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Behind DC Entertainment’s Primetime Push

DC Entertainment’s Geoff Johns unveils how DC landed so many comic-themed series on TV this season and its creative partnerships with showrunners and Warner Bros. studio.

Behind DC Entertainment’s Primetime Push
[Photo: courtesy of the CW, Warner Bros.]

With the success of CW’s Arrow, DC Entertainment properties are exploding across primetime this season with soon to be five, and maybe six shows based on properties from DC Comics and Vertigo brands.

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CW’s The Flash, about a speed-imbued scientist, debuts October 7, followed by Arrow’s season-three premiere October 8, and NBC’s supernatural thriller Constantine on Oct. 24. Fox’s Gotham, a noirish pre-Batman Gotham City, arrived September 22 (though you can still catch the pilot here). Midseason will herald CW’s iZombie, a murder-solving zombie from DCE’s Vertigo imprint, while CBS recently ordered a Supergirl pilot. Still more TV properties are percolating, including from DCE’s third brand, Mad.

(L-R) Stephen Amell as Arrow, Grant Gustin as The Flash, Matt Ryan as John Constantine.Arrow Photo: Cate Cameron, CW, The Flash: Jack Rowand, CW, and NBCUniversal

DCE’s TV proliferation represents a five-year-old mandate to more aggressively migrate DC comics to other media, begun when parent company Warner Bros. Entertainment restructured it in 2009. Arrow, which bowed in 2012, was the first live-action primetime property under this new regime.

Geoff JohnsPhoto: courtesy of DC Entertainment

“I think Warner Bros. TV and DC had such a great season because of the diversity of the shows,” says Geoff Johns, DCE’s chief creative officer, and an executive producer of The Flash (his favorite superhero). “They’re all very different. Constantine is in the supernatural world, Gotham is in the past, while Flash and Arrow are the center and heart of the DC universe.” But even the latter two–despite sharing a network and characters–occupy different tonal niches. “Flash is more on the Superman spectrum–bright and optimistic–where Arrow is gritty and dark. As long as everything finds its own niche, and we don’t get repetitive on what we do, there’s room for everything.”

A key strategy through production has been keeping the comic worlds consistent. As keeper of the mythos, Johns ensures the televised characters stay consistent with DC lore, offering viewers–and highly discerning comic fans in particular–a deeper level of engagement. He and his creative team stay in constant touch with Warner Bros. counterparts, attending pitch sessions and read-throughs, offering script notes, and occasionally writing scripts.

“They’re truly creative partners,” says Constantine EP Daniel Cerone. “They’re very empowering; another brain on the problem. They want us to embrace the DC universe. They’re not someone who is saying, `No, no, no, you can’t do that.’ If anything, they’re `Hey, did you think about adding this in here?'”

Gotham’s Ben McKenzie (L) as a (pre-Commissioner) James Gordon, with Donal Logue, as Harvey Bullock.Photo: Jessica Miglio, courtesy of FOX

“Geoff and the rest of the guys there have been part of this process from the beginning, and have very much guided us about the canonical myth and how to weave our way into that world,” says Gotham EP Bruno Heller. “They’ve also given us a lot of leeway and freedom to create and be imaginative with that world. We talk constantly about where we can take it, and what villains would be appropriate, when and how. So it’s a fertile relationship going on.”

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Adds Flash EP Andrew Kreisberg: “Whenever I think that I have too much to do between Arrow and Flash, I think about what Geoff does every day, between Arrow, Flash, Gotham, iZombie, writing comic books, executive producing, and movies, and I feel better.”

“DC and Geoff make sure that the DNA of the [TV] character is true to the [comic] character,” says Constantine EP David Goyer, here at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con.Photo: Susan Karlin

With the Batman v Superman movie underway for 2016, Johns says there are no plans to integrate DC film and television universes. But they will be incorporating some of the additional TV characters into the comics.

The trick is balancing embellishment with canon integrity. “For example, in the comics, Arrow’s time on the island was like, two panels; the Flash was in a lab, a bolt of lighting hit him, and he was ‘the Flash.’ That was it,” says Johns. “So we added more of a back story to help create their worlds. But when you don’t embrace what works about a character, it falls flat. There’s a reason why these characters have endured for 75 years.”

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About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio

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