Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot helped make ‘Gotham’ possible

I recently participated in a conference call discussion with Bruno Heller, executive producer and writer for FOX’s Gotham. A number of other media outlets were invited to join, and each of us were given roughly two questions to ask. Heller shared his views on not only the Gotham premiere, but the show’s background and what fans can look forward to in the first season. He even attributed Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy to paving the way for shows like Gotham. Check out highlights from the conference call below.

Batman News: Shows like “Arrow” and “Smallville” have proven that mainstream superhero shows can be successful ventures. How have those shows had an impact on the production and development of “Gotham?” Would a show like “Gotham” even be possible say ten or fifteen years ago?

Oh, that’s a good deep question. Yes, I would say. Both the shows you mentioned are Warner Bros. shows, and the DC Universe is now very much a part of Warner Bros. culture. I’ve been talking with DC for many years before we got to this point and landed on “Gotham”. I think you’re probably right, ten years ago it wouldn’t be possible and I think that’s a combination of the brilliance of what the Nolans did to revivify the Batman franchise and also the shows you mentioned. […] I would say that the difference between those shows and this is that those were cable shows and this is network, and there are slightly different demands there. The analogy would be those are arena shows and this has to be a stadium show and we have to appeal to an even larger audience. So it has to appeal to both people who love Batman and love Gotham and love that world, and also people who have no particular love for the world and you just have to grab on the strength of the story and the characters.

Batman News: Warner Bros. and Netflix recently agreed to exclusive streaming right for “Gotham.” Is direct-to-subscription television an inevitability? How do you see this effecting big projects like “Gotham” in the future?

Well I’m the last person to ask about business because what I can’t control I don’t worry about or get too deep into. All of these new outlets and various deals that can be made to back a project can only help in terms of creating larger and more ambitious TV events. That’s the way it’s going, you have to break through, you have to invest a whole lot more money and a whole lot more of your resources to make things pop out of that vast landscape that now exists for TV. The Netflix deal is part of that movement, it allows for creative people to take more chances and to use a broader canvas just to start with.

That was just a brief transcript, you can listen to full audio of Bruno Heller’s answers to Batman News’ questions in the player below:

Here are some more highlights from the conference call:

I know there was a very conscious effort to put so many characters in the pilot and I think that it’s been generally positive, but some may not be so sure about that [decision]. I was wondering if you could tell us about the process behind that and in future episode will it be more of a “villain of the week” or tell us the plan for the future as well?

Obviously the demands of opening big means that we’ve front-loaded with lots of characters and fun just to indicate where we’re going, as the show rolls on it won’t be a villain per week simply because these are such great villains and their storylines are so big and epic it would be shortchanging everyone if we did it in that production line sort of way. So there are a lot of big characters in that first episode, but sort of as it rolls on other characters will be introduced in a much more measured sort of way.

What I’m really interested in is the city of Gotham itself on the show. The show is called “Gotham” and I was wondering how much the city itself really shapes the story you’re telling.

Very much so. It’s an urban story, it’s about city life, and I think Gotham is a dream world that everybody shares in their own mind. Everyone has a vision of Gotham in their minds, so you really have to create a three-dimensional world that is both believable and just a notch above reality that has that fantastic element. Both me and Danny Cannon, the director, settled on New York in the [1970s] when it was a really gnarly and dark but very sexy and attractive and charismatic place. That’s the seed of the city is that, old New York…and Danny and his crew did such an amazing job creating the believable but fantastical world and what that allows us to do is for the actors in that city to be a notch up. It is both real and slightly surreal. So yeah, Gotham is a central character, we just don’t call [the show] “Gotham.”

I was wondering if as a prequel series and origin story, what you looked at for drawing inspiration from for the series if people are used to seeing Bruce Wayne as the Dark Knight and not his younger self and a lot of it is focused on Jim Gordon and Gotham as a whole.

Well to me, the immediate attraction of this story was precisely the chance to tell origin stories. Those are always the aspects of the superhero legends that I enjoy most, and it ties into how things got the way they are. This is a world that everybody knows. Everybody knows who Batman is, who The Riddler is, who The Joker is, though telling their fully-fledged stories is not been-there-done-that, but it’s hard to find a fresh way in. This way, you get to learn how things got to be the way they are, and that, for me, is one of the great gifts of good narrative. It’s like finding old pictures of your parents from before you were born. There’s something intrinsically fascinating about that period, the period before what we know and that’s really the feeling we were going for.

You do some very interesting spins on some well-known characters, especially The Penguin, who stood out as unusually vicious even for that character. When you were developing the show, how much did you decide to stick with the comics compared to taking your own way with those characters?

It’s a tricky balance, because you obviously don’t want to simply create a new character, you have to create a character that you recognize as that iconic character who you recognize and they have to have their iconic characteristics. On the other hand, if we just deliver a character people have seen before then we’re failing the audience. The Batman world is such a vast world full of so many great iterations of these characters that you can’t simply take those elements and regurgitate them, you have to give the audience a fresh look. For me, with Penguin it was important to be true to the psychology of that kind of person. With the graphic novel version of the character as opposed to the comic version, I wouldn’t say he’s more comedic…but it seemed to me that that kind of person has to have some elements of ferocity. There’s also a certain amount of charm so, you know, this is Penguin as a young man who’s still striving and struggling and hungry, so he’s going to be a very different man than the when he’s stable and already reached his goals. Right now he’s a more hungry, violent, scrabbling character, but he must have been in order to get where he got to. In general, it’s important even if some of the audience goes “that’s not my idea of that character,” a little friction and controversy isn’t a bad thing. We’ve been talking to Geoff John’s a DC to make sure we’re not betraying the essence of who these people are, because that would be pointless. We wouldn’t change up the character for shock value. Our agreement is to deliver something new and interesting, which involves taking chances every now and again.

Gotham is an origin story of the great DC Comics Super-Villains and vigilantes, revealing an entirely new chapter that has never been told. Catch the premiere on September 22nd on FOX.