For better or worse, the Marvel Cinematic Universe changed the face of super-heroes in modern media. While there had been a number of successful superhero franchises before it, something about Iron Man captured the public’s imagination in a way that only Batman had done with his 1966 TV series and original quadrology. The major difference was that Batman, with the exception of Robin and Batgirl, worked alone. Metropolis was mentioned in one movie, but there was never a chance of seeing him interact with Superman. In the Spider-Man movies, we didn’t dare hope that he’d run into the Human Torch. Yes, each time a character came onto the scene they built their own universe around them but Iron Man? He brought friends with him, and he wanted you to meet all of them. The media landscape was changing and you could bet that television was going to get in on that.
The forerunner was the CW, which was wrapping up Smallville at the birth of the MCU. They had access to a lot of the DC properties, and while they couldn’t make a show featuring the Big Three, they eventually made do with a version of the Green Arrow who also wanted you to meet all of his friends. ABC had access to the the Marvel catalog, and they chose to poorly milk the MCU with Agents of SHIELD. This wasn’t to say that other networks weren’t able to get in on it: Fox eventually produced shows based on the X-Men and Human Target. NBC produced exactly one season of Constantine. More Marvel shows showed up on Netflix, Hulu, and Freeform. Superheroes were big money and everyone wanted a piece, but let’s rewind a bit to 2011 when most of this hadn’t happened yet and super-heroes were still coming into their own.
At this point, the only superhero show currently airing was Smallville. For those unfamiliar, it spent ten seasons showing us Clark Kent grow into Superman without ever once letting him finish that journey until the final shot of the show. It did allow other heroes to appear. Other than this, the television superhero landscape was littered with monuments and corpses. Superman was a clear victor in this arena, while Batman and Wonder Woman hadn’t done too badly themselves. Marvel only had the Hulk to show for their efforts. Other than these four heroes, most of the live-action super-hero shows died after a single season because no one knew how to translate the genre to television without making it an entirely different thing which is a problem that persisted until the first season of Supergirl which was initially presented as an NCIS/JAG style military mystery drama. There were also a number of original super-heroes which came and went.
NBC could see which way the wind was blowing, though. After their success with Heroes, they knew that the market would welcome original super-powered people with open arms. This time, they wouldn’t simply give us a bunch of people with super-powers. They would give us one man, a man with a costume. A man with a cape. And this man? This super-hero? He would be known as…
You’d be forgiven if you don’t remember this show. You’d be forgiven if your only recollection of this show is from the episode of Community where the study group got increasingly into the show in a series of flashbacks, initially declaring that it deserved six seasons and a movie and eventually mourning its loss after a single season. The purpose of this examination will be to decide which fate the Cape deserved, and we shall start with the first episode, simply titled “Pilot” on Monday.