Super Producer Greg Berlanti Talks Contemporizing Comic Book Shows

When it comes to mega producers on television, Greg Berlanti ranks high on the list next to names like Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, Chuck Lorre, and Julie Plec. Berlanti is the man behind launching the superhero empire on television with hit shows like Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, which have also paved the way for other comic adaptations on the small screen.

Berlanti was recently named Producer of the Year by The Hollywood Reporter, and the super producer opened up to them about how he’s gotten to this point as a successful producer and all of the highs and lows along the way.

While the interview covered a wide span of topics, ranging from his time on Dawson’s Creek and Everwood to his struggles in film, there was quite a bit of talk about Berlanti’s role in the superhero renaissance on television.

When it comes to comic books adapted for television, one of the complaints that stems from diehard comic purists is that it be a carbon copy of that source material. But Berlanti noted how he fights for certain creative choices that have made it onto these superhero shows.

“For instance, in The Flash, Iris West was never black in the comic books, and for Supergirl, James Olsen was never black in the comics. So I wanted to contemporize these comics that I loved growing up and have them reflect the society that we live in now. Those have all been conversations. There’s a character we just added to Arrow, Mr. Terrific, who is African-American and gay, and then of course we had one of our original Black Canaries [on Arrow] be bisexual. So I’m doing it in a way that’s not as overt now, but it’s still about working in some of those very real qualities so that everyone feels represented.”

Berlanti also noted how he’s infused some diversity also behind the camera.

“This year on Arrow, we’ll be at 50 percent with either women or diverse directors. When we started, you’d hear back a lot, “Well, they have to have either directed for the network or they have to have directed action.” You’d say, “That’s a catch-22 because where did they get an opportunity to direct action?” And they used to say, “Well, you can try one or two new directors out a year on a show.” But when it’s a young show or you’re a new showrunner, you’re scared. We’ve been able to change that a bit, and hopefully we’ll have female directors across a lot of the DC superhero shows over the next couple of years who can go on and do superhero films and get other action jobs.”

As far as the struggles on the film front, Berlanti is most known for the failure of the Green Lantern movie, which he clarified he wasn’t responsible for the final product given he was fired both as a writer and director.

But when it came time to launch Arrow, the first DC Comics show of this modern superhero era on television from Berlanti, he made it clear that if they were going to do this that he needed to have some semblance of control with the creative process.

“My only request [when we started on Arrow] was to let us do it our way because I was so heartbroken by what had happened. Being a part of something like that when you’ve loved those characters your whole life, and thinking you’re not going to really get a chance to participate before you even start was very [tough]. Having to go every day to see whatever version of the film that they’d concocted at that point was a bit like having to buckle in and go drive to the same auto accident every day and get hit by the same car.”

While television has been no stranger to controversial deaths, Berlanti discussed how death is part of any television show, but it’s not something they ever take lightly.

“Every year, by the end of the year, whether you’re doing Walking Dead or you’re doing a show like ours, characters are going to perish. That is part of the investment in the show. And of course, we’ve brought a few back because it’s a comic book and we have all sorts of fun ways that we can do that. But people, particularly on Twitter, are very vocal. When I started on Dawson’s, people were very passionate about who got together with whom, we’d get a box of mail once a month, and you’d look through it, and you’d be like, “Wow, OK, that person from prison is very passionate about whether Joey is with Pacey or with Dawson.” And now, with Twitter, you don’t know if it’s just four people with 1,000 accounts. The thing I’d say is that obviously a character’s death is going to be a really sensitive thing for somebody who’s enjoyed a show and that actor, and we don’t take any of them lightly.”

When it comes to DC Comics on television and in film, Warner Bros. made it clear last year that the two universes are separate and will remain as such. Given the criticism about the DC Cinematic Universe being too dark, THR asked Berlanti about infusing fun into the DC shows, including The Flash and Supergirl, who’s titular heroes are just naturally bubbly, as well as the campiness of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and the gritty yet humorous Arrow.

“If you’re going to do something like The Flash, part of what made Barry Allen so great was that he was this guy in the middle of all these superheroes who couldn’t believe that he was there, and he loved it. It was the first comic book character who made me cry. He died in Crisis on Infinite Earths saving everybody, and he was the last one anyone expected to save everyone, so inherent in this character was this heartbroken sadness and sacrifice, but at the same time this joy. That duality is something I’ve really latched on to in a lot of what I’ve done. This is the only Flash I’d know how to do.”

You can read Berlanti’s full interview at THR.com.

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