Spider-Man (1977) TV Pilot Review

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool, karl@whenitwascool.com)

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When thinking of the 1970s and live action Marvel Comics characters, most people immediately think of The Incredible Hulk.  That series was very successful and ran for five seasons and spun off three made for TV movies.  Then, in the mid-1970s, Marvel brought another of their superhero properties to television with two Captain America specials- Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon.  But pre-dating those was the 1977 Spider-Man live action television series.  Today, When It Was Cool takes a look back at the pilot episode for that series.

For some reason in my six year old brain, I remember the Spider-Man live action series being two or three made for TV specials much like the Captain America series.  I was baffled to learn when searching this up that Spider-Man was actually a television series that ran for two whole seasons!  This couldn't possibly be true, could it?  How could I, a huge fan of Spider-Man and Marvel Comics at six years old, not remember this was an entire television series?  How could I, a kid who watched the PBS Electric Company solely to see Spider-Man not remember this?  Well... turns out there is a reason.

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There's something a little off about this Spider-Man costume.  I just can't put my finger on it due to being blinded by the sun reflecting off those chrome eyes.

The entire way this series aired on television was completely bizarre.  The pilot episode aired on CBS on September 14, 1977 and garnered good ratings.  But CBS, apparently not wanting to be all-in with the superhero game, then aired the next two seasons worth of shows in odd time slots.  Often the shows were used as filler for other shows who took the week off, or in place of the movie of the week, or whenever CBS needed something to fill a slot.  It almost seemed as though they were embarrassed to have this property that just happened to get pretty good ratings when it aired on television.  Kind of like pro wrestling.  It's no wonder my childhood memory thought this was a movie-of-the-week type deal because, in a way, it sort of was.

Spider-Man was directed by E. W. Swackhamer, which might be the greatest name in all of history.  God, I wished I had chosen Karl Swackhamer has my totally fake pen name.  Spider-Man was written by Alvin Boretz and stars Nicholas Hammond as Spider-Man / Peter Parker.  The show also starred David White, Michael Pataki, Jeff Donnell and Thayer David.

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Spider-Man presumably looking for a contact lens.

The story is pretty lame.  It's not even "Oh my gawd, this is so bad it's funny" lame but more like "Yep, this is sort of boring and really 1970s-rific" lame."  The plot (and I'm not making any of this up) is Peter Parker (Nicholas Hammond)- who is way older than his comic book counterpart, is a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle newspaper and is bitten by a radioactive spider and discovers he has gained superpowers including super-strength, agility, and the ability to climb walls in a way that looks totally fake.  Ok, so far that's pretty much his comic book story but wait... when a mysterious Guru (Thayer David) places people under mind-control, including a doctor and lawyer, to rob banks and threatens to have ten New Yorkers commit suicide at his command unless the city pays him $50 million dollars.  Wait what? 

Peter Parker becomes the costumed Spider-Man to stop the Guru's scheme. Peter Parker pretty much magically sews up an uncanny valley version of the Spider-Man outfit but then gets hypnotized by the Guru himself along with his friend Judy. With sheer accidental dumb luck, Peter is able to break free and then stop the Guru.  It is just as bad as it sounds.

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The producers were very proud of their Spider-Man wall crawling scenes as they showed them over and over again.  The only problem being that they really looked terrible.

Spider-Man premiered on CBS on September 14, 1977 and it received a strong 17.8 rating with a 30 share, making it the highest performing CBS production for the entire year.  In spite of this, CBS put no effort into showing the series in any sort of tangible order.  How they got two seasons worth of material out of this is beyond me.  I believe the series is available in it's entirety on DVD now.  I watched the pilot episode on YouTube so check it out if you have a couple of hours of your life to waste.  My audio review of this debacle if far funnier and much more entertaining than the actual movie.  Your life would be better spent listening to that.

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