In an attempt to keep the show rooted in reality and keep costs controllable, the show's producers decided for better or worse have Spider-Man take on "real-life" criminals instead of the super villains from the comics.
Contrary to popular belief, "Spider-Man" was not canceled because of low ratings. In fact, the series performed well in the ratings, but TV politics were believed to have played a role in the cancellation; CBS executives apparently wanted to shed the network's image as "The Superhero Network," so they canceled the show, in addition to "Wonder Woman." (However, "The Incredible Hulk" remained at the network until 1982.)
In an interview with SFX Magazine in 2002, Nicholas Hammond said he was going to reprise the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in a TV movie that would have paired Spider-Man with The Incredible Hulk. The telefilm would have been distributed by Universal Pictures and Columbia Pictures for a spring 1984 air date, with Hammond also serving as a co-writer alongside Ron Satlof and Stan Lee. Bill Bixby would reprise his role of Dr. David Bruce Banner, as well as serve as the telefilm's director, and Lou Ferrigno would reprise his role of The Incredible Hulk. Despite getting most of the crew members from both the "Spider-Man" and "Hulk" TV series involved and creating the new black costume from the comics for Hammond's Spider-Man to wear, Universal canceled the project before filming began due to budgetary reasons.
CBS wanted to land Nicholas Hammond to play Peter Parker after seeing him perform in an English play at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Hammond accepted the role and told them he wanted to do a realistic portrayal of the character. He did not want it to be set up as a comedy like the 60's Batman TV show.
Aside from Peter/Spider-Man, J Jonah Jameson is the only character from the comic book series to appear regularly on the show. Aunt May and Joe Robbie Robertson both appeared in the pilot. Aunt May also appeared in one regular episode, played by a different actress. It would appear that Rita is based on Glory Grant from the Spider-Man comics, and Captain Barbera based on Captain Stacey.
Unlike the comics, J. Jonah Jameson's abrasive, flamboyant personality was toned down. The character was portrayed as more avuncular and actually liked Spider-Man. In the comics J. Jonah Jameson hates Spider-Man with a passion and carries out a smear campaign that, at least temporarily, turned much of the gullible in the city against the hero.
The series was not technically Spider-Man's first regular live-action depiction, as the character was featured in a popular segment on the PBS Children's Show The Electric Company. This would be the first time a live action Spider-Man spoke vocally, and was seen as Peter Parker. The series was the first to incorporate other live action elements from the comics as well.
In the comics, Peter Parker was a high school student who got bitten by a radioactive spider and selfishly used his powers until his lack of responsibility caused his Uncle Ben's demise. In the show, Peter is a grad student when the spider bites him and learns responsibility despite not having Uncle Ben (or Uncle Ben's untimely demise) to point him in the right direction.
An entire episode had to be shot within seven days. In an effort to save time when Nicholas Hammond shot the Peter Parker scenes with the first until while the second unit was out with Freddy Waugh shooting the Spider-Man stunt scenes since 85% of the scenes featured Peter Parker and only 15% featured Spider-Man.
Spider-Man's web shooters and belt are on the outside of his costume in this series, unlike in the comics where they are concealed within his costume. This was later adapted to the comics when a character named Ben Riley (who was also Peter Parker's clone) used improved web shooters and kept his belt on the outside of his costume as the Scarlet-Spider. However, Riley concealed the belt during his brief stint as the new Spider-Man.
During the early 80's, episodes were paired off and edited together to be sold into syndication as TV movies, some featuring added footage to bridge the gap between stories. The TV movie versions were subsequently released on home video (though never on DVD). Due to the uneven number of one hour episodes, Deadly Tower was the episode not paired with another, and the only not to be released on home video.