A Single 'Shared Universe' May Be Overrated
We've explained why fans hurt their own cause when it comes to a shared TV universe, and the same is true of the split between movies and TV. Be honest: if it were announced tomorrow that the Bruce Wayne seen on Gotham was, in WB's eyes, Ben Affleck's version seen in Batman V Superman, would it really matter? Would Gotham undergo a transformation in quality or meaning - not due to its cast or writers, but rather some intangible "connection" to a larger universe?
Without that explicit overhead, TV programs based on DC Comics serve no greater master but their own. Say Titans adds its own speedster in the form of Impulse a.k.a. Bart Allen (Barry's grandson), and Nightwing a.k.a. Dick Grayson as well. Comic fans would be able to see two Flashes in action at the same time, while a Batman origin story plays alongside the adventures of his future sidekick. In a universe restricted to the plans and casts of a film studio, such variety would be nearly impossible.
Moreover, for a show to actually be successful on network television, it must please more than the most devoted comic readers (look to Constantine for proof). So while some claim severing ties to Superman has doomed Supergirl before the pilot even airs, there are millions of households simply curious to check the show out on premiere night - and a good number of them will (rightly) expect to see Superman play a part.
Remember: DC Isn't Marvel
There's no question Marvel's heroes have their own rabid fan base, but there was serious work to be done to make the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor household names. The success of The Avengers and the MCU is unparalleled, which means that for millions around the world, Captain America is Chris Evans. Iron Man is Robert Downey, Jr.. Thor is Chris Hemsworth, and so on.
With no other live-action take on the heroes having gained such popularity, any mention of an Avenger in the extended MCU (on ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Netflix's Daredevil) would generally call to mind not only the superhero and their films, but the one canonical version in existence (comments like "THIS Steve Rogers wasn't in love with Peggy Carter" would be nonsense).
By contrast, every movie or superhero fan has their own favorite Superman: Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Tom Welling, Brandon Routh, or Henry Cavill... the hero's lasting popularity and wealth of adaptations means that icons like Superman (and Batman) have transcended any actor, film, or particular re-imagining. When the depiction changes with every decade (sometimes more than once), the need or ability to define one as 'canon' seems far less important.
Rabid fans may claim that "Superman" being mentioned on Supergirl - or Batman referred to by Titans' Grayson - will have viewers stunned into confusion, demanding to know "which Superman do you MEAN?", but it's just as likely that they would enjoy the reference despite its ambiguity. It would be foolish to demand to know "which Batman" Gotham is following, since that question isn't posed by the show itself.
When Smallville's series finale coincided with Superman Returns, the use of the movie's suit as part of the show's reveal wasn't taken as the controversial 'shared universe confirmation' that it would be today; fans simply took it as one Superman property tipping its hat to another, and acknowledging that every incarnation only adds to the larger mythology.
It's visible in Marvel's films, as well: when Avengers viewers saw Mark Ruffalo take over as The Hulk, were they utterly lost in the theaters, unsure if the origin story seen with Eric Bana (Hulk) and ignored by Edward Norton (The Incredible Hulk) was still canon? Or did they simply appreciate Ruffalo's take on a hero with a simple premise - first made famous on TV, played by Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno?
Honestly, casual viewers and devoted comic fans all benefited from Joss Whedon and Marvel's decision that addressing Bruce Banner's past wasn't all that interesting, and the world agreed. If changing actors and potential backstory without explanation brought so little confusion in one single, linear universe already - for a hero only as well-known as the Incredible Hulk - fans should probably be given a bit more credit.
Especially when it makes creativity and risk-taking possible - so long as there is an audience for it.
We may be entirely off the mark, and Warner Bros. film and TV may be hotly debating how to rigidly separate their universes at this moment. But until such time as actual evidence arises to prove that heroes born of DC's biggest and most well-known legacies will be forced to cut those ties for TV, it's strange to assume that's the case.
Do you think we make a strong case, or do you have your doubts? Be sure to share your own thoughts on DC's TV and movie plans, and voice your own concerns in the comments.
Gotham airs on Mondays @ 8pm on Fox; The Flash airs Tuesdays @ 8pm on The CW; Arrow airs Wednesdays @8pm on The CW; Supergirl is expected to air in the Fall 2015 pilot season; Titans is currently still in development.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters on March 25th, 2016; Suicide Squad on August 5th, 2016; Wonder Woman - June 23rd, 2017; Justice League - November 17th, 2017; The Flash - March 23rd, 2018; Aquaman - July 27th, 2018; Shazam - April 5th, 2019; Justice League 2 - June 14th, 2019; Cyborg - April 3rd, 2020; Green Lantern - June 19th, 2020.