Even before the broadcast networks had finished revealing the new shows picked up for the 2014-2015 season, a clear trend had emerged as four series based on DC Comics properties are headed to television.
Fox’s Gotham, NBC’s Constantine, and The CW’s iZombie and The Flash will join the network’s successful drama Arrow come September, giving DC Comics five shows on the air at the same time, a first in the company’s 80-year history.
As the broadcasters look for remakes, reboots, and foreign formats in an effort to inject a level of built-in awareness to its new shows, comic books seem like a treasure trove of characters and concepts. After all, movie theaters are now packed with filmgoers lining up to see the exploits of superheroes on a yearly basis. The caped crusaders, webslingers, and misunderstood mutants are now generating billions of dollars a year in revenue for studios, and it makes sense that DC and its parent company, Warner Bros., would look to translate its lucrative library into properties for television.
Founded in 1934 as National Allied Publications, DC Comics boasted its first TV show in 1952, Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves. That character has proven to be the company’s most profitable small screen superhero over the years, with its three longest running series — Superboy (1988-1992), Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997), Smallville (2001-2011) — all originating from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s iconic creation.
Outside of Supes’ red, white, and blues, DC Comics struggled to find another character who would connect with television audiences. (NBC’s adaptation of Wonder Woman, from executive producer David E. Kelley, failed to get off the ground in 2011.) Until Arrow, launched in 2012.
Piggy-backing off the success off Christopher Nolan’s rebooted Batman trilogy — a DC Comics property produced by Warner Bros., like all these series — The CW presented a gritty, realistic world version of the mean, green crusader, whose series, executive produced by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg, resonated with viewers.
The series premiere’s phenomenal ratings (4.14 million viewers, making it The CW’s most-watched telecast of any show, on any night, in three years) proved that the comic book fanbase would follow these characters to television.
Arrow has paved the way for The Flash, a spin-off series revolving around Barry Allen (played by Grant Gustin, and introduced to audiences in a Season 2 Arrow episode), also executive produced by Berlanti and Kreisberg. Joining the duo behind-the-scenes is DC Comics COO Geoff Johns, who cut his teeth as a comic book writer and began writing The Flash comics in 2000. (Johns executive produces and has also written for Arrow, and co-wrote the backdoor pilot script for The Flash.)
And perhaps that’s the least obvious secret to DC’s success: pairing “company men” with experienced executive producers.
NBC’s Constantine is written by Daniel Cerone (The Mentalist and Dexter), and executive produced by David S. Goyer, who has worked with DC Comics since 2005, when he wrote the screenplay for Batman Begins. Goyer was also behind the scripts for The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, and Batman vs. Superman, and has been tapped to write the long-gestating Justice League movie.
It remains to be seen if — and how — these shows play into a larger, overall plan for DC. For example, Marvel has turned ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into a seamless extension of its feature film properties, with various characters from the Avengers universe making cameos and the ending of Captain America: The Winter Soldier causing an irrevocable ripple effect in the series. (The publisher has also signed a deal with Netflix for four interlocking series — featuring Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist — which will lead into a mini-series, The Defenders.)
iZombie (which is executive produced by Rob Thomas with Veronica Mars alums Dan Etheridge, Diane Ruggiero, and Danielle Stokdyk), about a reanimated med student who solves crimes, hails from DC’s Vertigo imprint and exists absent any connection to a new or existing feature film franchise, and, therefore, seems incapable of affecting plans for DC’s superhero universe.
Based on Vertigo’s Hellblazer, Constantine already spawned a movie misfire starring Keanu Reeves and Gotham serves as an origin story, so Arrow and The Flash appear to be the only projects that could play into the brand’s overall vision for its cinematic future (i.e., 2015’s Justice League film).
It remains to be seen if DC is interested in fully integrating these worlds — having Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen and Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen fight alongside Henry Cavill’s Superman and Ben Affleck’s Batman on the big screen — or simply choose to let the events of the films send shockwaves through the shows. Or keep them altogether separate and distinct.
What is certain is that television executives at multiple networks see value in utilizing pre-existing properties — with built-in appeal and, in some cases, already engaged and passionate fans in the comics world — in order to develop potential future hits. After all, there is less risk to be taken from offering up something familiar than taking a dangerous leap, without superpowers, into the unknown.