I’ve been going about this all wrong. While I’ve been very critical of the direction Warner Bros. is taking the DC Cinematic Universe, their recent television deals involving a Commissioner Gordon origin series on Fox and now a development project for a show based around John Constantine for NBC show that WB and DC are forming a very different foundation from the one laid down by Marvel. In fact, if everything goes right and their new shows, along with Arrow and possibly The Flash, are on television at the same time, WB and DC could be in the prime position to expose more of their heroes and villains to the regular television viewing audience than Marvel with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and their Phase 2 and 3 of movies.
Deadline reported that WB Television and DC Comics have sold a development deal for the Hellblazer himself, John Constantine, to NBC with the show being written and produced by Daniel Cerone (The Mentalist) and David S. Goyer (Do I really need to put his credits here? Fine. Man of Steel). Simply called Constantine, the show, as described by Deadline:
centers on John Constantine, an enigmatic and irreverent con man-turned-reluctant supernatural detective who is thrust into the role of defending us against dark forces from beyond.
Sounds about as close to the magical a-hole we all know and love, right? And though the long-running Vertigo series Hellblazer was cancelled so Constantine could be integrated into the more reader-friendly universe of the New 52 in books like Justice League Dark and his solo title, the occult anti-hero has been present in the world of comics since his introduction by Alan Moore in Swamp Thing #37 (1985). A popular character, Constantine got his first solo title, Hellblazer, in 1988 and eventually a film was made based on the character, Constantine (2005), starring Keanu Reeves that mostly adapted Garth Ennis’ storyarc “Dangerous Habits.” In the more recent past, Guillermo Del Toro had his sights set on making Constantine the main character of his adaptation of Justice League Dark with the working title of Dark Universe that would focus on the magical characters of the DCU. What this television deal means for a possible movie with Del Toro at the helm, I don’t know. What’s amazing and frustrating about Del Toro is his tendency to commit to several projects at once, though Dark Universe was only in the script-writing stages at present. Doesn’t mean a movie won’t be made eventually, but it might be further out than we hoped.
But what does it mean when WB is meting out its DC Comics properties to three different networks? Quite simply, demographic coverage. Arrow airs on the CW, which reaches roughly the 18-35 demographic and the show appeals to male and female viewers while exposing them to a plethora of DCU characters. It’s not always the best portrayals, but at least viewers who watch Arrow are more likely to know who The Huntress and Count Vertigo are than they were two years ago. Gotham, the Commissioner Gordon origin series, on Fox will reach probably the same demographic, maybe skewing slightly towards the male audience, but still has the opportunity to expose viewers to more of Gotham City’s finest and Batman’s rogues gallery…sans Batman. Yeah, I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one. Adding Constantine to the lot over at NBC actually gives WB access to a larger, and older crowd, but also reaches a wider audience than Fox and the CW. Constantine also presents an opportunity to showcase the magical characters of the DCU in live action, so the viewers of NBC who maybe didn’t watch Smallville, will be exposed to characters like Madame Xanadu, Zatanna, Etrigan, Shade the Changing Man, and Deadman. Television, then, might be the way in which WB and DC Comics expand the greater DCU and garner interest in their lesser known characters that exist alongside more popular heroes and villains. Unlike movies, television shows don’t take quite as long to develop and they have the advantage of long-form storytelling that allows viewers to get to know the characters in a way that can’t be as easily reproduced in a two-hour movie. By widening the scope in terms of networks airing shows based on DC properties, WB capitalizes on a larger audience who may be more likely to see movies starring these characters in the future.
We also have to consider where these shows are or will be situated in a television lineup. Arrow shares a network with shows like Vampire Diaries and Supernatural. Adding The Flash into the mix gives the network two superhero based shows, with The Flash more than likely following Arrow on the same night to generate audience carryover, and gives them a Dark Knight equivalent with a second, possibly more light-hearted and effects-oriented show following afterwards. Two mostly different shows but set in the same network-based universe that will present several opportunities for crossovers and brings meta-humans into the DCU TV fold. Gotham may stick to the traditional crime procedural, but considering Batman’s rogues gallery, there’ll probably be plenty of psychological drama to go along with Gordon’s investigation into the seedy underbelly of Gotham City and the people who’re supposed to protect and serve. Since the departure of House, Fox only has Bones and now Sleepy Hollow to fill the crime and supernatural genres with the rest of their schedule focused on comedies and reality television, so Gotham could easily fit somewhere between those two shows. Constantine has an even greater advantage on NBC since the network has had decent hits with Grimm and Hannibal covering both the magical/fantastical and psychological/crime procedural/horror genres. John Constantine covers all of that by his lonesome, so you could easily plant a magical anti-hero into the lineup. It wouldn’t be hard for NBC to air all three shows on the same night.
A valid point that I’ve seen pop up on the internet is why not put these new shows on cable television or channels like HBO, Starz, or Showtime? The episode count might be smaller, but the budgets would allow for more sophisticated special effects and better film quality. Look at Game of Thrones and what it’s accomplished with Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons or the White Walkers. And cable channels like FX or AMC have done wonders with compacted seasons producing amazing hours of television. While I don’t disagree that either of these options would work to the benefit of Constantine and Gotham, it really boils down to maximum exposure. If you own a television, but can’t afford the larger cable packages, your basic channels will, at minimum, include NBC, the CW, and Fox. Therefore, despite meager budgets that may produce lackluster special effects, these shows will still reach larger audiences. And sometimes a decent first season leads to a bigger effects budget in subsequent seasons. Believe me, I’m worried as all hell about the effects for The Flash. You’d think technology has advanced enough in television production to make speedsters look better than what Smallville did for Bart Allen and Clark Kent, but who knows what the creators of Arrow have in store for Barry Allen once he acquires his powers. The same goes for Constantine. There have been plenty of effects-based shows on other networks, even a wizard-PI show, The Dresden Files on the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy), but Grimm’s effects, depending on the Wessen-of-the-week, are questionable at best. Then again, ABC’s Once Upon a Time doesn’t always have the best effects either, but it still retains steady ratings and remains a popular show.
The biggest problem that may arise is in the synchronicity of the television shows to the DC Cinematic Universe. As I’ve said before, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is directly connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Arrow has very little to do with Man of Steel, at least for now. It’s not that you couldn’t have the television shows bleed into the silver screen, but is it wiser, at this point, to keep the cinematic universe separate from the television universe for the time being? Post-Man of Steel, nothing is really confirmed, as far as films go, except Superman/Batman with The Justice League looming over the horizon. In between, it’s anyone’s guess. The television shows could act as filler between movies as audiences become more familiar with Oliver Queen, Barry Allen, John Constantine, James Gordon, and all of the characters that follow in their wake. It may not entirely translate into movie material, but at least when a Dark Universe movie rolls around (fingers crossed), it won’t take much to get movie-going audiences on board with the new, but still old, John Constantine. Say what you want about the Keanu Reeves film, I still liked it. Plus, holy water shotgun!
Though it does beg the question: Why not try Birds of Prey again? Or maybe…Wonder Woman?