On TV, comic books turn a new page
By Bill Keveney, USA Today
- Jul. 25, 2014
Comic-book heroes may find themselves facing new rivals – each other – as their numbers grow on television.
Four DC Entertainment properties – Fox's Gotham, NBC's Constantine and CW's The Flash and midseason iZombie – are scheduled to hit the small screen in the upcoming TV season, along with another Marvel character, ABC's midseason Agent Carter.
Those shows, which will be featured this weekend at Comic-Con in San Diego, will add to a population that includes ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and CW's Arrow.
Comics have had recent TV success, including Smallville's 10-year run and, decades earlier, The Incredible Hulk, though a recent attempt to redo Wonder Woman never got off the ground.
The current surge, part of Warner Bros. and Disney's efforts to mine popular properties, comes amid the success of comic-book characters in movies and the mighty ratings performance of AMC's graphic-novel-based The Walking Dead.
Grant Gustin, who plays The Flash (aka Barry Allen), senses the early interest of a built-in fan base. "I see it (on Twitter). I can feel their excitement. It gets me more excited."
Devoted comics fans could give these shows an initial boost, but programmers will be watching to see whether the field gets overcrowded.
"There's a danger in overexposing anything, but at the moment, I think they're different enough from one another, and the genre audience is always there for you in the beginning," NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt says. "There seems to be a big appetite for it. Will we overstay our welcome? That's a good question."
CW president Mark Pedowitz, who has had success with Arrow, isn't worried about a glut.
"In the theatrical film business, there's been no saturation," says Pedowitz, whose lower-rated network doesn't need to attract as many fans as the larger broadcasters. "The fans will tell us when they hit (a saturation) point, but at this point in time I don't think there is."
DC Entertainment was able to launch so many new shows this season because of their diversity, chief creative officer Geoff Johns says. "Gotham is very different than Flash is very different than Constantine is very different than iZombie. As long as everything finds its own niche ... and we don't get repetitive, there's room for everything," he says.
Series shouldn't be lumped together under one broad comic-book label, either, says Jeph Loeb, head of television at Marvel, which has a deal for four more comics-based series, including 2015's Daredevil, with Netflix.
"For all intents and purposes, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a procedural that has espionage to it and then, on top of that, there is the world of the extraordinary," he says. "Are there too many medical shows? Are there too many legal shows? We think good TV will drive a great audience."
Comics titans Marvel and DC diverge when it comes to how their TV shows connect — or don't — with movies.
In April, S.H.I.E.L.D., with an underwhelming audience response, appeared to enjoy a creative jolt when it picked up the sleeper-agent infiltration theme of the newly released Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
"We did something that was unprecedented, in that we actually changed what was going on in the mythology of our show (as a result of a) a major motion picture, and it stayed current. We'd love to do it again, so keep your eyes open," says Loeb, who wouldn't confirm a tie-in with the May 1 theatrical release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. "It is one big universe."
DC takes the opposite tack: Arrow and The Flash will intersect with each other, but not with DC's theatrical films, Johns says. "It's a separate universe than film, so the filmmakers can tell the story that's best for film while we do something different in a different corner of the DC universe on television."
Gotham's Ben McKenzie, whose detective James Gordon is pre-Commissioner Gordon of Batman lore, disagrees with critics who say fans won't respond unless they see capes and costumes. "What really pulls me in is when a character can't put on a cape and fly away, when they genuinely are fallible, flawed and very human."
He thinks Gotham will be able to stand out in the crowd. "The aesthetic is a little starker and grimmer than a lot of these superhero shows out there and a little more adult," he says. "I think we have room. We'll see."