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EDITORIAL: Why a Batman live-action TV show is a good idea

EDITORIAL: Why a Batman live-action TV show is a good idea

Originally posted to Examiner.com, November 29, 2010

There was a bit of a stir with last week’s completely unconfirmed and probably false rumor about a possible Batman television series after the completion of Christopher Nolan’s film trilogy, which will conclude with the release of The Dark Knight Rises in July 2012.

It’s too early to say whether this report has any merit, but of course fanboys being fanboys, there has already been plenty of discussion about whether a move to the small screen would be a good idea for DC and Warner Bros. with such a lucrative film property, or indeed if such a move would even be practical for the Caped Crusader. True or untrue, this seems like an opportune hour to contribute my thoughts on the subject.

First off, it’s fair to assume that TDKR will be at least mildly successful at the box office and receive favorable critical praise. When that happens, WB will probably have achieved the first wholly successful superhero film trilogy (the Spider-Man trilogy’s success is still disputed), with the same creative team for all three films and all a hit with both critics and audiences. In other words, they’ll have their options open.

Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale have both stated that the third film will likely be their last. WB could continue the series with another director and cast, like Marvel’s Spider-Man film franchise, or they could consider a complete change in media with a Batman TV series that is thematically in line with Nolan’s films, but follows its own continuity, as the above rumor suggests.

The rumored idea was reportedly in response to Smallville and Sherlock Holmes’ successful TV transitions, and with “Smallville” ending, WB is most likely looking for another superhero hit to take its place, especially if David E. Kelley’s proposed Wonder Woman TV show doesn’t pan out.

Comic book heavy-hitters like Batman have always struggled with live-action television, sometimes for budget reasons but mainly because the studios in charge of such decisions prefer turning those lucrative comic book properties into big budget films. Though super-heroes have been on and off TV over the years, there’s never been a live-action super-hero series that was a direct adaptation of the comics, and it’s easy to understand why. If you look at, say, "Lois & Clark", "The Flash", "Wonder Woman", or "The Incredible Hulk", all of them are somehow scaled back or pared down to make them easier to achieve on TV. As a result, with the possible exception of “Smallville” in its later years, much of the scope and mythos of the source material is pushed aside and instead the shows focus on simple, generic plots and character-focused adventures more suited to your average TV budget. The only time a TV show really brings forth the scale of the comics is in animation, which is admittedly more marketable as well.

But I think there is an opportunity here. Why not try to achieve a true, A-list superhero story in prime time?

Batman, besides being one of the most iconic superheroes ever, is well-suited for TV due largely to his lack of super powers. While slugfests with giant killer robots and malicious aliens are more the norm for Superman, Batman tends to solve supervillain schemes with cool gadgets, karate moves, and good old-fashioned detective work. On top of that, Batman has raked up the most well-known rogues’ gallery in all of superhero comics. The best part about them is that many of his most iconic foes don’t really have superpowers either. Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, Riddler, Black Mask, and even Ra’s Al Ghul are guys in sharp suits with gadgets, henchmen, and/or really nasty schemes, all of which are perfectly doable on TV. And although some of his splashier rogues like Killer Croc and Mr. Freeze may require some more careful planning and ingenuity, there are plenty of potential stories just from those listed above that would make for great television.

“Batman: The Animated Series” is to this day the best model for a mainstream superhero show. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, the producers of a live action version would be wise to consult with the creators of that show to some degree, as Bruce Timm and co. have already covered many of the possible hurdles of translating nearly 70 years worth of comic stories into a workable ongoing television story. Nearly every episode was put together like a half-hour mini-movie. It had mature writing, detailed animation (that still looks great today), stellar voice work, and unforgettable music, all against an inky dark backdrop of Gotham City, and all would be even more at home on prime time.

Shows like “Alias”, “Human Target”, “Burn Notice” and even “Chuck” have pulled off thrilling action scenes every week on average network budgets. A new series, especially a well-produced live-action show, could stand a chance at becoming the definitive version of the Batman world in a way that no movie series could ever accomplish. TV is by and large a more natural medium for translating comic book stories. It’s simple math: If a season is 20-plus episodes, that means 20 hours of screen time per year compared to 2 hours on film every 2-3 years. It would be a novelty to see the characters and stories evolve over a whole season, from Batman’s “Year One” days to his friendship with Jim Gordon to Dick Grayson becoming Robin to Batman’s torrid relationship with Catwoman, all of which have to be pared down and rushed in the movies

If the show were successful, and the producers were really ambitious, there could be the occasional theatrical film that ties into the series, with a bigger scale and budget covering a more epic adventure, similar to Ron Howard’s upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

Given how much WB has spent on the movie franchise, as well as how much more they’ve earned, would making an A-list superhero show a top priority really be so far fetched? What’s more, Batman’s made it in the movies. Wouldn’t it be fitting if he was the first superhero to make it in prime time?

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