Lots of news emerged from Warner Bros. yesterday besides getting a new CEO.
On the most germane to our continuing investigations, Amazon, the Wonder Woman pilot being scripted by Allan Heinberg, has been put on hold for a while. It hasn’t been killed, but it “needs more time.” On the plus side, an off-season pilot may be ordered so it can go in as a midseason replacement. On the non-plussed side, it’s yet ANOTHER superhero project that WB has put on hold or dithered over or fretted about.
Getting another DC drama on the air has been important for the CW, especially in light of the success of Arrow this season, so Amazon remains a high priority at the network, sources say.
Meanwhile, over at film, an analysis piece on the fate of studio head Jeff Robinov after being passed over for CEO, suggests that the Justice League mega-movie is also on hold, at least until MAN OF STEEL comes out and is judged good.
Further out, the studio’s planning a “Justice League” tentpole — encompassing DC Comics mainstays Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and the Green Lantern — on the order of Marvel’s “The Avengers.” Will Beall is scripting but no director has been attached yet. Stakes are high for “Man of Steel.” Other than Nolan’s Batpics, Warners has not been able to effectively exploit the DC library. Its 2011 “Green Lantern” underperformed, and a “Justice League” film wouldn’t likely be in theaters before 2015, as Warner’s top brass has indicated that they are awaiting the results of “Man of Steel,” which opens June 14, before moving further ahead.
Once again, the Justice League movie has a script, by Will Beall, but no director, no stars…nothing but a burning desire to answer the Avengers with an even more massive gang of superheroes.
This is pretty much business as usual at the WB, where superhero projects fall into two camps:
• Massively successful movies by Christopher Nolan
• Everything else.
MAN OF STEEL, with Nolan producing and comic book expert Zack Snyder directing, seems to be the surest thing they could do, but even that isn’t very sure given the SUPERMAN RETURNS disaster. Even that hasn’t stopped Bryan Singer from stepping in on X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST with little or no fan outcry.
Of course, you can’t blame them for being a little skittish. 300 was a massive success, but WATCHMEN was baffling. And then comes a series of movies that no one would like to take credit for:
and under the “okay but they didn’t set the world on fire” list:
V FOR VENDETTA
One of the few DC properties to achieve a level of film success—a sequel—is RED, based on the Warren Ellis/Cully Hamner WildStorm book, and ironically, that movie wasn’t even made by WB. Somehow the rights slipped away to Summit, and a well received vehicle for aging stars was born.
I’m not going to go down the whole list, but there’s also an endless stream of stop/start WB superhero projects, including a previous Justice League that had a cast and a director and still got the plug pulled; all the weird ass Superman reboots, from Wolfgang Peterson to Tim Burton; the Woman Woman McBeal pilot by David E. Kelley, the legendary Wonder Woman script by Joss Whedon…and so on.
The situation is much better on TV where Arrow—like Smallville before it—has proven you CAN do a superhero on TV. And of course there’s the successful and ongoing Cartoon Network slate of shows. More on that later.
But at some point you just have to do SOMETHING. Especially when Disney/Marvel is just barreling down the highway, singing the Doctor Strange theme song. So what does this all have to do with Kevin Tsujihara, the new WB CEO? As head of home entertainment, at least they did SOMETHING, including making well-received animated movies based on obscure (to the general public) comics storylines, like Batman Year One, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern: Emerald Knight, The New Frontier…on and on. The whole line of movies has been produced by people who tend to know what they are doing, like Michael Uslan, Bruce Timm, and Sam Register.
They may be small earners aimed at a niche audience, but given the state of some other WB superheroes, the fact that these movies even exist is somewhat notable.
As CEO Tsujihara will be far above the level of dealing with DC Comics—and he’s never been known as a talent-handler. But if he has an idea that moving forward with a project with the right people can be done…well, maybe we’ll see that Ben Affleck-directed superhero movie yet. (May I suggest Boston Brand?)
Warner Bros remains a place with a very specific corporate culture though:
More than any of the other majors, sources say, WB is run as a series of fiefdoms — a mentality that predates Meyer's 14-year tenure as CEO. The news of Tsujihara's appointment on Monday came as a shock to most execs in the TV and film units, in part because he's such an unknown commodity to most of them. The film, homevid and TV divisions have few crossover activities, and historically, there's never been much high-level brainstorming or information sharing among senior management. There's also little cheerleading for individual accomplishments, but rather an emphasis on respecting the studio's collective muscle around the world and the storied legacy that goes all the way back to the five Warner brothers who got their start in the nickelodeon biz a century ago. "They leave you alone to run your business," said a top WB exec. "As long as you run it well, they let you do your own thing."
So…it’s never going to be a cakewalk.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.