The fact there was a ‘70s era, made for television, kind of low rent version of the MCU (MTU?) is fascinating. It’s mostly fascinating because no one today really ever talks about any of this. I find myself returning to it because it just seems so strangely out of place for its era, but there they all are. There were Captain America TV movies, a Doctor Strange TV movie (a few years ago I wrote about this one), and of course The Incredible Hulk series that eventually spawned its own special that somehow featured Thor.
But, the property that both baffles and intrigues me the most is The Amazing Spider-Man, which aired sporadically on CBS from 1977 until 1979. Marvel’s most popular character had a live-action television series and it’s basically never talked about. I even remember when I was a little kid, these episodes would pop up from time to time as reruns, but I remember not being very interested, even though I loved Spider-Man. None of this makes sense! So, I decided to watch a good portion of the series. It’s very strange.
(So, I found myself thinking about it again after appearing on USA Today’s Mothership podcast last week to talk about Spider-Man: Far From Home. We were all asked to name our favorite Spider-Man actor and I said “Nicholas Hammond” from the CBS series just to throw an unexpected curveball. Of course, that led to me having to sort of explain that this show even existed. Fun Fact: Hammond plays Sam Wanamaker in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood.)
Looking back, it appears The Amazing Spider-Man suffered from trying to make everyone happy, which of course made no one happy – in that it’s not comic book-ish at all, so it would appeal more to the adults of that era, but that also means it’s not very interesting. The individual plots are pretty indistinguishable from any hour-long drama of that era. Basically any of these plots could have dropped into an episode of, say, Quincy, and it would have pretty much been a similar viewing experience – except instead of Spider-Man saving the day, it’s Jack Klugman. And Spider-Man, as we know, has a wealth of supporting characters and villains, yet The Amazing Spider-Man decided to use pretty much none of them except for a watered-down version of J. Jonah Jameson.
Watching the 90-minute pilot was, let’s say, challenging. It’s not bad, it’s just very deliberately paced. In the scene leading up to Peter (Hammond) being bitten by the radioactive spider, we watch a mechanical arm try to pick up a cup of radioactive liquid for what feels like an eternity. Perhaps in the ‘70s a robot arm was fascinating – “Hey, honey, you gotta come in here and look at what’s on TV! It’s a robot arm! Look at that thing!” – but watching today, it’s tedious. There are a lot of tedious scenes in The Amazing Spider-Man.
What The Amazing Spider-Man actually does a pretty good job of is creating a not half bad Daily Bugle office environment (at least in the pilot, going forward this element isn’t as prevalent). Hammond’s Peter reminded me a little bit of the “gosh, golly gee” attitude we see done to perfection by Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent a year later in Superman. David White (probably best known as Larry Tate on Bewitched) plays J. Jonah Jameson and he’s not bad! And Hilly Hicks’ Robbie Robertson is there to both help Peter and kind of shake his head at Peter’s ineptness. Again, it’s a good dynamic. So of course after the pilot they recast Jameson with Robert F. Simon, who isn’t nearly as good, and the Robertson character never appears again.