From Arrow to Gotham: Geoff Johns on the secret of DC's television revolution

Contributed by
Sep 30, 2014

Marvel might be dominating the box office, but it’s hard to argue DC hasn't taken control of the television market in recent years. So what’s the secret behind this new-look brain trust?

Comic and TV guru Geoff Johns, chief creative officer of DC Entertainment, has been tasked with keeping it all straight and leading the charge to adapt the company's comic properties for the small screen. But his unspoken job might be the hardest — namely, making sure those shows are actually good. So far, he seems to be on point.

Johns opened up with Fast Company about his position, which includes balancing no less than a half-dozen television projects at any time. At the moment, he’s focusing on Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, Constantine, Supergirl and iZombie. He also produces the Flash series with a more hands-on role (he’s a big fan of Barry Allen) and still manages to crank out a fair share of comics in his spare time. 

So, what’s the secret? According to Johns, it’s something they figured out with Arrow — stay true to the comics, dig in and expand on those stories, and the series will work. Stay true to the canon while carving out a unique tone that fits the property, and viewers will stay true to the shows:

“I think Warner Bros. TV and DC had such a great season because of the diversity of the shows. They’re all very different. Constantine is in the supernatural world, Gotham is in the past, while Flash and Arrow are the center and heart of the DC universe. Flash is more on the Superman spectrum — bright and optimistic — where Arrow is gritty and dark. As long as everything finds its own niche, and we don’t get repetitive on what we do, there’s room for everything…

For example, in the comics, Arrow’s time on the island was like, two panels; the Flash was in a lab, a bolt of lighting hit him, and he was 'the Flash.' That was it. So we added more of a back story to help create their worlds. But when you don’t embrace what works about a character, it falls flat. There’s a reason why these characters have endured for 75 years.”

That approach has worked like a charm on Arrow, and we might just be two episodes deep into Gotham, but the Batman prequel is shaping up to be a legit hit of the fall. The Flash and Constantine pilots are also solid jumping-off points, and it’s easy to see how Johns’ approach is working. Every show feels true to the DC brand, but each one carves out its own very different niche.

The producers on those various shows echo those sentiments, with Constantine producer Daniel Cerone noting that DC has pushed them to “embrace” the comic universe as “truly creative partners,” encouraging them to take full advantage of the comic property. Gotham producer Bruno Heller had a similar experience, noting that Johns and DC have left a massive section of Batman lore open for them to explore:

“Geoff and the rest of the guys there have been part of this process from the beginning, and have very much guided us about the canonical myth and how to weave our way into that world They've also given us a lot of leeway and freedom to create and be imaginative with that world. We talk constantly about where we can take it, and what villains would be appropriate, when and how. So it's a fertile relationship going on.”

It’s fascinating to get a peek behind the DC Entertainment curtain, and the more we hear about Johns’ role, it sounds like he might be to DC television what Kevin Feige is to Marvel movies. If the quality can sustain, and the comic-book bubble doesn’t pop, we could be on the verge of some very, very good television. Here’s hoping, anyway.

What do you think of DC's huge push into television?

(Via Fast Company)

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