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How Smallville started the superhero television revolution (You're welcome, Arrowverse!)

Is Smallville responsible for the current slate of superhero televisions shows? Michael Rosenbaum makes the case.

Smallville cast
Image credit: Warner Brothers Television

It’s a good time to be a comic book fan. There is no shortage of comic book media on television. Seriously, just check out our current guide to upcoming comic book and superhero shows. We have so much content to pick from, and it’s a beautiful thing.

However, things weren’t always this way. Back in 2001, it was rare to see a comic book television show (at least a live-action one). The few that existed rarely looked like the source material, and they usually wouldn’t last more than a season.

What changed?

If you ask the cast of Smallville, the answer is obvious. The Superman prequel premiered in 2001 on the WB network, which later became the CW. At the time of its premiere, comic book shows were rare. Speaking to a crowd at the 2023 C2E2 convention, Lex Luthor actor Michael Rosenbaum proudly spoke about the show’s legacy.

“I really believe that I’m not tooting our own horn, but we were the only show like that,” Rosenbaum began. “We were doing these cinematic movies every week, and it gave the studios a lot of ideas, which started to turn into the Arrow universe, Superman and Lois, and all that stuff. They saw how successful it could be, they used the same model, and the same DP Glen Winter, and a lot of the same crew, and they created these other shows. All the power to them, but it’s really an honor to see that we started something.”

Rosenbaum’s isn’t just boasting. After the success of Smallville, the CW went all in on superhero television. In the past decade, the network has aired numerous DC Comic dramas, such as Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Black Lightning, Legends of Tomorrow, and many more. The Smallville effect can also be seen in the avalanche of superhero related media on other television networks and streaming services.

“You look back and some of the effects might not stand up, and it was a little bit campy at times, but it was the first, so we were going to have our mistakes. But we also had some great storylines, great character development, and some amazing episodes,” Rosenbaum said.

Not bad for a show that’s been off the air for over a decade.

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Joshua Lapin-Bertone

Joshua Lapin-Bertone: Joshua is a pop culture writer specializing in comic book media. His work has appeared on the official DC Comics website, the DC Universe subscription service, HBO Max promotional videos, the Batman Universe fansite, and more. In between traveling around the country to cover various comic conventions, Joshua resides in Florida where he binges superhero television and reads obscure comics from yesteryear.


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