February 6, 2014
Now that the Batman TV show is finally being released on DVD, they really need to release this lost gem.
In the early 1970’s, Universal Television licensed the Super Friends for a live-action television show. The networks, however, were lukewarm on the idea. It was only a few years since the Batman show was canceled, and live-action TV superhero shows were thought of as only appropriate for Saturday morning kids’ shows. (For example, Isis and Shazam.) Universal, though, had spent a significant amount of money on the Super Friends and was not about to let the concept drop. So instead of producing a pilot, they made what is known as a “back door pilot.” For example, the current show Arrow is giving two episodes over The Flash, rather than producing a separate Flash program. This is a backdoor pilot, where if the reaction is good, The flash will get his own show. (In this case, The Flash is already a done deal.)
The Super Friends premiered as guests on an episode of the popular Universal crime movie-of-the-week, McCloud, in the season seven episode “London Bridges,” starring Dennis Weaver as Marshall McCloud.
In this episode, Chief Clifford called in the Super Friends to help protect jewels belonging to a visiting English noblewoman. Unfortunately, Universal could not afford to license all the Super Friends characters.
Superman was unavailable, the rights tied up with the upcoming movie, and other characters like Flash and Green Lantern were not considered mainstream enough. The McCloud version of the Super Friends consisted of, from left to right, a man dressed as either a gibbon or a mandrill, a magician, The Mad Hatter (who is a villain in the DC comics), The Easter Bunny, and Batman and Robin.
During the story, McCloud was made a member of the team; a replacement for The Easter Bunny, whose inability to breathe inside his mask made him a liability.
Unfortunately, the casting was, let’s say, less than ideal. While Robin looked alright, Batman was played by a grumpy old man with a paunch. And even worse, Batman didn’t have a utility belt.
The story itself was not very interesting. The Super Friends were unable to prevent the theft and McCloud recovered the jewels using his Southern drawl. In fact, the Super Friends only appeared in the first act and were not referred to again until the final act, when Apache Chief showed up late and was sent home by Chief Clifford.