Pop-Break sat down with Phil Klemmer at this year’s NYCC to talk about The CW’s upcoming The Flash and Arrow spinoff, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. The writer and producer discussed the show’s tone, movie vs. TV superheroes and they’re writing story like there won’t be a Season 2.
Talk a little bit about the tone of the show because Arrow‘s a little bit dark and Flash is light and fun. What are you guys going for with the show and could it be changing as the season goes on?
It’s a little bit sort of…. Ours is sort of irreverent and punk rock. It’s sort of anarchy just because you do have such a hodge-podge of characters and points of view. It’s definitely gritty and funny. I don’t know why, but when you start writing scenes with these characters, they’re just so different that you immediately go to the place of comic tension in the way that you would Big Brother. Where you’re forcing people to live on a time-traveling space ship, you immediately go to, like, I don’t know. In a way, there are things that are darker because the stakes are the fate of the world, but my way of dealing with dark stakes is gallows humor. That’s the tone of the show.
As a showrunner, you may have noticed that what’s happened with movies is happening with TV. There are a lot of superhero movies and now there are a lot of superhero TV shows, why is television so interesting for these stories?
I’m not sure, because movies and television are so different. Superhero movies are all about the spectacle and action–which we have–but television, when you’re spending–in our case–16 hours with people, it can’t be 16 hours worth of explosions. I think the interest in Arrow and Flash is sort of getting under the humanity of superheroes. I think movies…Superman is not a relatable guy in his original incarnation. He’s a god. It’s all about his invincibility. And I feel like on television, the thing that keeps shows alive and keeps characters interesting is their weakness and their vulnerabilities. To see these people who are powerful but have these desperate human failings, that’s what draws me to it. That’s what I would credit the success of…. That’s why I think Arrow was successful when it premiered on The CW because he wasn’t like the heroes that are on the big screen.
So you’re saying the superhero stories on television are more profound.
Well, I have a love for both of them, but they’re just more human scale.
Narratively, your show’s unique. Arrow and Flash have built these mythologies for these single heroes, but your show’s unique because people have looked at it and seen that it could be a junction point to a lot of other stories. There’s been tons of rumors there could be other spinoffs. How is it to kind of construct the show? A lot of fans worry that when a superhero movie, for instance, has to service 10 other movies and kind of loses its own identity. Do you have that struggle?
No, no. This doesn’t feel interstitial at all. This feels like the culmination of these stories as opposed to individual stories. We’re not looking beyond these 16 episodes. By the time we’re done with these 16 episodes, we’re going to leave these characters in a place where we couldn’t repeat Season 1 if we wanted to. It’s not like episodic TV where Season 2 is mean to sort of, you know, you always get to a new place, but you always sort of start over in a sense because originally people wanted to get to a hundred episodes and syndication and that was why you did procedurals. This is much more like an anthology show. We’re sprinting for a finish line that we don’t know where it’s going to end, but we’re pretty sure it’s going to leave us in a place where we can’t just start the race over next year. That’s really exciting because characters can die, they can get left behind, they can turn to the dark side. They can switch the other way. We’re really doing this in a way that we’re just trying to make this the best 16 episodes that we can, as if there’s no tomorrow, as if there’s no Season 2, which is hugely liberating.
You could see an anthology type of show from this? Like a whole new set of characters?
Not a whole new. We’ve got to keep some of the DNA, but it doesn’t have to just hit the reset button. It doesn’t have to find a way to maintain the status quo, which I think is exciting because you leave it all on the field. There’s never like, “oh, what if we burn through too much story? That’s going to screw us on Season 2. This way it’s like, Season 2 is Season 2’s problem. Let’s blow it out while we have a show.
Can you talk really quick about the time travel on your show? Can someone die and then they can go back and save them?
No, death means death. If you lose that, you get the “Get Out of Jail Free” Card. We do construct a sort of rule in our show that if you kill me right now with a hatchet, the rest of the team can’t go back in time and stop you from hitting me with the hatchet. Our rule is that if you try to interfere with events that you participated in, that creates a time paradox and a black hole and all horrible things happen. We want to keep those tensions alive so that when our characters are in moments of mortal peril, that they do have consequences, that they’re not just like, “well, it’s Groundhog Day,” we’ll start over tomorrow.
Besides time travel are they dealing with the different worlds?
No, that’s Flash‘s purview, not ours. That would make my head explode.
Phil Klemmer’s Legends of Tomorrow premieres in 2016 on The CW Network.
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over every detail of America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture and celebrity obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to. You can find her risking her life by reading comic books while walking down the crowded streets of New York City, having inappropriate emotional reactions at her iPad screen while riding the subway or occasionally letting her love of a band convince her to stand for hours on end in one of the city’s many purgatorial concert spaces. You can follow her on Twitter to read her insightful social commentary or more likely complain about how cold it is at @MarisaCarpico.