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May 23 2012

Are superheroes too big for television? An article which ponders why so many superhero TV shows have failed, but describes Buffy as "the ultimate television superhero".

It's interesting. There's a level of spectacle that should be present. I don't think it's action, it's spectacle. Game of Thrones technically nails it and shows that even something that can be as cornball as fantasy can look outstanding given the right people and budget. The Dark Knight doesn't do anything at all a show on a HBO budget couldn't do (few exceptions, of course). So - yeah! I still have hope. If Marvel has a Cinematic Universe, DC could do a (HBO) TV series for their Universe.
Nice article but what about the growth in animated superhero shows?
Jaymii...you have a good point about DC putting their universe on TV. It could work. Except it won't, because they always get the wrong people on their TV shows and chicken out on making them comic booky, trying to play it safe by forcing the premises into a shape of "more like TV shows". Just take a look at Smallville. Or the Aquaman pilot. Or the Wonder Woman pilot. Warner are too chicken to really turn DC comics into live action without trying to "fix" them. They'd have to get someone like Paul Dini on it and hold back on the "can we make it less like a comic book?" notes, and that's not gonna happen.
I loved Smallville *shrug*

ETA: Loved The Flash and The Tick, too, for that matter…

[ edited by QingTing on 2012-05-23 14:22 ]
I'm a fan of Smallville too.Smallville is doing what Buffy has done with a Smallville season 11 comic that picks up after the series and writtien by one of the show's writers.

I think that no matter what people think of it,a show that runs 10 seasons and ends under its own power has to be seen as somewhat of a success.

DC has another superhero series hitting in the fall."Arrow" on The CW.It's a Green Arrow series(un-related to Smallville) that will be airing on Wed. at 8pm this fall and paired with Supernatural.

It will be interesting to see if that Guillermo del Toro produced Hulk series makes it to ABC for 2013/2014.
Heroes failed, plain and simply, because they didn't have the gusto to kill off their main villain at the conclusion of season one for at least three seasons. Leave his death ambiguous if you need too, but don't bring him back right away. Also, their villains arc killed off all the "promising/fan loved" villains via Sylar too quickly.
They weren't quick enough to make the necessary changes, and that ended them. I loved the first season of the show and defended the writer's strike shortened second season, but season three just turned me off from the show entirely.
Smallville went on too many seasons with little payout to fans of the Superman mythos.
Marvel had a few ideas in production for a Jessica Jones/Luke Cage inspired show. I'd really like a S.H.I.E.L.D. show (you wouldn't need Avengers showing up every week, you could have West Coast Avengers or other second-tier Marvel characters and villains popping up for the agency to deal with from time to time).
Superheroes are definitely not too big for TV. Remember Heroes? Of course they notoriously screwed that show up, but it was still one of the biggest things the year it came out.

I think the reason a lot of superhero projects fail is because there's no-one helming the show that really has vision for it. If you're going to create a superhero show for network television, you need to have a clear idea of what you want to do with it that will appeal both to genre fans and to the casual viewer. Buffy did that beautifully by mixing all elements (genre, drama and comedy) so well. I suppose it's unnecessary for me to point to the season 2 Angel arch.

Look at Battlestar Galactica. True, not on network television (and also not superheroes... but! Robots!), but the reason people love that show so much is not because it was based on existing material, but because it knew what it wanted to do.

I think that if you take an existing superhero property and come up with a fresh approach to it, a mission statement and whatnot... It could really work.

Part of why I think Wonder Woman failed is because of how camp that character is. People wouldn't buy that on tv right now, I think. I mean... I wouldn't watch a show with a superhero dressed in hotpants (at best), who carries a whip and deflects bullets with her bracelets. It wouldn't look believable, but silly. Now if you could take the idea of Wonder Woman and take it into a different direction, that would be a whole other story.

I know a lot of you will reply that it wouldn't be Wonder Woman then, but this kind of thing is done in comics all the time. Look at Neil Gaiman's "Marvel 1602", where he took classic Marvel characters and placed them in the 17th century. He kept their basic ideas an put them into a different world. Smallville itself actually used the same approach for that show, and even if I personally didn't like it, it kept people watching for 10 years.

Superheroes are such a versatile type of character. You can do anything with them and if a good writer loves a character and wants to get creative with it, I can only applaud that and give such shows a shot. I'm sure many people would agree.
I always thought Angel and Buffy were superheroes. Even more so now with the comics.
"Heroes"... sigh, it was glorious once.

