Yesterday news broke that the CW is planning a new entry into their stable of DC comics shows with Superman & Lois, a drama starring Supergirl’s Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch as the iconic couple. The hour-long project is said to be in active development by The Flash executive producer Todd Helbing, DC Universe architect Greg Berlanti and Warner Bros. TV. While Superman fans are excited, this news definitely has repercussions for future feature films starring the Man of Steel if recent history is any indication.
During the late 1980s, DC Comics president Jenette Kahn was working on a concept for a new Superman television series and by 1991, Leslie Moonves and Deborah Joy LeVine was actively pitching that show to ABC Television. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman would be a new take on the Man of Steel, mirroring John Byrne’s comic reboot of the character. But there was a problem. Alexander and Ilya Salkind, who produced the popular feature film series starring Christopher Reeve as Superman, still owned the license for Superman-related TV adaptations and they had a highly rated Superboy TV series in it’s fourth season.
Once ABC bought the new Superman series, the Salkinds were served with notice that Warner Bros. was ending the licensing arrangement and all of the intellectual property rights Alexander and Ilya were still in possession of were to be returned to Warners, effectively and definitively ending any future continuation of the Superboy series.
DC Doesn’t Like to Double-Dip
What, you may ask, would be the issue with having Superboy and Lois and Clark running concurrently on TV? At the time, Warner Brothers executives feared brand confusion and over-saturation of the character. They simply didn’t want another version of Superman undercutting their shiny new network TV series. In 2oo6 the studio again raised these concerns regarding Smallville when it became obvious they’d finally be bringing the Man of Steel back to the big screen with Superman Returns. Though this didn’t lead to Smallville’s untimely demise, it did demonstrate the studio’s willingness to protect the profitability of their tent-pole properties.
Similarly, the CW’s planned take on Wonder Woman, titled Amazon, was ultimately shelved after several years in development when the Patty Jenkins-directed Wonder Woman movie became a major success. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed that, despite several series based on characters from his comics, Batman himself hasn’t had any quality live-action TV time since the 70s because the character is just too bankable at the movies. Sure, we’ve seen young Bruce Wayne, old Bruce Wayne, the Dark Knight standing in the shadows, or briefly shown from the back, but Warner Brothers isn’t about to let you see their most popular superhero unless you buy a ticket!
Save for a few exceptions, DC doesn’t like to double-dip its franchises in film and TV. Sure, the CW’s The Flash, starring Grant Gustin, is currently on the air, and Ezra Miller appeared as the character in 2017’s Justice League, but we haven’t seen the studio commit to a long-rumored Flash movie or even a sequel to their superhero team film.
Look, On The TV… It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane…
Considering the above, a strong case can be made that the CW’s new Superman series, and for that matter the character’s guest appearances in Supergirl, means Warner Brothers has no immediate plans for a new Superman movie. It effectively lays to rest any glimmer of hope Henry Cavill will reprise the role, it throws cold water on the rumor that J.J. Abrams has been hired by the studio specifically to develop a new movie based on the Man of Steel, and just might signal Warner’s lack of faith that the Last Son of Krypton is still a box-office draw.