Why Superhero TV Shows Don't Work, According To Gotham's Creator

penguin gotham

Fox and Gotham creator Bruno Heller took a big risk in bringing the comic book hyper-drama to the world, largely for giving the world a Bruce Wayne without a Batman to complement him. The show is heading into its third season after ending Season 2 on pure madness, and while Heller doesn't mind embracing the do-anything side of comic storytelling, he is most certainly not a fan of standard superhero TV shows. Here's his reasoning.

I don't think superheroes work very well on TV. Probably because of the costume thing. TV is about real people and faces, and not so much about magic and the supernatural things.

Such dismissive views of small screen heroes are what brought Bruno Heller around to setting Gotham on James Gordon in those years when he witnessed Gotham City taking its headlong tumble into becoming an arch villain's utopia. (And it doesn't get more arch than Gotham's rogues.) It is perhaps unfair to say that Daredevil doesn't work very well on Netflix because of his red outfit, or that Arrow got way worse once Oliver moved beyond his hood, but I get where Heller is coming from. It can sometimes be hard to buy whole-heartedly into the drama of a scene when characters look like cartoons.

There have been a few "costumes" that have popped up in the Fox series, mostly in the forms of body suits worn by Mr. Freeze and Firefly, but Gotham rarely covers up its actors faces for any scenes, as there's no real reason for anyone in Gotham City to hide their identity at this point. Villains are quite happy letting everyone know they're the ones doing the damage.

Bruno Heller, who has spoken in the past about why his show isn't strictly beholden to Batman's comic book universe, shared his thoughts about superhero TV at the Edinburgh Television Festival (via THR). Part of the complications in putting Gotham together, he said, is keeping the balance between the crime procedural and the sprawling comic story, where things are both real and not real at the same time. I'm still laughing over Clayface's weird as shit introduction, which definitely straddled the line between awesome and absurd thanks to his face contortions, but I guess so long as he wasn't wearing a chest piece emblazoned with a symbol, Heller is cool with it.

But again, he isn't against comic book material in general. Heller just doesn't obsess over it. Here's how he put it.

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. What we are trying to do is always give little Easter eggs, little gifts every episode to the real cognoscenti, but you don't need to know more than the basic Batman myth.

That's a good way of looking at it. Marc Guggenheim, one of the masterminds behind The CW's DC universe, also recently came out and said how small comic-reading audiences are compared to TV audiences, so it's always a smarter idea to write for general audiences anyway. And while one might not assume the weirdness of Dr. Hugo Strange's experiments would fit in with general audiences' tastes, I'm perfectly fine with Gotham getting as bonkers as it can get without a single superhero ever showing up. Especially when the easter eggs are so fun and plentiful.

Gotham will return to Fox for Season 3 on Monday, September 19, at 8:00 p.m. ET. To see when everything else is hitting the small screen later this year, check out our fall premiere schedule.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.