The Spirit (1987)
Here’s a forgotten piece of pop culture for you. I was going through the Starlog archives looking for stories to run and I stumbled across these promotional photos for a TV pilot based on Will Eisner’s pulp hero, The Spirit. The pilot was filmed in 1986, but the proposed series wasn’t picked up. So it eventually aired as a stand-alone movie the following year. The lead is none other than Flash Gordon star Sam Jones and that’s Nana Visitor of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine clutching his shoulder. The pilot was written by Steven E. de Souza prior to hitting it big with Die Hard.
Superheroes were dormant in 1987. The Superman movies had mostly flamed out and the Batman movies hadn’t started. The Wonder Woman and Hulk TV shows were no longer on the air. This show was intended to be pitched somewhere between the silliness of the 60’s Batman and a series crime show. According to de Souza, that tone was altered to fit the lead actor:
The producer, Paul Aratow, our director Michael Schultz, and I originally wanted it to be played so straight that you’d wonder if it was straight. But if you know Sam, Sam has his default. If you’ve seen his other work, he has that master thespian, deadly serious setting, and then that nod and a wink that served him so well in Flash Gordon. Those are his two speeds. The dead serious one didn’t work for this, so Michael had the whole ensemble play to match Sam.
Unfortunately, the show was a victim of a regime change at ABC. A management shake-up meant that everyone who had approved the pilot left the network. With no one left to support the show, it sat on a shelf until someone thought to air it as a movie. It’s a shame. The mid-eighties could have used a colorful hero like The Spirit.