'Avengers' Writer Zak Penn: Superhero TV Shows Have Trouble Sticking

Zak Penn is well aware of the trouble superheroes have on TV.

With shows like The Cape, No Ordinary Family and Heroes all failing to lure in viewers, the pressure is on to right the ship.

That’s why The Avengers writer says his latest effort, Syfy’s scripted series Alphas won’t be another superhero show. “It’s not people dressing up in costumes and fighting crime. It’s really more about superhumans who have extraordinary abilities,” he told reporters at NBCU’s summer press day in Pasadena.

Penn discussed the differences writing comic book-inspired films versus doing TV, and one got the sense he preferred the latter.

“When you start to talk about, ‘What’s it like before the X-Men get on the plane? Do people have to go to the bathroom? How do they go to the bathroom in those costumes?,’ ” he said. “Those were questions that were not really up for discussion when you do an X-Men movie or any of those movies. Believe it or not, that was very important to me going [forward with the] show.”

Alphas, which stars Oscar nominee David Strathairn, revolves around five ordinary people who become one extraordinary team with powers. The long-gestating procedural thriller begins production May 2.

A veteran of stage and film, Strathairn — playing the powerless Dr. Lee Rosen — said television “offers something particular in a way the characters can be explored,” adding that he believes Alphas stands out because of its unique subject matter: “It’s about things I think are really yet to be mined in our dramatic literature.”

Penn noted that there is a character in the show, played by actor Ryan Cartwright, who will suffer from Asperger’s as a consequence to having his superpower.

Alphas premieres Monday, July 11 at 10 p.m.

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