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Before Jason Momoa, there was Alan Ritchson. No... wait — we mean Justin Hartley. Back in the mid-2000s, The WB started to develop an Aquaman television series entitled Mercy Reef following a ratings smash in the form of Arthur Curry (played by Ritchson) guest starring on a Season 5 episode of Smallville. When the Mercy Reef pilot finally went into production, however, the network decided to recast the role with Hartley.
Ritchson, who was just starting off in his acting career at the time, never got angry about the situation. "I wasn't mad at all, why would I be?" the Reacher actor said on Michael Rosenbaum's Inside of You podcast, going on to reveal that he was originally supposed to headline the spinoff project.
"They were like, 'Congratulations' and I was getting calls from people at the studio [who said] 'I'm the guy who's just here to make sure you keep your head on the ground, so you call me day or night. If you're in trouble...' These people were prepping me for the biggest show on TV," he continued. They started to negotiate a deal when UPN and The WB merged to become The CW in 2006. The president of UPN apparently took over and started to assess the various shows in development.
"He's looking at this roster of shows, this slate, and going, 'Who the hell is that guy?' Which is the same thing I would do!" Ritchson chuckled. "I was sitting there, going, 'I can't believe it was this easy. I've been here three works. I've got my own show?!' [The president] goes, 'He can't have his own show.' And so, they called me and they're like, 'We're trying to fight him on it because we looked for so long and we love you. But he doesn't want you to do this. We have to go back and find people, but maybe we won't find anybody."
That's exactly what happened and the head of the network relented. "I was like, 'Ok, great! I get my own show!' I'm sitting cool," Ritchson added. "But again, like with Reacher, there's this asterisk by it for me where I'm like, 'I guess I'm not really wanted, but maybe I'll run with it ... And then a week later they were like, 'Actually... Justin Hartley just came off Passions and he's available and we're gonna go with Justin Hartley.' And I was like, 'I don't know who that is, but great.' I've learned the best lesson I could early on to hold loosely to this stuff because nothing is guaranteed and nothing is owed to me. If I hadn't learned that lesson early, I would've been an entitled a**hole."
Mercy Reef (named for the location where Arthur was abandoned as a baby in the comics) never got a full series pick-up and the leader of Atlantis wouldn't turn up in the realm of live-action until the DC Extended Universe a decade later. If you're interested in seeing what could have been, click here to watch the very 2000s trailer for Hartley's Aquaman show, which would have co-starred Ving Rhames.