Here's the thing that the CW keeps forgetting: As successful as Smallville may be - at least by CW standards - it's not really successful because of Smallville itself. When it comes down to it, the CW show that stars Tom Welling as an entirely unconvincing early-20s version of Clark Kent is, at best, an entirely okay show, lifted up considerably by the fact that it's about Superman.
When it comes to Superman and television, there're two very strange things that happen. Firstly, television producers these days seem to want to stay away from doing an outright Superman show - perhaps because they don't like the complete Superman set-up, perhaps because of budget, perhaps to stay away from comparisons to the Christopher Reeve movies, perhaps a mixture of all three - and, instead, produce kind of uneven-if-not-outright-crappy shows (Lois and Clark, I'm looking directly at you). Secondly, those crappy shows stay on the air much longer than they have any right to, outliving many, much better, shows.
There is, I think, an unspoken understanding on behalf of TV audiences that they will support even a shitty Superman show longer than they would anything similar because, hey, it's Superman. Certainly, the "Hey, it's Superman" school of thought explains a lot about Smallville's success. Smallville, by placing itself in what was originally the formative years of Clark Kent's heroic existence - something that, let's face it, doesn't really hold true by the time the show is going into its ninth season; am I really the only one who thinks that, after eight years of minor adventures and annually saving the world, Clark should be a lot better about this by now? - gave itself permission to be lazy with its writing, knowing that the audience would fill in a lot of the blanks itself. They didn't need to move beyond broad strokes with their core cast, because we knew the characters already, which worked perfectly well until they started doing the same with characters we didn't already know (or know so well): Tess Mercer, anyone? Or even Davis Bloom?
(And before I hear someone defending the show by pointing out that Chloe was an original character from day one - Come on, you thought she was going to turn into Lois for years and read that into her character as well, admit it.)
The problem with previous attemptsto spin off a show from Smallville, be it Mercy Reef or The Graysons, is that there's only really one other character who has the same level of pop cultural awareness as Superman, and he's apparently off-limits to television. But without using Batman, any potential spin-off from Smallville would mean that the show would lose the (mass) audience's help in telling the story, and come over as something closer to Heroes, but on an even smaller budget... and no-one really wants to watch that for more than a couple of seasons at most.
So, what can the CW do? With Supernatural's creators talking about this next season being the last, Smallville's continued existence seems all the more important for capturing a piece of the elusive nerd demographic, but even the network execs must realize that a tenth year of Clark Kent putting off wearing a cape and fulfilling his much-discussed destiny of becoming the world's greatest hero would seem ridiculous. How can they keep Smallville's audience, even if they can't keep Smallville?
The answer seems obvious: Replace the show with itself. Finally bite the bullet and just make an outright Superman series.
Why not? They have the cast already (Tom Welling seems to be happy playing the role forever, it seems), and the Daily Planet and Metropolis sets. Simply end the ninth season with Clark putting on the famous red and blue outfit for the first time, and come back the next year with a new name for the show, a timejump so that you can skip boring "How Superman won everyone's trust" stories and also reset the status quo a little bit closer to the familiar tradition - and also, let the stars play closer to their real ages - and a new point for the series. Instead of going back to play the "What if [DC Comics Character X] was a teen?" card, just give the people what they want: Clark Kent, saving Metropolis with his shiny red boots on. Instead of continually looking at the past, the best thing the CW could do, if they want to keep the Smallville audience, is let the show become what it needs to, and look ahead, instead. Or maybe not look ahead. Maybe they should look up in the sky.
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