Last December, BleedingCool started a rumor that Warners Bros.-TV was developing a live action teen drama/romance series with a superhero twist, based on then recently-canceled Young Justice cartoon and comics. Targeted for a 2015 debut, it was to be set up at The CW, and would indeed feature such tricky characters as Superboy and Miss Martian.
It turns out they were right. Kind of. Maybe. Not really.
So, here’s the thing: Three days ago, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that TNT, of all places, is close to ordering a pilot for Titans, an adaptation of the DC comic book series Teen Titans. Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind, I Am Legend) and Marc Haimes (a former studio executive) are creating the show, with their official titles being Executive Producer for Goldsman and Co-Executive Producer for Haimes. Their pitch for the show is “a dramatic adventure series that will explore and celebrate one of the most popular comic book titles ever.” Beyond that, we don’t know a whole lot, and there’s a big difference between “about to get a pilot” and “actually got a pilot” let alone “made it on air.” However, as a bit of an overgrown kid who’s seen every episode of the Teen Titans-inspired animated shows I find this all very intriguing.
Here are 5 angles on the story:
1. Who are the Teen Titans?
They’re basically what would happen if all of the sidekicks to DC’s bigger heroes banded together to form their own kind of Junior Justice League. It all started back in a 1964 issue of The Brave and the Bold, with the inaugural members being Robin (aka Dick Grayson), Kid Flash (Wally West) and Aqualad (Garth). Wonder Girl (Donna Troy) and Green Arrow’s sidekick, Speedy (Roy Harper) later joined. The series was re-launched in 1980 as The New Teen Titans, aging the characters to young adults and centering everything about a now 20-something Dick Grayson going by the new crime fighting identity Nightwing. Robin, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash were replaced by Cyborg, alien princess Starfire, and basically daughter-of-the-devil Raven and joined by the shape-shifting Beast Boy. Their publication history from that point forward gets pretty convoluted, with lots of starts and stops, but most recently the title was re-launched as part of the New 52 with a team consisting of Red Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Solstice, and Superboy. It’s all further complicated by the fact that in 1998 DC launched Young Justice, which was basically a new version of Teen Titans at a time when the original Titans had all become adults. This new group initially consisted of the Tim Drake Robin, Superboy, and Arsenal, but grew to encompass pretty much every single DC sidekick.
These comics have inspired three different animated shows: Teen Titans (2003-2006), Teen Titans Go! (2013-present), and the dearly departed Young Justice (2010-2013).
Teen Titans was a loose adaptation of the 1980s version of the group, featuring the Dick Grayson Robin, Cyborg, Beast Boy, Raven, and Starfire. It is most notable for being DC’s first attempt to ease American audiences into accepting anime-influenced visuals and character designs.
Teen Titans Go! is basically a kid-friendly, Adult Swim-lite version of the same show featuring the same cast of characters (and related voice actors), but instead of having the heroes fight the villainous Deathstroke we have Robin rejoicing when the rest of the team loses their memories because it means he gets a second attempt to train the team to respect him as their leader.
Young Justice was not a direct adaptation of any one source but instead a general interpretation of the entirety of D.C. comic book superheroes, featuring not just sidekicks but also heavy-hitters like Batman, Superman, Green Arrow, Shazam, and Martian Manhunter in supporting roles. The focus was still on sidekicks fronting a B-squad Justice League, consisting of the Dick Grayson Robin, a new version of Aqualad, the Wally West Kid Flash, Artemis and Speedy (Green Arrow’s sidekicks), Superboy, and Miss Martian (Martian Manhunter’s sidekick). The team grew exponentially in the show’s second season since they put a 5-year time jump in-between seasons.
2. Which characters could end up on Titans?
According to The Wall Street Journal, the 1980 era of the comics will serve as the inspiration for Titans, though the only characters they actually named were Nightwing, Starfire, Raven, and Cyborg. No mention of Beast Boy. Back when BleedingCool first broke this rumor, they indicated Superboy and Miss Martian were also going to be in the mix. However, it’s hard to see how they could seriously do Superboy since his origin story is that he’s Superman’s clone. Plus, clearly Nightwing is pretty closely linked to Batman. Cyborg is actually already spoken for, set to cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, though DC seems to have no qualms about juggling multiple continuities between their films and TV shows. For example, multiple current (Roy Harper) or potential characters (Speedy, Artemis, Kid Flash) on Arrow and Flash join the Teen Titans or Young Justice in the comics, yet here’s a Teen Titans show being set up at a rival network instead of in the same cinematic universe as Arrow or Flash.
Back when this show was first rumored as a Young Justice adaptation I argued it could really resemble The CW’s Tomorrow People, particularly with the way that show’s trick of having a female telepath link character’s minds to allow conversation via voice-over exactly mimicked what Young Justice did with Miss Martian.
However, if this is to be more an adaption of Teen Titans than Young Justice then I’m not sure what or who to expect.
