Teen Clark Kent slipping into phone booth at WB

Robbins, Tollin to produce 13 episodes about teen hero

“Superman” is flying back to primetime via the WB.

Pacting with sister studio Warner Bros. Television and Tollin/Robbin Prods., the Frog has ordered 13 episodes of an hourlong adventure-drama about Clark Kent at age 15 that’s targeted to premiere during the 2001-02 season.

“Shanghai Noon” scribes Miles Millar and Alfred Gough will also serve as exec producers, while Brian Robbins (“Varsity Blues”) is attached to direct the pilot episode.

As first reported Tuesday by Variety.com, the series will follow the adolescent Kent as he comes to grips with his emerging superpowers, exploring every aspect of the “Superman” mythology from its roots.

Familiar characters such as Lex Luthor (originally a pal of Kent’s) and Lois Lane will be included; show will be set in the present time. The emphasis of the series will be on Kent rather than his alter-Superego.

The WB snagged the rights to the so-called “Teenage Clark Kent Project” even though another network, Fox, had initially offered to shell out significantly more money for a pilot commitment and more coin per episode, should the pilot be picked up as a series.

After floating its own pilot offer, the WB soon stepped up with the 13-episode commitment, offering an episodic license fee believed to be among the highest the net has ever paid for a first-year drama.

WB Entertainment topper Susanne Daniels declined to discuss specifics of the deal, except to say that the license fee the Frog is shelling out is “in line with ‘Angel’ and ‘Roswell.’ ”

Intriguing pitch

“The pitch was fantastic,” Daniels said. “Every character was worked out in depth. They mapped out the story arcs, the specific mysteries ” This was one of those pitches you want to work with.”

The series will be much more action-focused than “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” but will still contain a strong dose of humor. Circumstances such as Kent’s first experimentation with X-Ray vision and other powers will also arise.

Daniels said the “Teenage Clark Kent Project” finally allows the WB to work with D.C. Comics.

“We’ve been wanting to get into business with (D.C.),” she said. “We’ve talked about other comic books while looking for a project to do. Part of getting into business required it be a substantial commitment. They weren’t going to let Superman go to anybody.”

Warner Bros. TV prexy Peter Roth said the studio was excited with the new take on the “Superman” franchise from Tollin/Robbins and Millar and Gough.

“It’s the first time I’ve heard representatives of DC Comics suggest that we may actually have the potential to enhance the classic brand,” Roth said. “Al and Miles came up with an idea that adds a whole new level of storytelling.”

Revisiting Kent’s youth

This won’t even be the first time that the youthful adventures of the hero from planet Krypton have been documented on TV.

From 1988 to 1991 Viacom distributed the half-hour syndicated action series “Superboy,” which chronicled the man of steel in college. John Haymes Newton played collegiate Superman, until he left in a contract dispute and was replaced by Gerard Christopher. Seventy-eight episodes of the skein were produced.

Dean Cain then starred in the mid-’90s ABC series “Lois & Clark.” The Warner Bros. Television drama — which focused more on humor and romance elements than past “Superman” revivals — started out strong for the Alphabet web in 1993, but later saw its ratings fortunes tumble.

“Lois & Clark” was pulled from ABC in 1997, even though the series had been given a greenlight for a sixth season. Sources at the time suggested that ABC may have renewed the show so that some of the net’s stations could clear the hit Warner Bros. syndicated talker “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.”

“Superman” has a long history in TV as both live-action and animated skeins, going back to 1951’s “The Adventures of Superman,” starring George Reeves. Until recently, Kids’ WB had aired “The New Batman/Superman Adventures” cartoon.

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