After releasing a full length trailer for it's up-coming fall show 'Gotham' earlier this week, Fox let their showrunner Bruno Heller sit down to discuss season one. Heller's two most noteable works previous to taking on the Batman prequel show was the acclaimed HBO series 'Rome and CBS's six-seasoned procedural 'The Mentalist.' He sat down with Entertainment Weekly and spilled some very interesting insights into his thought process going into the show.
EW : My assumption has been that the reason this TV show can be done — rights-wise — is because Batman himself is not in it. That way, it doesn’t overlap with any films. Is that correct?
BH: Certainly from Warner Bros. and DC’s business point of view, that’s why it can be done. For me, if they said, “Do Batman,” I would have said, “No.” I would have not been interested at all. I don’t think Batman works very well on TV — to have people behind masks. Frankly, all those superhero stories I’ve seen, I always love them until they get into the costume. And then it’s, “Oh, okay, they’ve ascended, they’ve stopped becoming humans.” It’s their apotheosis. They go to heaven and they’re Superman. There have been so many great versions of it. This is a version of something else entirely.
I included the entire except here because I think the answer is so facinating. I find this is comforting from a creative perspective. I know many Batman fans, that find the inner workings of Gotham to be just as interesting and compelling as Gotham, and to hear the creator is tapped into that is very interesting. Going so far as to even say that he would have rejected the mandate to do Batman on TV. I may disagree with him (I think it's been proven that Batman works on TV and in serials), but knowing that he is focused on the human stories is what will make compelling television. This next full quote even strengths how commited he is to making a TV show about the people in the machine and now the mechanic.
EW: You first show was about Roman history; your second was a Sherlock Holmes-inspired detective. I wouldn’t have pegged you for a comic-book reader. Were you a Batman fan?
BH: Growing up in England, we didn’t have DC and Marvel Comics until the ’80s. I was aware of Batman and that world. Gotham itself is much more a fascination for me than Batman specifically. When thinking about how to enter the DC world for TV, certainly on network TV, to do shows about superheroes — about people who wear spandex costumes — that doesn’t work very well. We want to see people’s faces. TV is about emotion and character, not stunts and special effects. This is a way of entering that world in a fresh way.
With regard to scripting, Heller continued his theme and further fleshed out his focus for the show.
Bruno Heller: The first thing was starting with Jim Gordon, who is the most human and real and normal person in the DC pantheon. […] This is a world that’s going to become that familiar world of Batman, but it’s not there yet. It’s an embryo. A lot of the work was reverse engineering the story to look at what these characters were like when they younger. […]You start with psychology and that’s where we build from.
I think this is the right way to go. TV critics tend to like the serialized shows better, and this allows for better writing and character development. Unfortunately, it tends to be episodic, procedural shows that are the ratings hits. It is the tough business of television that not all that glitters is gold and that not all critical and fan successes translate to revenue for a network. Regardless, I am happy to see the show has a plan for the entire season. (*cough* Agents of Shield *cough*) (Yeah, we're getting to you Agents of Shield)
EW: Part of the scuttlebutt on ABC’s Agents of SHIELD is that it’s struggled because — despite trying very hard to communicate its concept before it launched — it felt like a story that took place in an exciting universe without the people who are the usual focal point of that universe, the superheroes. It focuses on these human investigators who are normally on the sidelines. Is there a similar concern about Gotham — that people are going to say, “Well, what do you mean it’s a Batman show without Batman?”
BH: Not to comment on Agents of SHIELD, but [the SHIELD agents] are in the same temporal space as their superheroes. So while watching it, I imagine you feel, well, it’s kind of mean not to show us Thor. If Thor is there in the next room, or the next town, why not come by and see us? For Gotham, […] I am cognizant of that as an issue. But look: Most stories that people tell don’t have Batman in them. You’ve just got to make the story you tell as compelling as it can be.
"Most stories that people tell don't have Batman in them." I had to quote it twice it's such a powerful statement. Not only is it a resonate truth, it is a deeper and more singular comment to this show runner's focus for this project. It is a mentality which let's you know this creator has perspective on his project.
The interviewer then took this opportunity to touch on what is my 'elephant in the room' and what is probably very much on the minds of those wanting to be fans of this show.
EW: Is there a certain concern about the story being limiting because it’s a prequel? Like, you can’t kill the Penguin or do something that changes their destiny?
BH: No. Because there’s lots of other people in the world, and one of the conceits of the show is, where did they get all their ideas? There’s precursors to that for the villains and the heroes. They got inspiration from other people, and it’s about how they got to that point in the world. It’s invigorating and expansive how many stories you can tell once you get away from the gravity of Batman.
I really just find it so fascinating that the show made the counter-intuitive decision to hire a writer and show runner for a property about the world of a super hero who doesn't want to tell stories about the superhero. Bruno Heller seems aggressive to cleeve Batman and the 'comic-booky' elements of Gotham out of this show. It is this writer's opinion that this is the only way for this show to work beyond six episodes. It has to be about the world and the city, and not about the iconic characters who we know are pre-destined for more adventures.