3. Akiva Goldsman? That guy who wrote the crappy Batman movies and just directed the hilariously awful Winter’s Tale?
Quite often screenwriters don’t deserve nearly as much of the blame or credit which flows their way for the failure or success of a movie. Case in point, depending on where you stand on Batman Forever you might be inclined to at least credit Akiva Goldsman for creating a script which seemed far more interested in exploring Bruce Wayne as a character than Tim Burton ever gave a crap about in Batman and Batman Returns. However, the Batman Forever script was actually written by married couple Janet Scott and Lee Batchler, who read academic analyses of Batman to help inspire their version of Bruce Wayne as well as the creation of Nicole Kidman’s psychiatrist character Chase Meridian. When they had to leave due to prior commitments, Goldsman was brought in because he had just worked with director Joel Schumacher on his first job as a screenwriter, polishing the script for The Client. He was tasked with doing the same for Batman Forever. All he really contributed was making sure the Riddler’s real name was Edward Nigma, ala the comics, and removing two kind of goofy moments from the Batchler script, one involving Bruce Wayne suffering temporary amnesia and another kind of creepily implying Batman had sex with Chase without ever taking off the mask. Otherwise, his main job was to work with Schumacher on making things more “comic book, not tragic book.”
Since then, he has been a whipping boy for a lot of comic book fans, thought of as being only slightly less responsible than Joel Schumacher for killing Batman. However, since that time Goldsman has partnered with Ron Howard on A Beautiful Mind (for which he won a Best Screenplay Oscar), Cinderella Man, Da Vinci Code, and Angels & Demons. He also forged a producing/writing relationship with Will Smith (I, Robot, Hancock), and branched out into TV as a producer and writer for the first 4 seasons Fringe. He’s always been a lifelong comic book fan, and served as a producer on Constantine and Jonah Hex. He was briefly involved in the failed “Batman Vs. Superman” development process back in 2001-2003, and he has actually previously attempted (and failed) to get a Teen Titans film up and running at Warner Bros. This past year has been a best of times/worst of times situation for him, though. Best of times is that he has Titans nearing a deal with TNT, and has already landed the gig to write one of the Divergent sequels; worst of times is that his directorial debut, The Winter’s Tale, was one of the most hilariously awful films of the year thus far and was a box office bomb.
So, yeah, Goldsman’s name being attached to this project definitely carries some baggage. However, TV and film are two different beasts, and his prior work on Fringe is very encouraging.
4. What does this mean for Supergirl?
Comic books are THE trend in TV right now, but thus far that trend has mostly been exclusive to the broadcast networks (Arrow, Flash, iZombie on The CW, Gotham on Fox, Constantine on NBC, Agents of Shield & Agent Carter on ABC) and streaming outlets (Powers on the Playstation Network, Daredevil & Co. on Netflix, The Awesomes on Hulu). Obviously, AMC’s The Walking Dead comes from the comics as will its adaptation of Preacher, but the superheroes have stayed mostly on the broadcast side of the channel dial. So, when it was recently revealed that Arrow co-creator Greg Berlanti is currently developing a Supergirl TV show one of the parts of the story that caught everyone’s attention was that the show is apparently not going to be shopped to The CW. In interviews since the story broke, Berlanti revealed the obvious which is that they’d be foolish to immediately eliminate one potential player in any kind of bidding war that might erupt. However, The CW only has so many hours of programming to fill, and they already have a bunch of comic book shows. Plus, isn’t cable where everyone truly wants to play these days given the lowered set of ratings expectations, fewer content restrictions and thus more creative freedom?
It remains to be seen how that plays out for the Supergirl project, but cable would appear to be a potential option now that Warner Bros.-TV, which owns both Supergirl and Teen Titans, is about to get in bed with TNT.
5. But why TNT? We Know Drama…And Comic Books?
It’s worth noting that Warner Bros. and TNT share a corporate parent, Time Warner, though it’s not really clear what, if any, affect that level of corporate synergy had on this potential partnership. From TNT’s perspective, they’ve effectively built themselves up in recent years as something akin to a cable version of CBS, a successful, high-rated outlet which skews older than the competition and thus produces the type of shows lots of people watch but very few care to talk about. For example, Michael Bay’s The Last Ship was pretty much the only real unquestioned ratings hit among the new shows of the summer, averaging 5 million overnight viewers per episode, over 7 million in Live+7, and though it was a hit in the key demos of 18-49 and 25-49 I personally don’t know a single person who watches the show. Moreover, none of the pop culture tastemakers I follow, like the AVClub, or fellow blogs I read have mentioned the show. Instead, all they wanted to talk about was Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, FX’s The Strain, and HBO’s The Leftovers, none of which were watched by nearly as many people as Last Ship.
An effort by TNT to bring Teen Titans to live-action television could theoretically be aimed at reaching a younger, CW-like audience, but instead it’s probably more of a move designed to create buzz. Why should something like Arrow, a comic book show on a broadcast network, be watched by over 5 million viewer people than an average TNT original show but still dominate Twitter and social media? More than just that, TNT will soon have a need to fill a slot on its schedule with Steven Spielberg’s Falling Skies slated to air its fifth and final season next summer. That is the only “genre show” (a catch-all term used to describe sci-fi, comic book, fantasy, etc.) TNT has right now. The fact that Falling Skies has made it to a fifth season is partially a testament to Spielberg’s long-standing producing partnership with the network, but it’s also an indication people will actually watch a genre show on TNT. It remains to be seen how far they would go in that direction with Titans, but when your potential cast of characters includes an alien (Starfire), clone (Superboy), demon (Raven), and cyborg (um, Cyborg) we’re definitely outside of Rizzoli & Isles territory.
But this could all mean nothing. It’s a very small percentage of shows that ever reach the pilot stage, and even then the overwhelming majority never make it to air. There are some narrative hurdles for Goldsman and company here, but this could be an interesting project….if we ever get to see it. What do you think? Would you watch Teen Titans on TNT? Do you just want to know if we’ll get crazy sex goddess Starfire from the comics or infinitely lovable, backwards-talking Starfire from Teen Titans Go!? Let us know in the comments.