Developed for television by Joseph Stefano (known for the classic movie Psycho and legendary series The Outer Limits), Swamp Thing was filmed in the brand-new Universal Studios Florida facilities and soundstages by Universal's MTE division. This was granted to demonstrate the new studio because the series could be produced cheaply and quickly. For the first thirteen episodes, the crew shot Second Unit footage in actual Florida swamps and returned to the studio for the primary scenes. However, the swamps not only prevented them from creating favorable lighting but also required lots of time to transport people and equipment from the swamp to the studio. They finally decided to use swamp areas then existing on the perimeter of the studio and to build a swamp in the studio which, according to Durock, looked "ten times better than a real swamp."
Actor/stuntman Dick Durock, who played Dr. Alec Holland (Swamp Thing) in both films, reprised his role for the more serious-toned TV series. He wore a modified version of Carl Fullerton and Neal Martz's latex suit created for The Return of Swamp Thing, and he spoke in an electronically altered basso profundo. Since his profuse sweating caused the lip and eye prosthetics to fall off while shooting the previous films, Durock simply had makeup applied in those areas for his television costume. "In the first feature it took close to four hours. In the second feature it took close to two hours. By the time we did the series, which ironically was by far the best makeup and costume, we had it down to about 45 minutes," he recalled.
Durock worked twelve hours a day, six days a week for 50 straight episodes without a break. In addition to the burden of wearing an 80-pound costume, the schedule required him to learn ten pages of dialogue each day. "I don't think this has ever been done before in the history of Hollywood where a guy wore a costume for that amount of time," Durock noted in a 2008 interview. However, he also recited the schedule as "two shows a week, three days each show, ten pages of dialogue a day. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and at the end of the day they hand you another thirty pages." This may allude to the schedule after the rigorous first 50 episodes. What's more, Durock stressed that "I had no experience as an actor at all, other than playing on Rockford Files and a zillion other shows, but not as an 'actor' actor per se."
Swamp Thing debuted with "The Emerald Heart" on Friday, July 27, 1990 in the 10:30pm EST time slot. The show's introductory narration decrees:
After the pilot episode and first 12 episodes, executive producer Stefano left the series and production was temporarily halted for some retooling by Tom Greene, the new executive producer. However, by the end of the first season the network and studio sensed that the show could attract even higher ratings and further modifications came when Tom Blomquist was enlisted as a replacement for Greene to revamp the series for two more seasons and a lengthy production order of 50 episodes. Those episodes, which helped make Swamp Thing the highest rated original series on USA Network, were less dependent on elements from the comic books and instead introduced anthological science fiction stories featuring guest star characters encountering the mysteries of the swamp. Swamp Thing regularly featured guest actors, such as Roscoe Lee Browne as Duchamp, (a Voodoo Houngan/Bokor, who refers to Swamp Thing as "Loa of Green Things; the Spirit of the Swamp"), Tyne Daly as Dr. Arcane's fierce rival, Wolfman Jack as a carnival owner, Debby Boone as the estranged daughter of a beloved local woman, Philip Michael Thomas as a ghost trapped for eternity with his bickering wife, Andrew Stevens as a politician, One Life to Live stars Robert S. Woods and John Loprieno as escaped convicts, and Adam Curry as a rock star. Two episodes also guest starred professional wrestlers Terry Funk, Kevin Nash, and Jorge Gonzáles a.k.a. El Gigante.
The series also introduced characters like the Kipp family, as well as a completely new incarnation of Anton Arcane played by Mark Lindsay Chapman. A young boy named Jim Kipp, played by Jess Ziegler, was intended to appeal to the young audience. However, after the first 12 episodes, a decision was made to return the series back to a darker theme seen in the original Swamp Thing film. Consequently, the story had Jim Kipp abducted by a South American child stealing ring acting under the orders from Dr. Arcane, and Jim never appeared again in the series. Durock noted, "The way they wrote him out was kind of a shock to me and everybody else except for I suppose the writers... That's a hell of a way to meet your demise!" Indeed, the Swamp Thing evolved as it went along. Regarding these shifts, Durock commented, "I guess we finally got it ironed out with the next 50, we kind of tried to hit a balance."
Jim Kipp's fate and several other unresolved plot points from the first season were resolved by the new writing staff in the second and third seasons. Jim was later said to have been found (off-camera) sometime in the third season by his divorced mother Tressa, played by Carrell Myers, after a long search and she supposedly sent Jim to live with his father far away. Primary among those plotlines in seasons two and three was Alec Holland's quest to find a cure for the affliction that had turned him into a swamp creature. Several episodes were dedicated to his desire to rediscover his human nature, including his unrequited love story with a beautiful scientist, Dr. Ann Fisk, played by actress Janet Julian who dedicated herself to helping him. Another innovation in the second and third seasons was an exploration of Dr. Arcane's madness, in an attempt to explain his penchant for evil.
