DC Comics is doing very well on television right now, with ARROW entering its third season on The CW, and two new series, Fox’s GOTHAM and The CW’s THE FLASH, launching this fall.
THE FLASH, which premieres Tuesday, October 7 at 8 PM, takes its title from the alter ego of upbeat young police forensics investigator Barry Allen, played by Grant Gustin. Thanks to an event that may be extraterrestrial, mad science or both, Barry finds that he can run at superhero speed. Gustin’s version of the character first showed up last season on several episodes ARROW; in the opening episode of THE FLASH, Barry confers with ARROW’s protagonist Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) about how best to use his abilities.
The same team developed both THE FLASH and ARROW for television: DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and executive producers/show runners Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg.
Kreisberg, whose other writing/producing credits include BOSTON LEGAL, ELI STONE, FRINGE and WAREHOUSE 13, is on a panel that the CW holds for THE FLASH and the Television Critics Association. Johns and Berlanti are also on the panel, as are many members of the FLASH cast. Kreisberg fields a lot of the questions directed at the creative staff during the panel, and remains afterward for some additional conversation. This interview combines both some of Kreisberg’s panel responses and the follow-up discussion.
How are the show runner duties divided up on THE FLASH?
ANDREW KREISBERG: You know, Greg, Geoff and I, we really come up with the stories together and break the stories. We have a writing staff. Those writers will work on the individual episodes and I take a pass after they do what they do, and Greg takes a pass after what I do.
So you and Greg Berlanti are both show runners?
How does that work, with you and Greg Berlanti both running both THE FLASH and ARROW?
KREISBERG: Basically, whenever I think to myself that I have too much to do between ARROW and THE FLASH, I think about what Geoff does every day between ARROW, FLASH, GOTHAM, [the upcoming series] iZOMBIE, writing comic books, executive producing and movies, and I feel better about myself.
Does DC ever say to you, “Well, this can’t be the worst slum, because we know that the worst slums are in Gotham, and this can’t be the most glamorous, because that’s Metropolis”? That is, do you ever get cautioned, “Don’t tread on this other part of the DC universe”?
KREISBERG: No. The biggest thing is just not [name-] checking those characters, because those characters are the same for other mediums. But truthfully, in the comic books, Bloodhaven, which has been on ARROW, is a worse place to live than Gotham.
The pilot for THE FLASH wound up being its own entity, but originally, it had been planned to be embedded in an ARROW episode. Can you talk about what that episode would have been like?
KREISBERG: We never really got to the nitty-gritty details of what Episode 20 [of ARROW’s Season 2, which had Gustin guest-star as Barry Allen, but did not function as a pilot] would have been before we found out that we were going to do the pilot. So it wasn’t necessarily like we had a specific plan and then this changed from that. I’m sure, whenever you do a spin-off, it probably would have included the ARROW cast more. But we were so fortunate that when those first dailies started coming back from [ARROW Season 2] Episodes 8 and 9 [which also featured Gustin’s Allen] that our partners at Warner Brothers and The CW, we were so blessed that they were like, “We should do this as a full pilot.” So we didn’t really jettison [anything]. We hadn’t really gotten that far. That was future us’ problem.
Can you talk about casting THE FLASH?
KREISBERG: Yeah. Obviously, Grant joined ARROW first [as a guest star] and it was a very conscious decision on our parts that we weren’t looking to do the same show twice, and we weren’t looking for the same kind of hero that Stephen portrays. Stephen is sort of the more prototypical hero, and we wanted somebody who was more normal, who had greatness thrust upon him. And also that spirit of hope and just somebody that you would just fall in love with. And I know people probably don’t believe this is true about Stephen having been the first person to read for ARROW, but Grant was literally the first person to read for Barry. And after that, it was sort of over. And then when we got the opportunity to do the pilot and bring the world together – I mean, this cast is one of the best casts I have ever been a part of [bringing together].
I mean, there are dream names you have on your cast, like Jesse Martin [who plays police detective Joe West]. Greg and I went to New York to meet with Jesse, and I was just excited because I was going to get to meet him. I never thought he’d do this. Jesse was literally at the top of our dream wish list, so …
But there was something magical about all of these things. We looked very hard for Iris, and we were starting to get worried that we wouldn’t find her when Candice [Patton] came in. And the energy between Candice and Grant before they started doing the reading, we were like, “Oh, it’s her,” because she was just making fun of him.
And Tom [Cavanagh, who plays Harrison Wells] is somebody that we worked with before on ELI STONE. Again, we couldn’t believe he said yes to doing this. And with Danielle [Panabaker, who plays Caitlin Snow], the part was actually written slightly differently. And Danielle was also somebody we’d worked with in the cast. She came in and just wowed us so much, we were just like, “We can’t make this show without her.” We saw Rick [Cosnett, who plays Eddie Thawne[ on VAMPIRE DIARIES and loved him, too.
And Carlos [Valdes, who plays Cisco Ramon] was actually the only person we tested, because we just said, “He’s the guy.” And he actually won it with a song, too. He came in to meet, and [Warners executive] Peter Roth was there and found out he was Broadway. And Peter said, “Give us a tune,” and he started singing, and Peter went, “He’s the guy.” So there was something magical about all of these people. And so much of any TV show, even if the script is good or the director is good or your time slot is good, it’s this mysterious alchemy that gets formed between these people. And when you watch the pilot and we were filming it, it already felt like a show that was on the air.
