This month, both Marvel and DC revealed their predicted movie schedules through 2020. The second “Avengers” movie comes out in May, and superheroes and their ilk continue to invade our television screens. We’ve seen everything from prequels (“Gotham”), to companion shows (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and everything in between (literally everything else). We know now that the superhero model is a popular, insanely high-grossing construct with universes and story lines expansive enough to continue going on forever. The real question is whether or not we’ll continue to watch week in, week out after the thrill is gone.
The rebirth of superheroes in popular culture has been beaten to death, and since I have nothing new to add to the conversation, I’ll just say, superheroes are really popular again. Comics and the like were part of a less-than-thriving industry before “Iron Man” reintroduced us to one of Marvel’s signature characters and opened Pandora’s Box. What I will say, however, is that their transition to the small screen has been relatively recent. Starting last year, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “The Flash” and “Gotham” have all premiered and “Arrow” continues to have a following on the CW. Netflix also plans on getting in on the action in the near future, greenlighting multiple shows about some of Marvel’s lesser luminaries to come in the near future.
But does anyone care? “Gotham’s” ratings aren’t anything to write home about, and neither are “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s.” “The Flash’s” have been fine, but certainly not high enough to carry the genre. They’re certainly alright. There are worse shows in pretty much every corner of television. Yet, if they’re not bad programs, then why aren’t people watching? Could it be that they don’t care? Actually, that’s probably it, and there are multiple reasons for this lack of interest.
First of all, there will never be as much buzz for superhero television if they don’t get the actors from the movies onto the small screen. However, when those actors include Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson it’s obviously very difficult to corral them all (and pay them enough) for the amount of time it would take to film an extended series. You can’t really hold it against TV networks if they can’t get that done. However, it’s hard to root for the dregs of both Marvel and DC universes when the real thing is so accessible. I don’t know why ABC thinks I care about a bunch of low-end characters and that guy who died in the first “Avengers” movie when I can pull up Netflix and watch the movie itself.
In my opinion, the biggest reason people don’t watch superhero TV is not as many people want to devote their time to these characters. One of the reasons “Smallville” was so big was it focused on Superman, who might be the most popular superhero ever; he kind of defines the genre. Green Arrow and the Flash, while popular, are not even close to that level. Batman definitely is, but "Gotham" isn’t really about him. It’s about Jim Gordon, an auxiliary character, and a bunch of origin stories all congealing at once. It’s easy to go to a theater and spend two hours or so immersed in the Marvel universe, but I’m not about to devote time every week to it. Maybe I’m just not a big enough fan, but it seems like TV is just getting the scraps.
Do you think superhero TV can be saved? Tell Jake how at firstname.lastname@example.org.