Of all the people in charge of new series hitting this Fall, none are probably feeling more pressure than Bruno Heller.
The British-born producer and creator of HBO’s “Rome” and CBS’ “The Mentalist” is the man behind Fox’s “Gotham,” a series that delivers the first post-Chris Nolan live-action take on the Batman universe – one in which Bruce Wayne is a kid and likely won’t become Batman until the final moments of of the final episode.
It’s a daunting challenge. The last time an attempt was made to tackle Batman in live-action on television was The WB’s fairly disastrous and short-lived “Birds of Prey” back in 2002. Speaking with EW, Heller has answered some burning questions from fans and clears up some facts.
Heller he doesn’t think Batman in full force works well on TV because when the masks or costumes come out the characters essentially stop being human: “When thinking about how to enter the DC world for TV, certainly on network TV, to do shows about superheroes – about people who wear spandex costumes – that doesn’t work very well. We want to see people’s faces. TV is about emotion and character, not stunts and special effects. This is a way of entering that world in a fresh way.”
On the flipside, he says “one of the great things about the Batman world is [the characters] have no super powers. Nobody flies or leaps over buildings. You start with psychology and that’s where we build from.”
The show is built on the premise of: “What if young James Gordon was the detective who investigated the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents? And once you make that connection, it opened up a whole world of storytelling that we realized hadn’t really been looked at before, which is the world before Batman – the world of Gotham, young Bruce Wayne and young James Gordon and the origin stories of the villains.”
That meant building the show around Gordon, whom Heller calls “the most human and real and normal person in the DC pantheon.” He goes on to say: “What would the city of Gotham look like to a young rookie cop coming into this world? And that’s where we calibrated. This is a world that’s going to become that familiar world of Batman, but it’s not there yet. It’s an embryo. A lot of the work was reverse engineering the story to look at what these characters were like when younger.”
On to the more practical questions, Heller says the entire first season is mapped out and the episodes are serialized: “There’s a procedural framework for it, but the world of Gotham is too big and operatic and complex to do it any other way but serialized.”
Did Fox push back on that? “No. Fox was very much on the same page. The stories have to be as large and compelling as the city it’s set in. That’s not to say that you couldn’t do a straight-up police procedural. But, for instance, because we are following the villains as well as the police, you’re already breaking out of that procedural mold.”
Asked which other Batman characters will appear, he confirmed we’ll get the Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Alfred Pennyworth and Poison Ivy this season and “possibly Harvey Dent.” There will be others as well but there are others he won’t name just yet: “We’re starting way before these villains even themselves knew they were villains. Some of them started out as good guys. So there will be a lot of that… I will say we’re not going to skimp on giving people the characters they want and expect from Gotham. But when and how they’re going to show up is half the fun.”
What about The Joker? “He’s the crown jewel of the Batman villains. He will be brought in with great care and a lot of thought.”
Visually he says it will look quite different from the Nolan films: “The movies are a very rigorous, kind of Germanic take on that world. They’re visually stunning, but not particularly visually pleasurable. I would say this is much more on the street level of Gotham. There’s more people, it’s a more colorful place, it’s a more vivid place, it’s more crowded. The inspiration for me and Danny was New York in the 1970s, because we both remember that as a seminal moment, coming to the city for the first time. This is very much that kind of Gotham – intensely visual and three-dimensional and layered and gritty and dirty and sexy and dangerous.”
Asked about how dark it will be, he says: “Certainly that will be a discussion down the road, I’m sure. Tone is one of those things you try not to think about too much. It just comes out that way. For this world, the people and violence – if that’s the right word for it – needs to be as tough as the city. It’s a high stakes life-or-death place.”
In terms of Bruce Wayne’s involvement, Heller admits initially he was ambivalent about how much he would use Bruce in the series. When they cast David Mazouz in the role, he’s now “hoping to use him as much as his mum will allow us to, and in the kind of stories you’d imagine. It’s not going to be young Bruce Wayne going out and saving the day, because that’s not what kids do. It’s about the strange education of this young man. He has a good idea of where he’s going early on. But it’s about the growth of this young man.”