There are several different definitions of, and criteria for, what constitutes a cult television series. Smallville, however, is one of the few television series that fulfills nearly all such requisites for the attaining of cult status. The show was broadcast before a national audience during prime time hours for 10 years, has won a host of awards, and generated a following that has spanned so many different genres, media, and spin-offs, that virtually the only word to describe it would be cult. However, one of the primary factors that readily afforded Smallville to be able to attain a cult like status was in place well before a single scene was shot or before a solitary actor had been cast. The fact that Smallville was based on the character of Superman, originally a DC Comics character and best selling title, as well as a series of lucrative movies filmed in the late 1970s and 1980's have made this particular character a virtual cultural icon largely endemic as a representation of America itself, certainly played a preeminent factor in aiding Smallville to attaining its cult like status.
The numerous accolades and awards which the series has won is further testimony to its cult status. Similar to a show like Seinfeld, which dominated American televisions throughout much of the 1990's while garnering numerous awards and critical acclaim, Smallville has been widely recognized both within and without the television industry as something of a franchise. Its pilot episode broke the record for most viewers for the WB Network which it debuted for with 8.4 million spectators watching. An average of approximately four million viewers have tuned in for each episode, and the series has been entered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running television series in North America related to science fiction (Sumner, 2011). Critical approval has come in the form of various awards including Emmys and Tonys, while various members of the filming and casting crew have won recognition in such disparate fields such as visual effects, cinematography, make-up, as well as opening theme song music.
Yet perhaps one of the best means to judge the cult status of any particular form of media is to measure the degree of ubiquity such an art form has garnered. To that end, it should be stated that despite the series ending in 2011, it was promptly picked up by TNT for syndication beginning on October 3rd of that same year. Although Smallville may have earned the initial interest of the public by playing into the legacy of a national superhero (whose name certainly helped to pioneer and popularize this sort of cultural phenomenon), the many forms in which it has spread and become manifest throughout several different industries can be almost solely attributed to its proficiency as an engaging work of art that can be verified by its entry into so many disparate fields. Smallville has spawned a number of representations throughout most fields of popular culture, including internet-only episodes revolving around characters form the popular television series, to a number of works of literature that detail and exploits of not only episodes that have previously aired on the series, but also brand new adventures utilizing characters popularized by the weekly show. A bi-monthly comic book was created to coincide with the events that took place on the series, while two series of young adult novels that produced at least 18 fictional novels. As a testament to the influence of the television show, many of these works of fiction were written by various writers for the television series (Bennet, Gottesfield, 2002).
Another testament to the cult-like status of a prominent part of popular culture can be found by the sheer amount of merchandise generated by a product, all of which is indicative of its influence on that same culture. In this regard, Smallville can certainly be regarded as having attained cult-like status, since it has spawned numerous musical soundtracks, apparel, and posters -- virtually all of which are closely tied into popular episodes and motifs from the series. There was a monthly magazine that was dedicated to the chronicling of interviews with crew members and cast members of the popular television show. Other merchandising efforts have included companion books (that coincided with particular seasons of the series) as well as role playing games.
Outside of Smallville's deservedly attained cult-like status -- which has included promotional efforts with major global phone carriers such as Sprint and Verizon, as well as international automotive manufacturer Toyota as well as spin-off series such as Aquaman -- Smallville is an excellent example of quality television (Ives, 2003). Its quality may be evidenced not simply from all of its lucrative endeavors and industry spanning awards, but also from its rather novel treatment of a time-honored American legend that was able to endow a personal appeal to the main character and the supporting characters. In terms of the show's plot, the basic premise was that the bulk of the episodes would take place before Superman had attained his powers, which would allow viewers to get an in-depth look and feel for the true human being beneath the cape, so to speak. In many ways, it was this aspect of the Smallville that actually was able to contribute to the mythology of Superman, which was at once an innovative treatment of a time honored subject, while also providing a rich variety of motives and emotions with which the writers and the creators of the show could utilize to engender stimulating, emotionally moving television.
Furthermore, the show was able to achieve its longevity in large part due to the fact that it allowed for a natural evolution of the characters and of the dimensions of the show that effectively mirrored that of actual life. For instance, the first four episodes of the show focused on Clark Kent (who would eventually grow up to be Superman) during his secondary school years and his interactions with his friends, which certainly had an appeal for the younger target audience studio executives were initially looking to capture. However, around the fifth season, the show actually transitioned into the adult life of Kent, who was able to procure a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet, which was able to significantly add to the degree of sophistication that would prove so valuable for the longevity of the series. By placing Kent in more adult surroundings, not only was the series able to expand its focus beyond that of just Kent and its friends, it was also able to introduce other DC Comics villains and heroes which not only added to the shows popularity for true comic book aficionados, but provided additional (and greater levels of) characterization with which to balance various aspects of plot, syntax, and nuance -- the stuff of which great television is made of.
The characterization of Kent himself, however, was consistently the focus of the plot and is a testament to the overall quality with which the creators of Smallville were able to produce for 10 years. A large part of the appeal of Smallville was that it was able to take a mythological character who was in many ways larger than life itself, and strip him down to a bare human being that was relatable to a other people. Although Kent had latent powers and the series was action oriented and featured him performing heroic deeds in its costume, it refrained from being a flat, two-dimensional depiction of the legend that is consistently apprehending a new "bad guy" with each episode. Instead, Smallville was able to showcase Kent's inner demons and conflicts with morality, which makes for much more engaging (and sophisticated) television. It also allows…