By JOHN and MARIA JOSE TENUTO
—Autograph March 2010
When Smallville premiered in October 2001, few media pundits or superhero fans could have predicted it would become the longest running Superman (and superhero) television show of all time. The show began its ninth season in fall 2009, with 174 episodes already shown and more to come, and a new two hour TV movie, Smallville: Absolute Justice premiered on February 5.
Developed by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, Smallville especially appeals to younger fans because of its emphasis on Clark Kent’s formative years. On the surface, the premise of Smallville shouldn’t work. It is, after all, a Superman show without Superman—the producers promised a show with “no tights and no flights.” Yet, by design and fate, Gough and Millar benefit from two trends that have helped make the show popular.
The first is that Smallville is a prequel. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, this now common trend was just beginning thanks to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Although the creators have shown respect for the heritage of Superman—previous Supermans Christopher Reeve and Dean Cain, and Margot Kidder (Lois), Marc McClure (Jimmy), Helen Slater (Supergirl) and Terrance Stamp (Zod) have all made memorable appearances on the show—being a prequel allows new fans to join the fun without needing to know everything that has transpired since the first Superman comic book appeared in 1938.
Prequels tap into existing fan bases while attracting new audiences. The young demographics of its audience show that Smallville has created a Superman that resonates with the next generation. From its opening sequence with the town of Smallville being pummeled by Kryptonian meteorites, the show announced it would be familiar, yet different and new. The myth would be respected, if not followed.
The second trend was that by fate, Smallville came out exactly when America needed it most. The premise of the show is about Clark Kent and his relationships, a citizen hero hailing from small town America. Clark utilizes his amazing abilities without concern for reward or recognition. The show premiered in the autumn of 2001, almost immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, when American audiences were aching for heroes of this variety. The 1990s television show Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997), starring Cain and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane, was the first Superman show to emphasize Clark as much as Superman. Smallville took that idea to the extreme, never showing Superman in his traditional superhero outfit. Clark hasn’t yet become an icon—he is first and foremost a citizen hero.
That doesn’t mean the show is without controversy or detractors. It is a violent program, arguably too violent for its target audience of younger viewers. And while female characters have modern sensibilities and independence, they often bear the brunt of the violence. In fact, the character of Lana Lang, Clark’s high school sweetheart and a main character on the show until recent years, has been labeled “The Most Victimized Character on Prime Time Television” by some fans, and Web sites track the abuse she endures. The violent heritage of shows such as Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and The X-Files were similar.
Then there is the continuity controversy among some fans. Is Smallville an alternative reality? Is Tom Welling’s version of Clark Kent going to grow up and be Christopher Reeve’s reporter? How could that be when Smallville’s Clark has already met Lois Lane during his teen years? But all this debate is somewhat pointless, because Superman has never been consistent between versions, only within versions. Compare George Reeves’ portrayal of Clark Kent to Christopher Reeve’s, or Dean Cain to Brandon Routh, and they are almost totally different. Again, this shows the ingenuity of Smallville’s prequel status, allowing for a complete reboot of the characters.
There is no denying that every generation has defined Superman for itself. During the 1930s he was a character that immigrants and New Deal social reformers and their children could appreciate. The 1940s and 1950s presented Superman as both an American patriotic symbol and father figure to the burgeoning TV generation. Christopher Reeve’s version tapped into the return of traditional heroes needed for a jaded 1970s zeitgeist. During the 1990s, Lois and Clark presented a post-feminist world where Lois was as important as Superman. Smallville, despite its controversies and concerns, has resonated with fans. Clark Kent is a hero struggling to define his place in a world where good and evil are not as easily defined. It’s Wicked for the superhero crowd.
There are several routes to Smallville for fans and autograph collectors.
Seasons one to six have been immortalized by Inkworks in trading cards, and certain premium series of these cards include one randomly inserted autographed card in each box. Most of the main cast are available.
Many of the cast and crew are excellent through the mail signers. Especially noteworthy for sending fans signed photos are Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor), Kristin Kreuck (Lana Lang), John Schneider (Jonathan Kent) and Cassidy Freeman (Tess Mercer, cleverly named after the 1970s Superman movie Luthor sidekick Miss Tessmacher).
Tom Welling, however, is most likely to send a preprint to fans requesting autographs because of the volume of mail he receives. But he is beginning to make convention appearances. His first was at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con.
Many Smallville actors appear at conventions, especially the excellent Superman Celebration each June in Metropolis, Illinois. In 2009, Justin Hartley (Oliver Queen/Green Arrow) and Phil Morris (Martian Manhunter) attended the festival, which included free autograph signings with the celebrities. For more information, check out www.supermancelebration.net. Previous guests have included Rosenbaum and Allison Mack (Chloe).
Smallville’s core cast, Welling (Clark), Erica Durance (Lois) and Mack, are often joined each year by a rotation of supporting actors. A good tip is to write these actors during their first year on the show, before fan mail starts piling up. In fact, the sixth season DVDs feature a bonus documentary about fans, and the show’s busy mailroom is shown. “The earlier the better” is a mantra for fans of through the mail Smallville autographs.
In its ninth year, more emphasis is placed on the relationship between Lois and Clark, and Clark’s flirtation with becoming Superman emerges as a theme. Rumors that the show will be changing its name to Metropolis featuring Superman have been dismissed as untrue by the producers and cast.
It is amazing that a show originally designed to follow Clark during his high school years is now in its ninth year with Clark continuing his career at the Daily Planet. But like Superman’s powers, for Smallville there appears to be few limits.
Sidebar: Interview with Margot Kidder
By MARK J. GROSS
From across the room, you can see this woman smiling from ear to ear while she chats and signs for fans. While Margot Kidder has performed in television and film roles since the late 1960s, she is best known for her portrayal of Lois Lane in 1978’s Superman. And she loves meeting her fans!
Mark Gross: Are you enjoying the show?
Margot Kidder: It is so much fun! And with every autograph I sign, I flashback and remember these films, some of which are 40 years old now. Lately, I’ve been signing a lot of Sisters stuff. I was 22 then, and I’m 60 now. It’s great!
(Sisters, directed by Brian De Palma, was released in 1973.)
You’ve done quite a few horror films; do you like that genre?
I find horror films funny. In fact, I saw The Exorcist on an Easter Sunday in Toronto with an all black audience that started laughing the second she threw up. We all laughed ourselves silly to the end!
What inspired you to become an actress?
When I was 9 years old, living in little mining towns in the Canadian North, I visited my grandmother in Vancouver and saw The Wizard of Oz. I didn’t know anything about acting, but I got the pilots who brought our mail to bring up these movie magazines with Troy Donahue and Carol Lynley. I even got their autographs.
Then, when I was 12, I went to New York and saw Bye Bye Birdie with Dick Van Dyke on Broadway. After that, there was no question in my mind—acting was what I was going to do.
Of all the films you’ve made, which is your favorite?
There’s this movie that nobody saw with Annie Potts called Heartaches. I loved the character I played, named Rita. I won the Canadian Oscar for that one.
Are you a collector of autographs?
When I was young I did. Now, I’m a big reader and collect a lot of first edition books.
Any words for Autograph readers?
Just that it means a lot that you are fans. It’s very self-affirming for me, and to feel that kind of love is great. The people that come out to these shows are so nice. They are just the nicest people in the world!
Thank you Margot Kidder. And thanks to Derek Maki at Coolwaters Productions for arranging the interview.