“I was Dick Donner’s assistant for four years, where I just constantly asked him about Superman,” confessed Geoff Johns, chief creative officer of DC Comics. “And The Goonies. He told me once that if he’d done another Superman movie, he would have made it about Brainiac, and I was just like, ‘Aw, man.’”
There is no pain like fanboy pain, especially when it comes to knowing how your favorite characters were this close to coming to life in the movies or on TV before The Man stepped in to ruin the fun. But Johns, who develops TV series for DC and exec produces The CW’s upcoming hybrid cop show/superhero serial The Flash (based on a comic book series he wrote for several years), is pretty much The Man now. DC premieres three shows on broadcast TV this fall: The Flash on Oct. 8, NBC’s Constantine on Oct. 24 and Fox’s Gotham on Sept. 22. (CW’s Arrow kicks off its third season on Oct. 8, too.) Each of the pilots is filled with callbacks to the DC universe, and each of those nerdy moments represents another arc—maybe even a series.
“We love Easter eggs, but we really want to try and do more than Easter eggs,” Johns said. “The fact that Doctor Fate’s helmet is in there is a plot line. Same with [super-intelligent evil gorilla] Grodd [in The Flash]. We’re introducing Jim Corrigan [The Spectre] in Constantine.”
Geeky? Sure, make fun. But that’s how The Flash got its start (the character guest-starred on three episodes of Arrow). And Johns is playing for keeps: Starting out at Fox, Spectre has been in the works since 2011. It helps that the library of characters Johns is in charge of boasts several heroes who lead double lives as TV-friendly cops.
There are more prosaic reasons TV digs comics. “I don’t think it’s uncommon, especially with a network like The CW, to follow what’s worked in movie theaters,” says Sam Armando, svp, director of SMGx Strategic Intelligence, a division of Starcom MediaVest Group. “A lot of the comedies [this fall] are romantic comedies: Selfie, Manhattan Love Story, A to Z. I think it’s all trying to piggyback on the success of theatrical movies. And if there’s any degree of something that’s worked, you’re going to see a lot of imitation.”
And beyond the linked comic book stories, there’s also the framework of corporate synergy. Mark Pedowitz, CW’s president, says there’s a possibility that the Flash and Arrow universe might include TNT’s new show, corporate half-sibling Titans (definitely not Gotham or Constantine, though). “What you’ll see embedded in Flash and Arrow is that we’ll have the ability to test characters out. Is there room to grow them into the next show? I cannot tell you yet. There are discussions going on,” he said.