From Clark Kent to Superman: A Look Back at 10 Years of Smallville
Smallville started with a story known 'round the world: An alien crash-lands on Earth, where he's found by a couple who have been desperate, but unable to have a child. Little did they know that the child they would adopt as their own would become a superhero and the world's savior.
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But first, he'd have to get through high school, the heartache of losing his first love, and 150 or so power-hungry bad guys. Over its 10-year run, Smallville explored the growing pains of the human, not-so-super side of Clark Kent (Tom Welling), while tipping its hat to his future greatness. Executive producers Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders talk to TVGuide.com about his journey from awkward teen to Superman. It all began with giving the future do-gooder some flaws...
Originally, the plan was to follow the origins of Batman, a superhero who wears his angst and rage on his sleeve. But a film version was in the works, so series creators Al Gough and Miles Millar took on the story of Clark Kent, whose origins story seemed less obviously compelling.
Peterson: Finding problems and character flaws for Superman has always been the challenge of this show because he's perfect... [What we decided to do was tell the story of] the immense struggle it took to get to that point, to fill in the space from when he arrived on earth to the point that he decided to be that inspiration for people.
To keep Superman grounded, literally, Gough and Millar set one rule for the show: "No Tights, No Flights."
Souders: Because we're big fans of Superman, there is always that gut reaction of, "I just want to get to the end!" But what's been most fascinating, for me, is that whole journey to that end. Had they just immediately jumped into tights and flight, we wouldn't have gotten to know Clark Kent. There is something about being able to write about real people, even though it seems insane to say that about Superman, and [have him] experience the kind of moments that all of us experience in our life, and do it with some kind of honesty.
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They also gave their teenage hero teenage villains, what the creators fondly dubbed a "freak of the week." These were teens infected by meteor rock — the same stuff that accompanied Clark down to Earth — which heightened their already hormonal issues. A perfect example was Jodi (Amy Adams), whose issues with her weight led her to make a kryptonite-infused diet shake that cause rapid weight loss but came with an insatiable hunger that would not subside -- so she ate people.
Peterson: Al and Miles did a really smart thing in setting up the show in that they didn't immediately choose DC Comics villains to be the villains. It allowed us to tell the more high school stories, which were more based on issues that kids go through in high school. As Clark grew and he discovered his super powers and the greater world, we discovered the greater DC world along with that.
At the same time, Clark was a teenager in love. Lana (Kristin Kreuk) was a girl whose parents were killed by the same comet that brought him to Smallville. Their love culminated in a proposal that was tragically erased when Clark was forced to save her life in the 100th episode. When Lois (Erica Durance) entered the picture in Season 4, fans rooting for Lana were torn.
Peterson: When you see that first love, everybody wants it to last. But the reality with most of us is our first loves are there for a very particular reason; to help us grow and help us mature in to the people we are. A lot of us don't end up with our first love. [In the episode, "Blank,"] where Clark loses his memories and has to learn it all over again, there is a scene where he looks at Lana and he just can't even comprehend what he could have done to screw this up. We've all been to the place where we think, "What if we could go back and do our relationship over again?" [Another] big benchmark for me is in Season 6's "Promise," the wedding episode where Clark actually proactively goes after Lana. He doesn't just sit back. He actually, for one of the first times, goes after something he wants, even though it doesn't end well for him in that episode.
Souders: I would never use the word "cater," however, we really wanted to know what was of interest to fans and it certainly influenced the area that we tried to explore with the characters.
Peterson: We probably didn't change a storyline. We might have de-emphasized something that we were really going to play out. Even though we were trying to give the audience what they wanted, it was really each character that drove the storylines.
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The 100th episode, "Reckoning," was a turning point for Clark, whose actions in saving Lana caused the death of his Earth father, Jonathan Kent (John Schneider).
Peterson: Clark had always had a mentor, and then he went through some really hard growing pains. What's interesting is that the show went through some growing pains in that next year as Clark was finding his feet and trying to get on without Jonathan. John Schneider was hugely instrumental in setting the tone for the show and guiding everybody.
Souders: There is also a huge shift in "Reckoning" because he stopped leaning on his family as much and became more self-reliant and had to look inward. I think that began a more psychological investigation into Clark Kent.
Just as Clark lost his mentor, the show lost the voice of its creators, Gough and Millar, who left in 2008 with little explanation other than they never stopped fighting for what they saw as their vision for the show. Enter Peterson and Souders, who had started in Season 2 as writers and worked their way up in the ranks.
Peterson: We started working with Tom Welling really closely. The three of us really were, in a weird way, on the same trajectory that Clark Kent was as far as our mentors moving on and leaving us with all this knowledge and [having to decide what] to do with it.