Bruno Heller: Where I start work is to put aside all preconceptions and imagine no one has done this before. Partly that’s the beauty of this — you don’t have to try to avoid stuff, because everybody’s normal instinct is to go straight to Batman, and go to everything that follows from that. This is open and blue sky territory.
The while the theme of the interview seemed to be that the show will be about the details and little people that make the cogs go in Gotham, Heller couldn't dodge all of the questions concerning the iconic characters:
On Harvey Bullock:
[…] he’s an iconic early Batman character. I always liked him just because he encapsulates the moral ambivalence and corrupt-but-fun quality of Gotham. He’s very much a Gotham figure. And we got Donal Logue playing the character. As soon as we got him, I was able to write the character with much more edge and comedy and wisdom because Donal has all those things in spades.
That was part of the story that I had to reverse engineer. What kind of man would allow their teenage charge to turn into Batman? Obviously, someone with very original parenting notions.
On The Penguin:
Penguin, for instance, is not a powerful gang leader, he’s a gofer for a gangster. Penguin is one of those guys that, as soon as you see him, you go, “Oh, that’s the Penguin.” It would be hard to disguise him as somebody else.
I believe that these are the right instincts in most respects. I really hope that the charm and humor of Alfred is not lost on making him closer to Vinne Jones than Michael Caine. With a guy like Michael, I always bought he could have been military in a past life, but Sean Pertwee looks much more like a ruff-n-ready soccer hooligan than a worldly butler.
With any prequel to the Batman family, we know that there would be Bruce Wayne. A young Bruce who has just lost his family. How much would he do? What would his role be? Bruno gave us some hints to what young Master Wayne will be in for, as well as the actor himself.
BH: What do you do with a 12-year-old kid? […] It’s not going to be young Bruce Wayne going out and saving the day, because that’s not what kids do. It’s about the strange education of this young man. He has a good idea of where he’s going early on. But it’s about the growth of this young man. Well, I will say [actor] David Mazouz is, without doubt, the best actor ever to play the part of Bruce Wayne. Without doubt — including the people who played Batman. He is a genuine prodigy of an actor, as you will see on screen. Frankly, before David was cast, I was ambivalent about how much we would use Bruce Wayne in the series.
EW: Fox chief Kevin Reilly said the pitch version of the show was that the final scene of the series would be Bruce Wayne putting on the cowl. Is that right?
BH: Yes, whether metaphorically or literally — something like that. But that’s six or seven years down the line. Hopefully.
It is in these answers that I hope the faith I've placed in this show runner is best placed. I can work around and enjoy a series that ends up being "Rogues Gallery Begins" but I would outright reject Bruce Wayne getting the "Smallville" treatment. I am counting on this show sticking to peppering in Bruce, and not using him as a crutch and thereby compressing his character arc in a terrible way.
With every adaptation of a comic book properity, this always gets asked. But Heller again was very engaging and interesting:
EW: What’s your favorite Batman comic or film?
BH: […] There are so many iterations of the story and so many great versions [that] there is no one road to go down. And if you stick to one of those roads, then you lose other parts you could go down. I read everything I could and then — I didn’t throw it away, but I started fresh. I would hate to pick a particular Batman iteration because I would be dismissing others. But for me, The Killing Joke was one of the great ones in the comic books. Obviously the [Frank] Miller version [The Dark Knight], as well.
EW: You mentioned The Killing Joke. So you’ll bring in The Joker?
BH: He’s the crown jewel of the Batman villains. He will be brought in with great care and a lot of thought.
Yeah, I moved around and sand-bagged the tease on the Joker. This quote actually shows up pretty early in the interview, but I had to move it back and end on it. I like that this creator is drawing inspirations from numerous iterations of Batman, but leaning on Alan Moore and Frank Miller. And as for the Joker. Well, I hope the show treats him like I did this quote. I hope he gets moved around, sand-bagged, and teased. I will reject this show if it reveals a Joker in Season 1. The mythos of Batman writers cracked the code with The Joker, in my opinion he is a perfect villain. Fortunately, minus some small hiccups in the seventy-five years of Batman, The Joker is treated with this reverence. Not to bring up Star Wars again, but introducing the Joker has all of the potential to do to The Joker what Hayden Christensen and Georgie Lucas did to Darth Vader in the prequals.
In summary, I have to say that I am closer to being won over by this show's content marketing. I am obviously going to show up for the property alone, but as many Marvel fans found out with Agents of Shield, sometimes your favorite property on TV is a bit of a chewy mess. The tease of iconic villains has me a little worried. The name drop of The Joker has me a little worried. But the trailer featured the acting ensemble in a great way. I like our stars. And now, after reading this interview with the show runner, I believe the creative decisions will be in good hands. What do you think about the interview?
Posted by Bob Holt