As an entertainment audience we’re blessed to get our weekly and yearly dose of superheroes both on television and film. It truly is the age of superheroes in pop culture. Everywhere you look are superheroes, supervillains, and everything in between. For the superhero lover, it’s paradise.

While film often takes gets most of the attention, the success of superheroes on television doesn’t get enough credit. But Gotham showrunner Bruno Heller doesn’t believe superheroes translate well on television. He couldn’t be more wrong.

Arrow. The Flash. Daredevil. Jessica Jones. Supergirl. Legends of Tomorrow. Soon to be Luke Cage (I’ve seen the first six episodes, trust me this is going to be sensational).

I’m sorry, what were you saying about the poor translation on the small screen? I couldn’t hear you over the success of all of these superhero shows.

“TV is about real people and faces, and not so much about magic and supernatural things.” – Bruno Heller

I don’t know what television Heller has been watching, but one of the great things about entertainment in general – and specifically TV – is that it explores anything and everything. That includes realistic fiction, reality shows, and superheroes.

And what do you mean “real people?” How easily you forget that superheroes don’t begin and end with that costume. They are real people underneath. One of the things that makes heroes so effective on television is that you get to see them as real people because there’s time to explore that.

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Maybe that’s not how things are done on Gotham, but The CW and Netflix have proven time and time again that their shows flourish because of it.

“You have to keep it real and unreal at the same time.” – Bruno Heller

Once again I’m wondering how things are approached on Gotham because the shows on the CW and Netflix are able to do this well. Sure it’s not easy, but it’s something that they always manage to accomplish.

Here’s the thing, superheroes aren’t real. And that’s the point. They’re supposed to be unattainable that’s why the “super” is attached to “hero.” Heroes we have plenty of in society – doctors, police, firefighters, teachers – but it’s expanding upon the idea of there being these people that go above and beyond – whether they have super abilities or super skill – that is enticing about telling a superhero’s story.

Balancing the real with the unreal is something that The Flash and Jessica Jones does well. Here you have superhuman beings that are so something that is not “real” but at the same time their real experiences and emotions make them real. That’s what it means to balance real and unreal. And those shows do it better than most.

“The comic book constituency has become so large and visible with the whole Comic-Con thing that it is very easy to assume that the audience is purely comic book enthusiasts. But I operate the show on the basis that it is a mistake to just go there.” – Bruno Heller

Okay finally Heller said something that I agree with. These comic book television shows operate with the heroes as their starting point and the comics as a guide not a Bible. And he’s not alone. Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow executive producer Marc Guggenheim recently discussed how significant the non-comic book audience is to all of these shows.

Just because these shows are based on these heroes that were born in comic books doesn’t mean that they’re going to be or have to be a carbon copy. Some things that work well in comics maybe don’t work as well on television. Then you have to do right by the story and the characters the more that it progresses. That includes adapting previously planned storylines and relationships, which has been the case for shows like Arrow.

The Bottom Line…

If anything, superheroes work better on television than film because there’s time to really explore these heroes as their heroic and personal identities. Instead of two and a half hours of big action and small character focus you get the gift of 13-23 hours of action and character exploration.

But with that said it’s far from perfect. The gift of time is also a curse as sometimes those 23-episode shows go through a periods of “filler” in the middle of a season before they delve into the big arc of the season. But even that doesn’t take away from them.

Maybe Heller believes that superheroes don’t work well on his show, but he doesn’t speak for the countless others that have flourished on television and continue to spawn spinoffs. Clearly The CW and Netflix are doing something right.

Arrow worked so well that it eventually launched these other shows beginning with The Flash. The continued success of both Flash and Arrow spun off Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl was the product of these superhero shows proving they work on television.

Daredevil was a huge success, and it paved the way for Jessica Jones, which produced the upcoming Luke Cage. Daredevil’s and Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of The Punisher crafted a Punisher series in the works. Not to mention forthcoming series like Iron Fist and The Defenders.

Tell me again that superheroes don’t work well on television.


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