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Superheroes invade the TV lineup

GOTHAM traces the rise of the great DC Comics Super-Villains and vigilantes, revealing an entirely new chapter that has never been told. From executive producer/writer Bruno Heller (The Mentalist, Rome) and starring Ben McKenzie, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Donal Logue, GOTHAM follows one cop, destined for greatness, as he navigates a dangerously corrupt city teetering on the edge of evil, and chronicles the birth of one of the most popular super heroes of our time. GOTHAM premieres Monday, Sept. 22 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Pictured: (L-R) Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue. (Jessica Miglio/FOX/MCT)

GOTHAM traces the rise of the great DC Comics Super-Villains and vigilantes, revealing an entirely new chapter that has never been told. From executive producer/writer Bruno Heller (The Mentalist, Rome) and starring Ben McKenzie, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Donal Logue, GOTHAM follows one cop, destined for greatness, as he navigates a dangerously corrupt city teetering on the edge of evil, and chronicles the birth of one of the most popular super heroes of our time. GOTHAM premieres Monday, Sept. 22 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Pictured: (L-R) Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue. (Jessica Miglio/FOX/MCT)

Holy comic book heroes!

Not since the late 1970s has there been as many network TV shows based on the super-powered characters from the colorful pages of comic books.

Joining the already established Arrow on the CW and Marvel’s Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC on the fall network TV schedule, are these comic-book inspired shows:

∎ Gotham, begins Sept. 22 on Fox.

∎ The Flash, launches Oct. 7 on CW.

∎ Constantine, starts Oct. 24. on NBC.“Agent Carter, is waiting in the wings as a mid-season replacement for ABC.

And, it’s not just the networks who have cape-and-cowl fever.

Netflix will produce five series based on Marvel Comics characters: Daredevil, Jessica Jones. Luke Cage, Iron Fist and the Defenders.

The genre is booming, in part, because of the massive success of comic book movies. It’s also a way for networks to lure back young viewers with shows that have a darker tone, a reflection of the dark changes to the comics over the decades.

The CW Network saw a big drop in male viewers – 18 to 34 year olds – when Smallville ended in 2011. CW President Mark Pedowitz sees The Flash and Arrow as a way to tempt those viewers to come back.

The challenge is making the special-effects heavy shows financially feasible.

Greg Berlanti, executive producer of The Flash, said advancement in technology makes it easier – and cheaper – to mimic the live-action version of superpowers.

He also suggests this renewed interest in comics is the latest example of Hollywood understanding the attraction of heroes vs. villains.

“When I was kid on Saturday afternoon I would go over to my grandparent’s house and there were all these Westerns that were on,” Berlanti says. “I think it’s a similar kind of thing. There were these classic kind of universes where there were bad guys, good guys, good gals, bad gals, right and wrong.”

‘Gotham’

Comic book-inspired TV shows have always embraced the good vs. evil concept, but the new shows have a far darker tone and approach.

Gotham is a completely different look at Batman than the 1966-68 Batman series, which was presented as a bright, pop art kind of world where everything was played tongue-in-cheek. In Gotham, the Caped Crusader is still a pre-teen Bruce Wayne trying to come to grips with the murder of his parents.

It doesn’t worry Bruno Heller, an executive producer on Gotham, that the series will focus more on the creation of some of Batman’s greatest foes – Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler – than the caped crimefighter. He believes the city of Gotham will provide the larger than life character that will be a central part of the show.

“This is about people, and it’s about people trying to overcome real problems as opposed to trying to learn how to fly,” Heller said. “Will the fanboys back away from it? I don’t think so, because I think, certainly for me, the really interesting parts of these stories is the origin stories. As soon as you’re into the capes and costumes, it’s less interesting than seeing how they got there. And this is about how all these people got there.”

Heller said the show won’t change the long accepted mythology of the heroes.

“What we won’t do is break the kind of canonical iron truths of the Batman story,” he says. “But issues of chronology and who was there when and how, we will play with. In a fun way, not in a disrespectful way or a sort of iconoclastic way.”

‘Arrow’

It was Smallville that brought a new approach to telling superhero stories.

Instead of rushing to get Clark Kent (Tom Welling) into his bright Superman crimefighting suit, the series launched as a family drama with Clark being a special needs kid. The show dealt with dark issues of greed, anger, revenge, hatred and fear as Clark grew into his super role.

That trend continued with Arrow. Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) is still a billionaire playboy, but he’s carrying a lot more baggage after honing his archery skills while fighting for survival on a desolate island. In two seasons, he’s already had to deal with the death of his best friend and mother.

Green Arrow had plenty of problems in the comic books – especially in the early ‘70s run by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams – but the series creators took major liberties with the character when bringing him to TV.

“One of the nice things about Green Arrow is unlike Batman or Spider-Man or Superman where everyone knows about Batman’s parents dying or Krypton blowing up or getting bit by a radioactive spider, Green Arrow has an origin that is subject to a lot of interpretation,” said executive producer Marc Guggenheim.

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