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The Origins Of The 1997 ‘Justice League Of America’ Pilot

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In 2017, the popular DC Comics superhero team Justice League made its way to theaters worldwide. While fans were mixed on the final product, they were glad to see them teaming up against the bad guys. But did you know that before the film, the team made their live-action debut in the ’90s, to interesting results?

We Are The League

In 1997, CBS wanted a TV series based on the popular comic book characters. Upon hearing the news, comic book fans were automatically on board. The network spent the ’70s bringing Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and Spider-Man to life with their respective series. CBS kicked off the ’90s with The Flash, but the series only lasted one season. For the network, this was their chance to get back into the comic book world.

This pilot hit a road bump when the network wasn’t allowed to use Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman on the show. Since the series revolved around J. M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen’s work on the comics, other characters took their spot. The cast for the series showed some promise. Gossip Girl star Matthew Settle suited up as Green Lantern, and M*A*S*H star David Allen Ogden Stiers returned to the network to portray Martian Manhunter.

So Many Changes Made

For the pilot, some big changes were made to many characters. Ice, who was played by Kimberly Oja, was an American meteorologist instead of a Norse princess. The character gained her powers through a weather control machine instead of having natural ice capabilities. Weather Wizard was renamed The Weather Man for the show. While he was a criminal in the comic books, the villain was a meteorologist and Ice’s rival. Fortunately, the remaining members, including Atom and Green Lantern, had backstories similar to their comic book counterparts.

While filming in Vancouver, the producers knew the pilot wasn’t what they wanted. They contacted film director Lewis Teague to help make things work. The Brooklyn native is best known for his work on The Jewel of the Nile, Navy SEALs, and Collision Course. Unfortunately, Teague wasn’t able to polish up the project for CBS in time for its scheduled air date. He tried his best, but he politely asked to not be credited for the final product.

justice league

DC Entertainment/Multiversity Comics

Extremely Limited Airings

The Justice League of America pilot aired on CBS on December 28, 1997. The reviews for the 86-minute TV film didn’t sit well with critics and fans alike. The costumes for the pilot took a plethora of criticism. While Fire wears a mask in the comic books, they opted for generic mascara for the pilot. Another major flaw involved the pilot’s overall presentation. It borrowed heavily from MTV’s The Real World, which was popular with teens in the ’90s. The pilot would cut to pre-taped interviews with Justice League members discussing how they felt at the moment.

As expected, the show didn’t get picked up by the network, and the pilot never aired again on U.S. television. Surprisingly enough, it did make its way overseas for some airings. In 2001, the pilot aired in Israel and the U.K., and it aired in Germany in 2005.

CBS might’ve deleted this experiment from their vault, but the film can be viewed online. In 2015, Dailymotion user Kryptofreak uploaded the pilot to the video streaming service. After years of screenshots floating around online, this is the only spot to watch it in its complete form. A good chunk of the pilot is on YouTube, but it’s in German. With the power of the internet, this peculiar yet important part of comic book history will live on forever. It wasn’t all bad, though–The Justice League of America pilot walked so Smallville and the Arrowverse could run.

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