With the network eager to release new episodes, many in the first season were aired out of their original order in the series' original run. The disorganization created the effect of sporadic or unfulfilled plot points in various episodes, an issue that was corrected in the first DVD set. Due to its strong cult following, however, Swamp Thing would later re-air on Sci-Fi Channel and be featured during the S.C.I.F.I. World schedule in the early 2000s (decade). As of 2008, the series airs on Chiller in movie form and is available on its official website. In 2016, the series aired on Heroes & Icons, along with many other 1990s syndicated live action shows such as Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.Dick Durock as Swamp Thing: A professor who was burned by chemicals at the hands of Dr. Anton Arcane, transforming him into a supernatural creature hellbent on protecting his new home from evil.
Mark Lindsay Chapman as Dr. Anton Arcane: A smarmy villain who attempted to steal Holland's formula and serves as his nemesis.
Jesse Zeigler as Jim Kipp (Season 1; Part 1): An 11-year-old boy who befriends Swamp Thing.
Carrell Myers as Tressa Kipp: (Regular in Season 1; Parts 1-2; recurring in Seasons 2-3) Divorced mother of Jim and stepmother to Will, who's trying to restart her life in her hometown in Houma, Louisiana.
Scott Garrison as Will Kipp (Season 1; Part 2 & Seasons 2-3): Step-son to Tressa and half-brother to Jim, who came from Philadelphia and befriends Swamp Thing.
Kari Wuhrer as Abigail (Season 1; Part 2): A runaway synthetic human created by Dr. Woodrue.
Kevin Quigley as Graham: The unimaginative yet trusty and devoted assistant to Arcane.
Anthony Galde as Obo Hartison (Season 1; Part 1): A local handyman and friend of Jim Kipp.
Swamp Thing was at one time USA Network's top rated show despite being subject to mixed or poor reception. Dick Durock, however, recounted being sent many positive reviews from various media. He also noted that the series had strong European following, particularly in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom which had a national Swamp Thing fan club.
The series failed to reach a considerable mainstream approval but has gained a cult following thanks in part to the unintentional camp value of the early episodes. Adam-Troy Castro of SciFi.com gave a largely unimpressed review of the series' first DVD set, noting "Somehow [the] action never amounts to very much, because the staging is consistently beyond awful." While he noted moments of good cinematography, the Swamp Thing costume is criticized for its poor mobility and burden on fight scenes. Castro also considers the acting poor and the bonus interviews much more interesting than the episodes themselves.
Andrew Winistorfer of PopMatters heavily criticized the series in his review for the Volume Two DVD set. Calling it "a marathon of bad clichés, disjointed plot lines, lame acting, and even lamer stories devoid of any ironic pop culture worth at all," he gave the DVD set a 2/10 rating. Winistorfer also expressed frustration in the episodes being organized by original air dates rather than production order, causing numerous plot inconsistencies. Various other websites have echoed such statements in their own Swamp Thing DVD reviews.
In 1990, four episodes of Swamp Thing, labeled The New Adventures of Swamp Thing, were released on VHS in the United Kingdom. These were "Birth Marks," "The Watchers," "Tremors of the Heart," and "Walk a Mile in My Shoots."
On January 22, 2008, Shout! Factory released Swamp Thing - The Series. This 4-disc DVD set contains all 22 episodes of the first two seasons in their proper chronological order. Volume Two was released July 15, 2008 and contains the first 25 episodes of the third season. However, this collection organizes the episodes by original air date. Cast members reunited to film extras for the DVDs, and Durock embarked on a tour of fan conventions to promote the new releases.
On May 26, 2010, Shout Factory announced Volume 3, which would contain the last episodes of the series, would be released on June 22 exclusively from the Shout Factory website.
On July 14, 2009 a DVD collection titled Swamp Thing: Eight Favorite Episodes was released by Mill Creek Entertainment (under license by Shout! Factory) containing eight selected episodes.
Another single disc DVD compilation titled Swamp Thing: The Legend Continues was released on September 28, 2010 by Shout! Factory, containing seven selected episodes. Episodes in this DVD were: "Night Of The Dying", "Love Lost", "Mist Demeanor", "A Nightmare On Jackson Street", "Better Angels", "Children Of The Fool", and "A Jury Of His Fears".