It's sad to say, but in the great rush of DC Comics success stories brought to TV - first with The CW's Arrow and The Flash spinoff, then Gotham on Fox - the David S. Goyer-led Constantine has been pushed to the background. The show based upon Vertigo's "Hellblazer" comic series may have been viewed as an imitator by some, but its found a core fan base, and even debuted to impressive numbers of its own.
Despite the first season's extra episodes being cancelled by NBC, the network and showrunners have maintained that a second season may still be possible (with promising to its fans that their enthusiasm is the deciding factor). From the show's earliest beginnings we've wondered if the "Based on the DC Comic" tagline was enough to help any property compete with certified superheroes - and it seems the NBC executives may have assumed just that.
Speaking with IGN during the ongoing Telvision Critics Association press tour, NBC Chairman Robert Greenblatt spoke candidly about the show's struggle to meet the audience numbers the network had clearly hoped it would. Remaining positive about the quality of the show itself, Greenblatt concedes what some Constantine critics have suspected since the show was first announced:
"We got on the bandwagon of these shows based on comic books and maybe there are too many of them. It's a popular series of comics, but it's not The Flash, it's not Batman. So maybe it suffers a little bit there. But as Jen said, it's a show we really like. We love Matt Ryan, who's the star of it. I think we did right by the fans who didn't like the film that was made of it. The future is still up in the air for that show."
Typically, admitting that an attempt was made to 'get on the bandwagon' (throwing one's own support behind something already succeeding) is going to be viewed with cynicism at the very least, and an outright confession of trying to 'follow the leader' at worst. On the surface, there's no reason to blame NBC for their intentions: DC Comics and Warner Bros. Television are looking to bring their properties to TV, and the network saw the occult detective as a strong counterpart to its horror-focused Fridays (already filled with Hannibal and Grimm).
The questions arise when one of the most beloved supernatural comics is adapted to TV, but its runaway popularity doesn't follow. Is it the casting? The scripts? The failure to capture the character enough to please fans? Constantine has been far from perfect, but most would agree with Greenblatt that star Matt Ryan is not one of its problems. However, the implication made - that Constantine somehow competes with Justice League superheroes - may be.
The chairman is also right to claim that recreating the "Hellblazer" hero as he actually appears in the comics pleased those who took issue with the Constantine film starring Keanu Reeves (although we maintain that movie gets a bad wrap). Above all, one fact remains: Constantine has yet to reach its peak in the network's eyes, meaning the allure of the DC Comics brand can only do so much.
NBC President Jennifer Salke repeated Greenblatt's sentiment: the network is pleased with the product, but measuring the show's success isn't simply a question of it being 'good' or 'bad' - or even the viewership counts:
"We wish the show had done better live. It has a big viewership after [it airs] in all kinds of ways and it has a younger audience, but the live number is challenging. It hasn't come out in the way we wanted it to, but we love the show. I think it's fair to say we're still talking about it."
Finding success among younger audiences is a double-edged sword when your series airs at 10pm on Friday nights (the lack of live viewership is, frankly, to be expected). But NBC isn't resting solely on words to right the show's course. When Constantine returns for the second portion of its first season it will do so at a new time: 8pm. The shift should give NBC an indication of how successful the show could be if allowed more time to grow. Before the writers resort to bringing back characters specifically written out of its story, that is.
Regardless of the show's fate, it stands as proof that no matter how popular or established a comic book character may be, a show based upon it must still be compelling enough to stand on its very own. Whatever future is in store for Constantine, it looks to be a warning to those who follow, if nothing else.
How do you feel about Salke and Greenblatt's comments? Are you satisfied to hear the network say they entered the comic book genre due to others' success, or does it do little to calm your concerns? Should a DC property lacking the popularity of The Flash or Batman have to compete simply because they're 'all just comic books' - or is that missing the point entirely?
Constantine airs Fridays @8pm on NBC.