It's not exactly a good sign when the creator of a comic book TV show says, "I don't think superheroes work very well on TV."
Gotham showrunner Bruno Heller recently made that comment at the Edinburgh Television Festival. Heller went onto to say it was "probably because of the costume thing," but nonetheless, the remark left many scratching their heads. After all, his Fox drama takes place in the world of Batman, albeit long before Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) ever suited up as the DC Comics superhero. So when The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Gotham executive producer Ken Woodruff about the upcoming third season, he made sure to touch on Heller's comment.
"I think I can help clarify his statement," Woodruff tells THR. "There's a reason why he chose to develop a show that took place before the actual fully-realized Batman. He thought that that was the best way to tell stories on the medium of television. It was about the origins and it was about real people and how they evolved and became the villains and heroes that we know and we've seen in comics and in feature films. A lot of that is just pragmatic and TV is a much more intimate medium sometimes than film can be."
He continues, "You're living with these people, you're spending 22 hours with them over the course of a season as opposed to two hours. They're in your living room. They're part of your life in a much more intimate way than maybe film characters can be. When you have a cape on and you're a superhero, there's a level of attachment there. They're otherworldly and godlike in that way. That's what Bruno was talking about."
But does Woodruff agree with Heller's take? Not quite.
"I think that the world for sure works really well on TV," Woodruff says. "There's so much success lately and so many shows that are on that have to deal with comic worlds and these superhero worlds and characters. But I think that was Bruno being specific about his take and wanting to really defend his choice to do a show about the origins of Batman and these villains as opposed to living in a world where the Batmobile already exists. But yeah, I think they can work."
However, Woodruff believes that some superheroes should be left on the big screen. "The biggest thing is just money-wise," he says. "Some of these movies are so expensive to make it look real with the computer effects and not only that but the timeline. I mean, TV is on such a truncated schedule. Maybe some things are better executed in film and some things are better executed in TV."
Gotham may have started out as a gritty, realistic take on the DC Comics mythology, with season one centered on the war between different factions of the mob. But season three is already shaping up to be more sci-fi with Professor Hugo Strange's (BD Wong) Indian Hill experiments escaping their cells underneath Arkham Asylum and running free in the city. Woodruff promises that won't change the core DNA of the series.
"If you are looking at the five-year plan of the show, it was that you start out with the world that looks more like ours," Woodruff says. "The whole idea is you show how a city like Gotham, which is the title character in a lot of ways, how a city turns dark and how a city enables villains and supervillains to exist. We're telling this story of how that crazy world that Batman exists in came to be, not just these individual villains that also make our world."
He continues, "The last season was really an attempt to say, this is how supervillains exist; this is why. They didn't just pop into being, they were birthed out of Indian Hill and some of the things that were going on in the city at the time. That was always the goal. And how it changes the show going forward is that we can still always pull from that Carmine Falcone mobster, more gritty, noir-ish world to tell stories, but we can also have this new element of Man Bat or Firefly or Mr. Freeze and the technology that surrounds that. We just have a bigger canvas to paint from, basically."
That's a major reason why the showrunners changed the tagline for season three from "Heroes Will Fall" to "Mad City" after they sat down to start breaking the story for early episodes.
"As we got into the first 11 episodes -- because that's the first half of the season -- we started falling in love with a character that's going to be appearing in episode three," Woodruff say. "We started diving into the character of the Mad Hatter and the actor that we cast [The Walking Dead's Benedict Samuel], and we wanted to spend more time with him. We were really intrigued with how he's not just a villain who blows stuff up. He's a villain who can actually needle into the psyche and the emotional space of our heroes."
According to Woodruff, the writers were creatively refueled about how they found a villain who could "use his actions to find out more about our characters and really test our heroes.
"The theme and that title became much more accurate once we started seeing these later episodes develop like 6, 7, 8, 9 and the repercussions this big character was having," Woodruff says. "That's why it changed. But the idea and notion of heroes falling is the bigger thing that we're accomplishing for the season as a whole. If last season was about, how did supervillains come into existence, then this season is about the other half of that, which is not only do you need supervillains to exist for a city to fall, but also you need your heroes to fall. That can mean either they die, they're killed, or they're disfigured or rendered incapable of helping, or they turn into villains themselves. That's a bigger theme for us for the whole season, but in terms of the immediate first 11, Mad City makes sense."
He pauses to laugh, then adds, "There are literally monsters running around."
Gotham season three premieres Monday at 8 p.m. on Fox.