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DOWN UNDER DIVE: The Aussie Adventure of Smallville's Aquaman Spin-Off

DOWN UNDER DIVE: The Aussie Adventure of Smallville’s Aquaman Spin-Off

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That Time the ‘Smallville‘ Creators Tried to Make an Aquaman Show

By Lisa Laman

Published 2 hours ago

In the mid-2000s, TV viewers almost got to experience a low-budget realistic vision of Aquaman from the Smallville creators.

For years, Aquaman was a joke. Just because this character was innately silly and had superpowers that didn’t revolve around killing people, Aquaman became a go-to source for mockery. TV programs like The Big Bang Theory and Family Guy especially were relentless in their withering skewering of this classic superhero, a microcosm of the endlessly witty writing that permeated both shows. However, this ruler of the underwater kingdom had the last laugh in December 2018 when the character finally got a solo live-action movie.

After years of Aquaman jokes and problems for the DC Extended Universe (save for the success of 2017’s Wonder Woman), Aquaman became a massive box-office success. In fact, this James Wan directorial effort turned into the biggest DC Comics adaptation in history at the worldwide box office. Suddenly, Aquaman was a pop culture icon and people all over the world were enamored with his mythos. Shockingly, it appeared that Sheldon Cooper and Peter Griffin might’ve been off on this one…maybe Aquaman didn’t suck!

However, even if the Aquaman mockery was always overblown, there was no denying that, for years, Warner Bros. and its various divisions struggled to figure out what to do with Aquaman in media outside of comics. This character’s intrinsically maximalist sensibilities just didn’t seem to fit with the default approach to live-action DC properties in the past. The difficulties of translating Aquaman to live-action mediums of storytelling were encapsulated in a proposed TV show focusing on this aquatic superhero from the Smallville creators that never got past the pilot stage.

Wait, There Was Almost an Aquaman TV Show?

In a 2005 installment of the original Smallville TV show, Alan Ritchson made a guest appearance as Arthur, a grounded yet recognizable version of Aquaman. The character proved quite popular on Smallville and would make three subsequent appearances on the program before it wrapped up in May 2011. However, fresh off that inaugural Arthur showcase, brass at Smallville network The WB began to get excited over the idea of adding another DC adaptation to its schedule. The plan now was to give Aquaman his own spin-off program. After years of being seen as too ridiculous for mainstream acceptance, Aquaman was about to step into the spotlight.

Frustratingly, though, the basic concept of the show was to strip away many of the elements that make Aquaman who he is. This was partially out of the budgetary constraints of making a show on The WB/The CW, but it was mostly due to the default “grounded” approach to superheroes in 2000s media. In a Variety article announcing the program’s existence, producer Al Gough (a veteran of Smallville) confirmed that the show would never use the word “Aquaman” and the character’s superpower of talking to fish would never be seen. Even more puzzling was the decision to ditch Ritchson from the production entirely despite how well-received he’d been in inhabiting the Arthur Curry role on Smallville.

The team behind this Aquaman show wanted to deliver an entirely new vision of this character, which meant finding a new leading man to portray the wet superhero.

Why Didn’t ‘Aquaman’ Go Forward?

Years after this pilot was shot, co-creator Miles Millar revealed to IGN that a key reason for Aquaman‘s demise was network politics. At the time of the pilot’s launch, Smallville‘s original home of The WB was transforming into The CW. Network executives that had once championed Arthur Curry getting a solo program were now gone. In their place was a new regime that had zero interest in superhero shows. This shift in priorities led to Aquaman getting the boot despite seeming like such a perfect companion piece to the hit program Smallville. A new age was dawning for this network and that fresh approach didn’t have room for the king of the sea.

Meanwhile, outlets like Den of Geek have speculated that budgetary concerns also doomed the show. It was never going to be cheap to even realize a watered-down (no pun intended) vision of Aquaman and his mythos. The CW almost certainly took one look at the potential costs of this program and found it ill-suited for one of the smaller broadcast networks.

On top of everything else, the general perception of Aquaman as a punchline didn’t do the potential show any favors. When it came to launching Smallville, marketing could ride on how beloved Superman was by people all over the world. Promoting Aquaman would mean confronting all kinds of mocking jokes and other problems.

Two years after the pilot’s death, another live-action version of Aquaman, this time portrayed by Santiago Cabrera, would also bite the dust once George Miller’s superhero blockbuster Justice League: Mortal was canned. After these two high-profile properties went nowhere, any future live-action version of Aquaman (in film or television) remained on the back burner. Even the expansive ArrowVerse, which flipped The CW’s attitude on superhero shows upside down.

Still, the story of this DC superhero does have a happy ending concerning all the money the 2018 movie Aquaman ended up accumulating. A character that was all wet when it came to CW programming circa. 2006 turned out to be a flood of entertainment for moviegoers circa. 2018.

The Big Picture

Aquaman went from being a source of mockery to a massive box office success with the release of the 2018 live-action movie. Warner Bros. struggled to figure out how to properly portray Aquaman in media outside of comics, leading to a proposed TV show that never got past the pilot stage.

The Aquaman TV pilot was ultimately scrapped due to network politics, a new regime that had no interest in superhero shows, budgetary concerns, and the general perception of Aquaman as a punchline.


DOWN UNDER DIVE: The Aussie Adventure of Smallville
<< photo by Kevin Kobal >>
The image is for illustrative purposes only and does not depict the actual situation.

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