Cover Story

Superpower!

''Superman'' regains ratings in season two -- Changes the TV show made to triumph over ''seaQuest DSV''

The most dramatic matchups of the 1994-95 TV season looked like no-win situations last fall. Two Chicago hospital dramas on Thursday night at 10? Two high-powered sitcoms on Tuesday at 9? And in a second-season rematch, two struggling sci-fi shows on Sunday at 8? In fact, the ER-Chicago Hope showdown turned out to be a win-win situation (after CBS moved Hope), as did the Frasier-Home Improvement face-off (both stayed put and scored big ratings). But the war between ABC's Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and NBC's seaQuest DSV didn't end so swimmingly for one of the shows. The outcome was a headline writer's dream: SUPERMAN SOARS WHILE SEAQUEST SINKS.

TV's Lois Lane, Teri Hatcher, feels drunk with happiness over her show's new following. ''This huge fan owns a beer company in New York, and he said, 'Any time you want free beer, just call me,''' she reports. ''He doesn't know what he's in for — 'Hi, it's Teri. Bring over another keg!'''

Lois & Clark's victory party wasn't so easy to predict when the show was first pitted against the Spielberg-launched submarine drama. ''For sci-fi fans, Lois & Clark and seaQuest were initially equally interesting,'' says Hatcher. ''But I felt we offered a humanness and romantic comedy that other sci-fi shows don't.'' Still, finding a balance between heart-tugging romance and pulse-pounding action proved almost as hard as finding kryptonite on the periodic table.

Originally intended for a 10 p.m. slot, Lois & Clark was conceived by creator Deborah Joy LeVine as an adult-appeal, Tracy-and-Hepburn take on the Daily Planet reporters, with Clark Kent's secret identity as a screwball twist. But when ABC scheduled it for Sunday at 8 p.m., sophisticated humor flew out the window in favor of kiddie-friendly stunts. ''That was not particularly rewarding,'' recalls Hatcher. ''I didn't want to run around every episode yelling, 'Help, Superman, help!'''

Hatcher's cape-wearing costar, Dean Cain, was equally displeased with the early plots. ''I felt it was the same story: Clark runs away whenever anything happens, saves the day as Superman, and Lois never really knows what happened.''

What happened was a personnel shake-up after the show finished its first season at an unspectacular No. 46, barely treading water above seaQuest (No. 55). LeVine left, along with cast members John Shea (supervillain Lex Luthor, who returned once this season), Tracy Scoggins (gossip columnist Kat Grant), and Michael Landes (replaced as cub reporter Jimmy Olsen by Justin Whalin). Executive producer Robert Singer says Landes' Jimmy ''was a younger version of Clark Kent. With Justin, we tried to get a hipper, more up-to-date Jimmy.''

Lois & Clark and seaQuest may have started their second seasons at near-equal strength, but as the weeks went by, everything fell in Superman's favor: NBC's Earth 2 proved a feeble lead-in to seaQuest, while ABC's America's Funniest Home Videos delivered a large family audience to Lois & Clark; ABC preempted Lois & Clark less often for movies and specials this year; and seaQuest fans grew alienated with its new Baywatch-like tone and channel-surfed for alternatives.

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