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Fox's Batman Prequel 'Gotham' Taps 'Southland's' Ben McKenzie as Gordon

He will reteam with "The Mentalist's" Bruno Heller and play the city's eventual commissioner in the pilot with a series commitment.

Ben McKenzie Headshot - P 2013
Getty Images
Ben McKenzie

Fox's Batman prequel has found its star: Ben McKenzie.

The Southland and The O.C. alum has been tapped to topline the network's Gotham, playing James Gordon, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Seven years after Fox's The O.C. helped to launch McKenzie's career, the actor will play the man who will go on to become the commissioner of the city and work hand-in-hand to restore the community with the eventual Caped Crusader.

Gotham is described as an origin tale centering on DC Comics fixture Commissioner James Gordon and the villains that have made Gotham famous.

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The Warner Bros. Television drama pilot, which has a series commitment attached, is being written and executive produced by The Mentalist showrunner Bruno Heller. Danny Cannon (CSI, Nikita) will direct and executive produce the pilot.

Gotham's Gordon is a rookie detective for Gotham City Open Police Department's Homicide Squad. A college football star and a war hero, Gordon was fast-tracked through the GCPD
 ranks. He's brave, energetic and honest. Driven to live up to the classical virtues of a father he barely knew, he's an idealistic soul to the point of naivete. That virtue is tempered by analytical intelligence and an ambitious alpha male ego -- he'll back up his naive ideals with action.

The casting also marks a reunion for Heller with McKenzie, who starred in The Mentalist boss' passed-over 2013 CBS drama pilot Advocates, opposite Mandy Moore. That casting was in second position to TNT's critical-darling-but-ratings-underperformer Southland, which was canceled last year.

Worth noting: McKenzie also voiced Bruce Wayne/Batman in 2011's DC animated movie adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, which, like Gotham, was an origin story centering on the comics hero. And McKenzie's former Southland co-star Michael Cudlitz also signed on to another comic-themed series: playing pivotal comics character Abraham in AMC's zombie drama The Walking Dead.

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McKenzie becomes the latest actor to play Gordon. The role was played by Neil Hamilton on ABC's 1960s series Batman; Pat Hingle had the role in Tim Burton's 1989 feature; and Gary Oldman most recently portrayed the dogged detective who became the commissioner in Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise.

Speaking to reporters last month at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour, Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly said the series will explore other characters from DC's massive Batman collection.

"This is not one of the things where you bought a franchise and then none of characters people know," Reilly said. "We will follow Bruce Wayne right up until the point where he gets interesting."

Reilly confirmed that Gotham will be as much of an origin story for Batman as for Gordon. "It's Gotham teetering on the edge," he said. "This is all of the classic Batman characters."

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The Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman are also expected to be part of the project, with the plan for the series to ultimately end with Bruce Wayne putting on the cape and becoming Batman -- much as Smallville did with Superman.

Following the session, Reilly told reporters that the series will be very serialized and not an "adjunct companion" show. "This is the Batman franchise just backing it up," he said. "It gives a real focus as to what this show is about and what stories we're telling."

McKenzie is repped by CAA, Management 360 and Ziffren Brittenham.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit