Press tour: CW's 'The Flash' hits the ground running
Where Marvel has been running rings around DC with its cinematic superhero universe, DC in turn is having a bit moment on the small screen. The CW's "Arrow" has had two very strong seasons featuring not only Stephen Amell as Green Arrow, but lots of other major and minor DC characters like Black Canary, Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, and Deathstroke. And this fall, we'll have new DC-inspired shows on NBC (the supernatural saga "Constantine"), FOX (the Batman prequel "Gotham") and again on the CW, with "The Flash," spinning off from "Arrow" and developed by the "Arrow" creative team of Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, along with DC executive and longtime "Flash" comic writer Geoff Johns.
At press tour, Johns called "The Flash" "probably the most faithful DC Comics adaptation ever, as deep as we're going to go, and as many characters as we're using."
The pilot episode — featuring Grant Gustin as police scientist-turned-world's fastest man Barry Allen, Jesse L. Martin as his cop mentor Joe West and Tom Cavanagh as STAR Labs scientist Harrison Wells, among others — is one of the most satisfying of any of the new network shows debuting this fall, full of action, special effects and sincere streak of emotion carried by both Gustin and Martin. The super-speed effects are so good, in fact, that some reporters wondered how the show can maintain the production values on a weekly basis.
"We're thinking about starting a Kickstarter," joked Kreisberg. "Obviously, the pilot had a lot of resources at its disposal, but a lot of the pilot was R&D for the series, and the pilot was a steep learning curve. With 'Arrow,' I remember we ourselves watched the pilot and wondered, 'How are we going to do this every week?' And 'Arrow' has only gotten bigger and better. Whereas that's about stunts and this is about visual effects, we're hoping we'll be able to maintain the same level of action, adventure and excitement. So far, with what we've been doing, we feel like we can."
Though DC is trying to rapidly expand its movie presence with "Superman v. Batman" and the Justice League movie that will follow it, Johns explained that the plan is to keep the movie and TV universes separate, so if there's a Flash in "Justice League," it won't be Gustin.
"One of the joys of doing these shows," said Berlanti (who has also worked on the DC movie end, as one of the screenwriters of "Green Lantern"), "we don't really see a difference between film and TV... Between these two shows this year, we'll have half the Justice League on our shows. It's not a second prize. It is the prize for us, to have the opportunity to tell these stories with these characters."
"The Flash" pilot features many familiar names from the comics, and Easter eggs hinting at even more. There's a brief reference to Gorilla Grodd, for instance, which the producers fought to keep in the final cut, even though they're not quite sure yet how to depict an intelligent super-ape on television.
"That Easter egg means the world to us," said Kreisberg. "As we were working on the pilot and trying to get it down to time, someone would suggest, 'We can save 10 seconds if you cut that,' and we were like, 'You can cut everything else.' 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' is out right now, and we're hoping they're doing the R&D for us."
"Sometimes we know exactly how we're going to pull these things off," added Berlanti. "Sometimes we don't, but know we really want to, and it inspires us to try harder. "
(Other Flash/DC characters due to appear early on: Wentworth Miller will play Captain Cold in episode 4, and the series will introduce Robbie Amell as Ronnie Raymond — one half of the secret identity of Firestorm — in the third episode.)
There's also a major tribute to the TV history of the character, as John Wesley Shipp — who played Barry in a short-lived CBS series in the 1989-90 TV season — has a recurring role as this Barry's father. Berlanti worked with Shipp on "Dawson's Creek" and was able to convince him to be part of this new take on the franchise.
"Having grown up huge Flash fans, that show meant the world to us," said Kreisberg. "We thought, Whatever we do, we gotta get John Wesley Shipp.' He was just so thrilled, so sweet, so generous and so kind. I think he was surprised that the show had meant so much to us and a lot of people, because it ended far too soon for him as well. To get that link to the past and have him be part of the show — and it's not just a gimmick or a cameo, but one of the most important parts of the show."
The tone of both Barry Allen as a character and "The Flash" as a series is significantly lighter and more optimistic than "Arrow." Barry gets to enjoy having his powers, even as there is tragedy in his past and that of the other characters.
"It was a very conscious decision on our parts that we weren't looking to do the same show twice and we weren't looking for the same kind of hero that Steven is playing," said Kreisberg.
The two series exist in the same universe and will interact with each other, but they're each their own thing. And the pilot episode is a very promising test run.