We have to wait another two years for the release of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which will be the next chapter in what is evidently planned as one massive story leading into a full-on Justice League team-up. In the meantime, network television will see several live-action adaptations of DC Comics properties debut this year alongside The CW’s hit series Arrow, which is entering its third season.
One of the most unique of hotly anticipated of these is FOX’s Gotham, from executive producer Bruno Heller (Rome, The Mentalist). Planned as the origin story of longtime Batman ally James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), we meet the future commissioner as a young detective under the mentorship of Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) as he faces down younger versions of perennial Bat-villains like the Penguin a.k.a. Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) alongside burgeoning crime boss Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith).
The pilot episode recently premiered at L.A. Screenings along with a host of other shows seeking international buyers, and THR brings us the first reaction. Sarah Wright, the head of acquisitions for BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting) called the Gotham pilot:
“A smart origins story, beautifully produced with a strong cast.”
It may be stating the obvious, but the show’s chances to pick up audiences overseas is due to the strong selling point of seeing this fan-beloved universe from a fresh perspective. According to Warner Bros. president of Worldwide TV Distribution Jeffrey Schlesinger, “Broadcasters look at [Gotham] as something that has built-in name recognition.”
While the positive early reaction to Gotham is heartening for fans who have been looking forward to an episodic, small-screen rendering of the Batman universe, this early report is unfortunately short on details. Meanwhile, we have a slew of different – and equally positive – reactions to The CW’s Arrow spinoff The Flash, courtesy of CBM.
We’ve already seen the strong extended trailer for The Flash, and we now have early praise for the pilot from some notable names, including Daredevil comic bookwriter Mark Waid, IGN critic Eric Goldman, Executive Director of TV Communications at Marvel Entertainment and Marvel comic book writer Jonathan Hickman (Fantastic Four). Check out some of the tweets below:
So,THE FLASH pilot is exciting, optimistic and a ton of fun. Fantastic ending too. Very much what you'd expect from a Flash TV show. I'm in.— Arune Singh (@arune) May 31, 2014
I had high expectations for The Flash pilot, but that went FAR beyond what I expected. @grantgust nails it, carries the show well.— Jonah Weiland (@jonahweiland) May 28, 2014
Watched my first new series pilot today. The Flash, naturally. There is an awwwwesome DC nod I didn’t expect.— Eric Goldman (@EricIGN) May 28, 2014
Not only is the #Flash pilot EXCELLENT, but (for this) the dead-mom retcon doesn't grate. Great show, and Tom Cavanagh is astounding.— Mark Waid (@MarkWaid) May 23, 2014
And the early front runner for Pilot I'm Most Excited To See Ep 2 Of: "Flash." Terrific.— Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall) May 30, 2014
It’s particularly interesting to see Mark Waid – who has been incredibly critical of DC in recent years, perhaps most famously with Man of Steel – and Arune Singh – who works for the other team – give very positive reviews to this DC property. Could this be the superhero TV show that unites all corners of comic book fandom?
The Flash boasts the talents of Arrow producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, who are joined by DC mainstay Geoff Johns. The show’s secret weapon, however, may just be the pilot episode’s director, television veteran David Nutter. Along with the now-legendary “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones on his resume, Nutter has helmed pilots for fan-favorite series Supernatural, Arrow, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, and The Mentalist.
Nutter spoke with CBR about his history directing some famous pilots, how he approaches the crucial kickoff to a television show, and offers some details on the the making of The Flash pilot.
When asked about the most crucial aspect of a pilot’s storyline, Nutter responded:
What’s important is you have to care about what you’re watching and the characters you’re watching and what they are going through. Without having an emotional connection or some relatability to the characters, there’s really nothing to root for, in some respect. No matter what world you’re creating, whether it be a real world or a fantasy world, you still have to make the characters relatable or somewhat understandable.
Having successfully kicked off both Smallville and Arrow, Nutter was asked if the superhero genre could be considered a particular favorite of his, given that he has also directed episodes of such disparate shows as Entourage, ER, and The X-Files. Nutter replied:
I enjoy the hero genre more than anything else. I enjoy origin stories. I enjoy doing stories about people who learn what they are capable of. I enjoy telling stories where people have to do what they do and it’s not really a choice, it’s basically something they are drawn to. It’s not a life choice, but something they are compelled to do, and something that can sometimes be life and death. I love those life choices and I love the stakes that it involves. That’s an important part of what I love about doing these shows.
Nutter considers grounding a show like The Flash in reality makes it “more compelling, more realistic and more enjoyable” for an audience, and when asked about whether he tends to direct the actors in a similar way to something slightly more dramatic such as The Mentalist, Nutter responded:
In some respect, I treat them, dramatically, the same way. I treat the performances the same way. I want to make something like ‘Arrow’ and ‘Flash’ relatable and understandable and not make it cartoonish. I think people get involved in a show like this and they think, “Oh, the effects are cool, but the performances may not be as strong.”
Nutter also praised his Flash leading man Grant Gustin and was “as impressed as I’ve been with any lead of any pilot I’ve ever done. He was truly magical.”
While Nutter and company were “very happy” with the reaction to and quality of Arrow, for The Flash they wanted to do something markedly different. According to the director:
What we wanted to do was make the show have some other notes in it. There’s humor in this pilot, which fits very well. It’s a little bit brighter of a show. It really encapsulates who Barry Allen is as a character, and who The Flash is in the comics.
When asked if the producers turned to any specific run of The Flash comic books, Nutter demurred (probably out of respect for anyone allergic to a hint of spoilers), saying:
Geoff Johns, who had written so much of ‘The Flash’ lore over the recent years, was one of the screenplay writers. We utilized his knowledge and expertise in this world. Greg and Andrew are quite aficionados as well, Andrew being a comic book writer himself. We all relied on each other to give our best work. It was a real fantastic community effort that worked out beautifully.
As for what’s next on his dance card, Nutter reported that he’s directing episodes 9 and 10 of the current season of Game of Thrones, and while he is currently slated to direct just the first episode of The Flash, Nutter remarked that “Anything they need from me, I’ll be there to help with to get this thing off the ground and going in the right direction.”
With a veteran like Nutter following in his own footsteps to deliver our first look at The Flash, it certainly sounds like The CW has another hit on its hands. Along with the positive early reception of Gotham and the exciting trailer for NBC’s Constantine fresh in our minds, DC looks to be continuing it’s small-screen brand dominance.
We may have to wait until 2016 for the further big screen adventures of Batman and Superman, but if the three upcoming shows prove successful, they’ll definitely keep the DC universe in the forefront of our minds in the time between.
Gotham will Mondays on FOX in the fall of 2014. The Flash will air on Tuesdays @8pm in Fall 2014 on The CW.