When it was first announced last winter that The CW would pursue a Green Arrow-centric pilot, the immediate buzz from DC fans and television fans alike was about “Smallville.” After all, the long-running series featured Oliver Queen’s Green Arrow, played by Justin Hartley, as a central character. Fans wondered whether they’d see their familiar Oliver and Chloe back on screen, when in fact Hartley wasn’t considered to reprise his role in the new series, as it takes place in a completely different universe from the “Smallville” world we knew before.
Zap2it sat down with “Arrow” executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg recently to discuss the key differences between the shows — and to get the inside scoop on the rules of their reimagined DC-based world. The new series stars Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen — a very different, very damaged version of the billionaire playboy turned shadowy vigilante. Though we’d gotten comfortable with Hartley’s version of the character, after seeing the first episode of “Arrow,” it will be hard for fans to imagine anyone but Amell in the role.
It won’t surprise you to hear that there was no conversation about comparisons to “Smallville” when Kreisberg and Guggenheim had early meetings with The CW about “Arrow.”
“I mean, basically we went to the network, and we said, ‘Here’s our take,'” Kreisberg says. “It was so obvious that it wasn’t like ‘Smallville,’ and there really was no discussion. In fact, David Nutter who shot the ‘Smallville’ pilot directed the ‘Arrow’ pilot. He also brought in Glenn Winter who was the DP and went on to direct several episodes of ‘Smallville’. There was never any concern about it overlapping with ‘Smallville’ or being confused with ‘Smallville’ just because the take was just so different.”
He goes on to explain that even in the writers’ room, there’s no concern about the story drifting too close or too far away from what fans have seen in previous years on The CW. “It really is all just Twitter, indeed,” he says. “I mean, we talk about it in the sense that like, ‘Oh, it would be fun to have Justin Hartley do a cameo on the show,’ but that’s pretty much the extent of the conversation. We’d love to nod to the original, but I think, honestly, the biggest nod is David and Glenn being involved the way they were involved in the pilot of Smallville. That’s the biggest nod I can think of.”
In fact, because of Nutter’s ties to “Smallville,” he was able to make some key changes to be sure that visually, the worlds feel very different — even when there are unmistakable similarities. (“Smallville” fans will recognize the exterior of Oliver Queen’s mansion — it spent a decade in use as Lex Luthor’s mansion.)
“One of the other things we were really blessed about with the beginning was that we kind of wrote this under the radar,” adds Guggenheim. “There wasn’t a big announcement in the press because we didn’t want that explosion or expectations of ‘Is this a ‘Smallville’ continuation? Why aren’t you making a ‘Smallville’ continuation?’ It is what is is, and people get to experience it fresh and clean.”
There are two key differences between “Arrow” and “Smallville,” lying in the fundamental rules of the show. The first is that unlike Clark Kent, the Green Arrow kills people. In the pilot, he snaps a man’s neck to protect his secret identity, truly believing that the good he is doing by picking off Star City criminals outweighs the collateral damage.
The second major rule is that in “Arrow,” nobody has superpowers. In his time away, Oliver has honed his skills to the point where he may seem superhuman, but he’s really just an extraordinary human. Clark Kent won’t be flying in with a cape and when and if the Black Canary turns up, she might have a very commanding tone — but she won’t have a siren scream.
Kreisberg says that the lack of superpowers doesn’t limit the characters they can bring in from the DC universe, but it does give them license to change those characters. “What it does is it creates an opportunity for us to reinvent
some characters and present them in a non-powers, grounded way,” he explains.
Guggenheim adds that the Chris Nolan model for his Batman-based films has served them well. “Chris Nolan took Ra’s al Ghul, somebody who in the comic books literally is immortal and has supernatural elements to his character, and presented him in a more grounded, realistic manner — took his immortality and gave it a sort of real world twist in ‘Batman Begins’,” he says. “Same with Bane, who has superpowers in the comic books, is presented as just a man [in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’].”
That said — don’t get worried (or excited) about seeing a powerless Superman on “Arrow.”
“I think as far as those big names like Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne and Hal Jordan and Diana Prince, we’re going to shy away from that, especially because we really want to establish Oliver Queen as our hero and our lead,” Guggenheim says. “We’re not looking to do Justice League as our TV show. We’re doing a show called ‘Arrow,’ which is about Oliver Queen. Anyone who comes into his world will be a supporting character. Those characters aren’t supporting characters. Those are leads. So we’ll be focusing more on supporting cast in the DC universe. People who come in and complement Oliver, not overtake him.”
Check out the extended “Arrow” preview below, and don’t miss the series premiere Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.