Cisco is a character who suggests superhero and supervillain names …
KREISBERG: One of the fun things for Cisco on the show is that sometimes it’s hard – the villains have quite colorful names that don’t necessarily sound normal in our real world. But Cisco is a fanboy. He sort of represents all the fanboys who are out there. So one of the running gags of the show is that he keeps coming up with names. Sometimes he comes up with an even worse version of it to start, but it’s how we name-check a lot of the fun villains that people will know and love and then will get to see on the show.
There has been a lot of discussion about ethnic diversity – and lack thereof – on many television series, but THE FLASH has a very healthy balance among the cast …
KREISBERG: That [lack of diversity] is something that we were very conscious of wanting to ameliorate, and quite frankly, it was one of the things that Jesse talked about when we were meeting with him. He said that when he was growing up, he loved comic books, but he never saw his face, and how important it was and what a privilege it was for him to be able to add diversity to THE FLASH. The truth of the matter is, people’s race makes up very little of who they are in comic books, so for anyone who would complain that we made those changes [the West family is Caucasian in the original comics], we think that’s just silly. And especially when you get to actors of the quality of Jesse Martin and Candice Patton, they’re the best actors around, regardless of color.
We just a feel a responsibility to have our shows be as reflective of the real world as possible, and certainly one of the big changes we made to the ARROW mythology was adding John Diggle and getting somebody like David Ramsey to be part of the show, and so many Asian characters, last year with Celina Jade and this year with Carl Yun, we just feel that multi-ethnicity makes the show feel more worldly and more of our time. It gives more opportunity for people to come and look at the show.
Obviously, if more people see themselves in the show, that will hopefully bring more people to the show, but just even for ourselves, we make the show that we want to make, because it’s what makes us happy and we’ve sort of never gone wrong doing what we wanted to do because it’s what we wanted to see, and we’ve been blessed with ARROW. The audience has followed us and hopefully we will find the same success with THE FLASH, so it certainly is not a crass decision. It’s really just what we feel is what’s right for the show.
The new version of Wally in the comics is going to be African-American, as he is on THE FLASH. Is that something that you talked to Geoff Johns about?
KREISBERG: Yeah. It was actually because they hadn’t reintroduced Wally in the New 52. When Geoff, Greg and I decided that we wanted to make the Wests black, they said, “Oh, you know what? We’ll introduce Wally as black.” And they’ve made him a half-brother to Iris and it’s just great. Our proudest achievements sometimes ironically are when the comic books start to reflect what we’re doing on the TV show, and Geoff on his GREEN ARROW run added John Diggle, and Ben Sokolowski and I took the GREEN ARROW comic book, and we’ve added Felicity to it. There are very few sorts of these characters [that originate on TV and then become part of the comics canon]. Harley Quinn was on the BATMAN TV show and now you can’t imagine the comics without her.
John Wesley Shipp played Barry Allen in the original TV version of THE FLASH, and now you’ve got him playing Henry Allen, Barry’s father …
KREISBERG: All three of us [Kreisberg, Berlanti, Johns] are huge fans of the original FLASH. Having all grown up FLASH fans, that show meant the world to us and ended far too soon as far as the three of us were concerned. And Greg had worked with John on DAWSON’S CREEK. He played Dawson’s father. So when we were sitting down and talking about developing this series, all three of us were like, “Whatever we do, we’ve got to get John Wesley Shipp.” I think he was just so thrilled. He was so sweet and so generous and so kind, and I think he was sort of surprised that the show had meant as much to us and to a lot of people as it did, because I think it ended far too soon for him as well.
So to get to have that link to the past and be able to have him be part of the show – it’s not just a gimmick either. It’s not a cameo. He’s playing one of the most important parts on the show. So much of what Barry is doing, he’s doing for his father. That last scene between the two of them, they did it four or five times, and we all cried every time we watched it.
It’s rumored that you also have Robbie Amell, who’s the real-life cousin of your ARROW lead Stephen Amell, coming up on THE FLASH in a recurring role?
KREISBERG: Yeah. He’s going to be playing Ronnie Raymond, who comic book fans will know is one half of the hero known as Firestorm, who keeps popping up on the screen every once in awhile. And he is going to portray Caitlin’s fiancé, who we hear got blown up in the pilot.
It has been pointed out that there is an Easter egg in the pilot relating to the comic book character Gorilla Grodd, though we don’t actually see the character. Will it ever be possible for you to depict that character?
KREISBERG: It’s funny, because obviously that Easter egg means the world to us. Along the way, there are people who are less familiar with the mythology, who were like, “Well, we could save ten seconds if we cut that.” And we’re like, “Nnn, you can cut anything else.” You know, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is … hopefully doing the R and D for us so that one day we can see exactly what jumped out of that cage.
The FLASH pilot has extremely high production values. Will the rest of the episodes have that look and feel?
KREISBERG: We’re thinking about starting a KickStarter. Yeah, I mean, it’s funny. Obviously, the pilot had a lot of resources at its disposal, but a lot of what we did on the pilot was R&D for the series, and the pilot was a steep learning curse. So our goal [is] just like with ARROW. I remember after we watched the pilot, we looked at each other and said, “How are we going to do this every week?” And if you’ve continued to watch ARROW, you know ARROW has only gotten bigger and bigger. Whereas that was about stunts and this is a lot more about visual effects, we’re hoping we’re going to be able to maintain the same level of action, adventure and excitement in this show. And so far, with what we’re doing, we feel like we can.
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Related: Exclusive nterview with GOTHAM creator Bruno Heller on Season 1 of young Batman
Related: Exclusive interview with ARROW star Paul Blackthorne on Season 2
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Article: Interview with THE FLASH and ARROW Executive Producer Andrew Kreisberg