I actually think they are on to something, live action 'superhero' TV can't do it the way movies can. They include "Buffy", but "Buffy" works precisely because they eschewed adopting a cinematic scale for her abilities. I think it's a lot easier to develop a superhero mythos for television than it would be to adapt most existing comic mythos to TV, because you just can't capture the scope. To wit, I think "Buffy" works and "Dark Angel" worked for that matter, but a Superman show that actually does actual Superman (and "Smallville" wasn't and never will be) can't work very long.

There are plenty of other shows with various levels of worth recently -- "Nine Lives of Chloe King", "Lost Girl", "Alphas", "Teen Wolf", all of which, under this article's criteria, could be called superhero shows, but notice that all of their reach is very firmly within their grasp when it comes to mythology and scale.
Even "Heroes" wasn't that glorious. It had a few outstanding episodes in the first season (mostly written by Bryan Fuller) that emphasized character and drama, as opposed to technobabble and turgid conspiracies. (But that makes it a good example, to see what worked and what did not.)

spidyredneckjedi: I would suggest going the opposite direction. No need to kill villains at the end of each season. My suggestion would be to make the villains reoccurring characters, rather than shoehorn a particular one into every episode. I think part of the reason Buffy season 2 worked so well is that the heavy lifting was split among Spike, Drusilla, and Angelus, all with distinct strengths and personalities. Even if there is a big fight at the end, there has to be more going on during the season than just that.
@ OneTeV - My point is in comic books, the hero(es) defeat the villain after a several issue arc, and he goes back to lick his wounds in the interim. He isn't the big bad in the next story arc (usually), that spot is taken up by another villain, while the preceding villain plots his revenge/retribution. In "Heroes" they relied on Sylar to be the villain the entire time, even in the "Villains" arc. They needed more evil characters in the wings, like Buffy did successfully.
"The Cape" had the right idea, though it had insufferable writing/plot holes the size of Mack trucks...
The heavy lifting in Buffy Season 2 was mainly carried by Spike/Angelus.
I was a big fan of Heroes and enjoyed it to the very end, although it go down hill very steadily. the Cape was just all kinds of disappointing, but had the right idea IMO. established superheroes have gotten to big, especially ones that had the blockbuster movies, Avengers, Batman, Etc. but a new superhero or even one of the more obscure ones like Punisher or Green hero if done properly could work very well, and I think I heard "Arrow" might have the same people working on it that did "Smallville" (although im not sure) and 10 seasons = success as far as Im concerned
I think this is fairly spot on. Buffy always remained solely within a human scale, so to say. It focused on a group of humans with human concerns and let them live their lives like mostly normal people, with the added need to save the world a lot. And it is interesting to me that it sort of lost that in Season 8, year 1 of comics, in that with a far larger palette to work with, it actually lost its human scale and thus in many ways lost its way.

I enjoyed the first season of Heroes, though it never seemed to know what it wanted to be. Hiro was used for comic effect; Claire for dramatic, and Nathan and Peter for messed up family dynamics. It was all over the map, and this inability to stick with tone began to hurt it, all the more so since Sylar could be whatever you needed him to be to move the story forward. It would have been more resonant to have killed him off, but that never happened, and I more than slowly tired of the show- even more so when they went carnival, which is a trope so old it precedes TV.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2012-05-24 01:59 ]
The Tick was brilliantly hilarious, for all of its 9 or so episodes before it was cancelled. Thank you, Ben Edlund.
Heroes worked because the heroes had to keep their powers secret. This is also why Highlander worked - the immortals had to keep their war secret. It is probably also why Smallville worked initially. The moment you bring heroes into a conflict in which they are visible to the world, they become unrealistic and absurd. Movies manage to overcome that through sheer spectacle or by building a world that is not quite our own. But tv shows are on budgets that inevitably set them in our real world, and as such the juxtaposition of our real world and a superhero becomes ridiculous - unless they're on the down-low.
And hell yeah, SPOOOON!
With the price of CGI dropping, I'd say that superhero series with blockbuster aesthetics may become possible (a.k.a. profitable) in the near future. The problem is currently budget: even LOST's 2 hour pilot was the most expensive at that time, costing 12-14 million. The problem? That's a low budget movie today. And most series episodes are going to cost about 1/3 of that.

Of course, as broadcast viewership dwindles, the producers are going to be in an impossible bind: they'll have an inevitably expensive series that will have to last at least a season in the hopes that the season 1 DVD sales keep the network execs from pulling the plug. And remember that the network president who greenlighted LOST got fired for it before it even aired. It may be that the branded cable networks would have to be the ones to make the leap to air a genuine superhero serial.

I think they might be able to get around the economic issues by using a nonpowered superhero like Batman, where at least you don't have to do energy blasts or flying. Of course, that series was The Cape, so what do I know?
"the network president who greenlighted LOST got fired for it before it even aired."

Who was that network president? I must find him/her and shake his/her hand. Must Investigate.

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