goody two shoes."
As Lois Lane, Teri Hatcher can be appropriately bold, headstrong and unpredictable and still flutter over a compliment paid her eye-lashes. And in the newsroom of Metropolis's Daily Planet, Lane Smith ("The Final Days") turns the managing editor, Perry White, into a kind of dizzily gruff, lovable Richard M. Nixon, while Justin Whalin makes you root for Jimmy Olsen, the cub reporter and photographer, to get a promotion some day.
The dramatic playing field of the Superman story is astonishingly narrow. For decades, Lois has amazingly failed to notice the resemblance betweel Clark Kent, her mild-mannered newsroom colleague, and Superman, the true object of her affections.
In one recent episode, where she temporarily learns the truth, someone remarks in exasperation that Lois must be "the most galactically stupid woman who ever lived." And just about every episode features a perils-of-Lois rescue.
Even the upright defender of truth, justice and the American way tells Lois, with just a whiff of impatience, "People do try to kill you a lot."
But is is precisely this strait-jacket format that makes the Superman story fun. How many ingenious ways can be found to devise the utterly predictable? "Lois and Clark," cultivating inventive scripts, has maintained a strong track record as it treads a thin line between family entertainment appealing to children and offbeat humor that will tickle the knowing fancies of young adults (Singer notes that women have always been more susceptible than men to the Superman story).
So while the budget for the series has expanded a bit and the special effects are constantly being improved, the most important development, Singer says, is that the show has moved into a "comfort zone" with its characters. Chances can be taken more readily.
In on episode, Lois was given a serious new admirer in the form of Daniel Scardino (Jim Pirri), a federal drug agent.
In another episode, the one in which Lois discovers Superman's Identity, if only until she returns from a "Back to the Future" trip, Clark tells her: "You think it was easy for me? You swooning over Superman while ignoring Clark?"
And as guest-star selections get more adventurous, the show sometimes flirts with downright kinkiness. Bronson Pinchot's maniacal Prankster, wielding a camera that can freeze its subjects ("This is a Kodak moment," he cackles), suddenly turns on his hemming-and-hawing partner: "You sound like a pervert at a magazine stand."
Then, representing a television news magazine called "Top Copy," the formidable reporter Diana, played by Raquel Welch, and her strange cameraman Rolf (Wayne Pere) snoop menacingly around The Daily Planet.
Determined to expose-what else? - Superman's true identity, Diana observes that he was "so good, so decent, don't you want to vomit?" "Nice quads, though," she adds.
Slapped across the face by a miffed Diana, a suddenly aroused Rolf murmurs, "You can do it again, if you like." Diana: "You ought to come with a Surgeon General's warning."
A hunk in tights and a cape that the editor, Perry White, insists was inspired by one of Elvis's Las Vegas costumes. A heroine destined to win a Pulitizer Prise.
Action and adventure with a steady flow of amiable loopiness. A surprise cliffhanger in the making for this season's final episode.
The adventures of Superman, and "Lois and Clark," could go on forever, or at least for a far more respectable television run than seemed possible a year ago.