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Welling became an executive producer on the series and even directed eight episodes.
Souders: Watching it makes me feel a little bit like a parent. He's passionate about the show. He wants the quality of the show to be as high as it possibly can be. We're also lucky that our lead was a person who wanted to take on more responsibility instead of getting less and less interested, which can easily happen.
In its later years, fans got restless -- Clark's progression into Superman was now several years in the making. So producers set out to introduce aspects of his DC Comics mythology to appease them.
Souders: DC Comics has been wonderful to work with because they know that it's important for us to see the Superman mythology in its entirety, but they also have been very cautious. It needs to not only be satisfying to the arc of Superman but also just in the context of Smallville. And that means sometimes you have to take liberties, but we always tried to honor, as much as we can, what came before us and what will come after us.
Peterson: We've always been working with Warner Bros. movie projects. But, as we all know, those can change radically, and at one point, ages ago, Lex Luther was from Krypton, and so then we had to try to slightly adjust. Then we would adjust back, depending on what draft of the movie script came in. And so what's been interesting for us is just to realize there are so many slight variations on these stories -- the graphic novels and the comics, and the movies. Everybody treats the material very reverently, but we put a tiny bit of a different spin on it. I feel like this show has been very successful with that.
Bringing in Lois Lane was one of Smallville's biggest gets from DC, alongside introducing supervillains Metallo, Darkseid and Zod, who filled in the void after Michael Rosenbaum (Lex) left in Season 7. The show was even able to take liberties with those characters, from Lois and Clark's premature meeting to the creation of Chloe (Allison Mack), a character not formerly in the mythology. She became a point of debate among fans for years, and eventually made her way into the comics.
Peterson: What was hard for us was that people wanted such completely different things from Chloe because she started off as this awesome, fun sidekick. When it came time for her to grow into her own, and she was no longer a sidekick, it was very tough because she had to find her own destiny. Fans were very, very split on what they wanted that to be. So we just kind of created a path that made sense. In the end, she kind of lined up with where Chloe is in the comic, too.
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After nine years of watching Clark Kent inch his way toward his destiny, it was time to become Superman. The CW announced in 2010 that Season 10 would be Smallville's final year.
Peterson: It happened organically because Season 10 was a great benchmark. Clark's character had developed to a certain point. The actors were all very much invested in ending the series on the right note. There were so many people involved in this show, hundreds and hundreds of people over the years, that everybody put so much effort in to creating this world where we got to see Clark mature. I'm hoping Tom and everybody else involved in the show feel like we literally went through every aspect of his maturation to the point when he makes his transformation, and it's completely believable.
To end the series meant closing one chapter of Clark's life while beginning the famous one. But there was one hiccup: Clark's greatest foe, Lex Luthor, was missing in action. Rosenbaum initially held out from returning, but following the fan outcry, he agreed to come back for the final episode.
Souders: I believe there was a massive smile on my face. I felt like 500 pounds had been lifted from my shoulders.
Peterson: This year has been very difficult because we really wanted Kristin Kreuk, who played Lana, just like we wanted Michael, but we also very much respected the fact that these actors put a lot of time into the show. They deserve a chance to go off and explore their own opportunities. We only had Michael for one day, so there was only so much we could do with him in the story and we really wanted to keep this Clark's finale. We had prepped an entire finale without him in it. There were a couple of things we had planned on planting in the season that we didn't because we didn't know that we were going to have him. So, we wrote the scenes, I won't say hurriedly because we spent like all weekend writing these two big scenes for him, but it did throw a couple of the other storylines into a...not a tail spin, but it changed them a little.
Souders: In some ways, [the finale] was pretty similar, it's just that Lex would have been a little bit of a puppeteer behind the scenes those last few episodes.
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With his nemesis in place, Clark and Smallville are ready to say farewell.
Peterson: We didn't want to just do an ending, we wanted to do a beginning a little bit. What we were aiming for was giving people the emotion of knowing what's to come because the end of this show lines up with every movie, a lot of comic books, and a lot of other things. Unlike a lot of shows, we know where this story goes, and so, it is a hand-off to those other pieces of canon and those other pieces of mythology, rather than just an ending.
Souders: What I would hope Smallville did was make one of the most recognizable heroes in the world accessible and made him sort of human to people so that they could relate to him and be inspired by him.
Peterson: When I watched [the finale], what's interesting is you have this rush of, "Gosh, that's what I've been waiting for all these years!" And then, immediately following it's like, "Wait a minute. That can't be the end!" We all know he has a whole new destiny and he has a whole future. That's where our show leaves off and where the movies will pick up.
Smallville's two-hour series finale airs Friday at 8/7c on the CW.