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It’s not uncommon for a TV producer to have two shows on the air in a given season, or even three. But six? That is a rare feat, one that Greg Berlanti will try to pull off in 2015-16.
Berlanti’s eponymous Warner Bros. Television-based production company is behind DC Comics series Arrow and The Flash — both of which return to The CW next week — and NBC’s sophomore drama The Mysteries of Laura. It also produces three newcomers: early breakout Blindspot on NBC, fellow DC Comics take Supergirl on CBS and Arrow/Flash spinoff DC’s Legends of Tomorrow at The CW. It’s a heavy load to handle — but also the definition of a high-class problem.
“I’d be crazy if I didn’t say everybody at the company feels so lucky right now that we’re getting to work with all these amazing people, from actors to crews to the writers,” Berlanti says. “It’s definitely a steep learning curve for us all, trying to figure out how to manage and do it. But those growth periods are really nice.”
Berlanti talked with The Hollywood Reporter about juggling those six shows, how his role has changed and what he misses about the days when he had just one or two shows on the air.
Blindspot is the only one of your shows that’s not an adaptation of previously existing material or characters. Did things just shake out that way, or was it a conscious choice you made in development for this season?
It’s always exciting when you find something that’s original and you can help lend your experience to it. Truthfully, there just seem to be, in both TV and movies, fewer of those things made. It has been really exciting to see how much the studio and network have embraced this. … We try to lend, I think, specific stories and real original storytelling even to the ones that are based on something else. We try to make them our own, still honoring the traditions of what made them good, but also try to find what’s special and unique about them so we can tell those stories in an original way. Obviously it’s really exciting to participate in something like this that’s original. I hope the audience finds it in the same way they would a slightly more known property. Its originality is ultimately something I think people will be grateful for.
Both Blindspot and your superhero shows have a mix of procedural elements and larger character and mythology stories. That seems to be something broadcast TV has done well lately — are networks looking for that kind of thing?
I’m always surprised by the studio’s and networks’ reaction when we pitch — what everybody likes and doesn’t like, and it seems to change all the time. My methodology has always been — the thing that I feel like if I’m consistent with it, we’re going to generate a show I’m proud of — is just to work with people who have a real story inside them and who are excited by the TV narrative.
You look at something like [Fox’s] Empire that’s done so well, or all of Shonda Rhimes‘ [ABC] shows, which have their own language to them and style. They’ve found their own audience, and we have too with some of the superhero stuff. … The greatest similarity is just they’ve got someone at the helm who really has something to say. That tends to be the one commonality between the shows that make it. … It’s not just spit out of a computer program. It really is a person with the desire to say something and the craft to do it right.
How has your role changed as your company has grown? Are you more of an executive now and less in writers’ rooms?
I try to be where I feel like I can impact the most change qualitatively. For me that’s participating in crafting what the stories are. … There are still plenty of days where I’m huddled in a room with a bunch of writers, breaking a story. Or I’m giving notes on a script, doing a pass on a script or in the edit bay. If anything, I probably spend less time on set. … That’s probably where most of my time gets eaten into. The truth is, the more you’re doing, the more you end up being where you can help predict what problems are going to happen … and then in post, when you’re sort of figuring out what you have. But if I’m not working with writers or editing at least half my day, I feel like I’m not impacting the shows in the way I would like to. That’s just what works for me.
Is there anything you miss from a time when you had to concentrate on just one or two shows?
The No. 1 thing I miss is that when things are going well on a show, I don’t usually have time to be there for it. There used to be a day where you’d sit there and be like, “Oh, the cut came in really great, and this script was great.” You’d go home and actually feel like you got all your homework done. I miss that feeling a little bit. But that’s a small price to pay.
You cut your teeth on shows that were very grounded and set in the everyday world. Now, you’re kind of the go-to superhero guy for TV. I know you’re a big comics fan — were you just there to fill the need when networks came calling?
I’m not totally sure how it happens. Every five or six years in my life, I’ve had people say, “You’re the guy who does teen dramas. Why would you want to do family shows?” Then it was, “You’re the guy who does family shows. Why would you want to do superhero stuff?” It’s maybe a desire to try your hand at something different, but to me, they’re all remarkably similar. We break the stories very similarly. In place of where we might have had a romantic montage, we have an action set piece.
But the truth is, so many times when we’re working on, say, Flash, it’s remarkably similar to what we were doing on Everwood — the father-son dynamics, the emotional dynamics. … I feel like our dirty little secret maybe is we’re doing the same thing. It just comes in a very different box and with different bells and whistles that might make it more accessible for the audience in this day and age. The reality is we’re telling the same kinds of stories about human struggles to overcome things. It’s obviously just on a different scale, and with a lot more visual effects.
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