Tonight, ten years of waiting comes to an end when The CW’s “Smallville” wraps its network run with a two-hour finale (hopefully) featuring the ascension of Superman on the small screen. The final episode caps 217 hours of superhero drama on TV, an improbable milestone that saw “Smallville” shift from teenage monster-fighting series to epic DC Universe continuity-fest. To celebrate, CBR News reached out to a trio of writers who have each had their own impact on the show’s run from start to finish to get their take on how “Smallville” has survived so long and what it’s run means for superhero TV.
Michael Green was one of the original writers on “Smallville” when it started its run on The WB back in 2001. In its first year, Green helped pen formative episodes like “Cool,” “Craving” and “Nicodemus.” Since then, he’s gone on to many more comics related projects including a stint as a writer on NBC’s “Heroes,” the co-writer of this summer’s “Green Lantern” screenplay and as a comics writer of titles like “Superman/Batman.” Jeph Loeb’s work is no stranger to comic fans, but aside from writing books including “Superman For All Seasons” and “Superman/Batman,” the current head of Marvel Television wrote some of the earliest fan-favorite episodes including the character-turning “Red.” And finally Bryan Q. Miller has been a welcome addition both to the later seasons of “Smallville” as a writer of episodes like “Hex” and this season’s alternate reality “Luthor” and as the comic scribe behind DC’s acclaimed “Batgirl.”
Below, all three writers offer up their thoughts on the show’s past success and future influence. From the episodes where they contributed most to the mythology to the DCU guest stars that never made it to the screen and from the difference the early seasons had to hold to the impact the ten-year run will have on superhero TV moving forward, the writers behind the show cover everything “Smallville” before Clark Kent takes the cape of Superman.
CBR News: So “Smallville” is wrapping this week after ten years. That accomplishment is more astonishing every time I say it out loud. As a writer for the show, did you have any inkling that the concept of a young Clark Kent would have so much life in it on TV when you first started working with the team?
Jeph Loeb: No, I don’t think any of us did. It was such a miracle, right from the pilot, seeing this show that Al Gough and Miles Millar have so generously spoken of “Superman For All Seasons” as one of their inspirations for the series. Such a great cast, crew and writing staff.
Michael Green: I came on just when the pilot was picked up and worked on the first season. We felt very grateful that we got to play with the greatest comic book character out there and felt grateful to be the custodians of a mythology that people are so emotionally attached to. But also, we were very grateful that this was a version of the mythology that Al Gough and Mies Millar put together that was so fruitful. That pilot put so many worms on the table that could wriggle around forever, and it was just too much fun to do that job and get paid for it.
It was a great group of writers. Over time that room has had a lot more writers and incredibly talented people season after season, and the amazing thing is that with each new season, those writers came in and did different things. What we focused on in the first year -Â mostly on the WB’s request -Â was standalone “Monster of the Week” stuff. We wanted to do a lot of serialized stuff, and knew that would be the reward for sticking it out. It was great to see the show evolve into something that was serialized and took on much larger arcs. That is what I think kept it so energized for so long -Â the big stories, mythologies and bad guys that played out episode after episode.
Bryan Q. Miller: I came on in Season Five, so it had already proven to have legs. I honestly don’t think anyone was expecting over 100 MORE episodes at that point, however. 218 total. Pretty awesome.
During your time on the series, what was it that made the show connect with you creatively? In other words, what was the core component of the “Smallville” world that you were interested most in playing with?
Green: The world of Smallville was always really intriguing because it was this microcosm where the whole town was a school where Clark could learn how to be this man we all know he’s going to grow up to be. What was most fun for me was playing with a Clark who was not yet that man – he wasn’t brave, he wasn’t strong, and he wasn’t wise. He hadn’t learned yet the values that were going to make him Superman. It was the ongoing process of teaching him to be that guy. It was really seeing him in his formative years and watching him get molded by experience, by friendship, by trust and mistrust to become Superman.
Loeb: The relationships were things I understood — so much of it for me was about a boy growing up and not understanding his world or what was happening to him and how Clark related to Jonathan and Martha. And then later, the fun and savvy wit that Erica brought to the show as Lois.
Miller: It was Clark Kent and the long march up that hill to becoming Superman. Also, the challenge of finding ways to translate DCU characters to fit the world of the show. Wildcat and The Question (both versions) came up CONSTANTLY…from me. So did Lobo. There’s so many more that we never had a chance to introduce to the world. Even a best-selling comic (at best) only hits 100k readers a month – the show reached (per Nielsen) around a million and a half screens per WEEK. Sometimes more. “Smallville” is/was a great tool for expanding the DC brand to viewers who don’t follows comics.
Do you have a personal highlight from one of the episodes you wrote, either on screen or behind the scenes?
Loeb: I got all the good stuff. I got to introduce red kryptonite in “Red” and then have Clark (almost) leap a tall building in a single bound in “Insurgence” while seeing the Daily Planet Globe for the first time. Lois’ entrance into the series. As a writer, as a producer, as a comic book fan – it was a very special time.
Miller: “Committed” is, was and forever will be my first and favorite script of the bunch. It and “Luthor” were the two that stayed closest to my original drafts throughout the production process, so I’m very close to both of those. But as for moments? The Clark/Lois elevator scene at the end of “Committed.” That the soup can gag and Lois’ closet full of costumes survived not being cut throughout prep and production on “Warrior.” Not only having the chance to write one of the darkest things I’ve ever written in Zod’s murder of Faora (in “Sacrifice”), but being able to be on set the day it shot to see just how fantastic Callum and Sharon were, over and over and over again. And, of course, getting Clark into glasses by the end of “Masquerade.”
Green: There’s so much stuff that we all contributed and that we were so proud of. I could take ownership of a particular line or a moment, but they wouldn’t have been there without the conversations beforehand.
On the flip side, do you have a favorite moment on the show that you didn’t craft directly? What was it and why did it stick with you?
Loeb: Everything everybody else did. It was my first live action TV show as writer and producer. The writing staff was awesome — from Al and Miles, to Mark Verheiden to Todd Slavkin/Darren Swimmer to Kelly Souders/Brian Peterson to Steve DeKnight to Caroline Dries — we were young and having fun. That group is so talented.
Miller: Hands, down – the dunk tank scene in Facade. It’s amazing and angsty and there’s Avril Lavigne and it perfectly encapsulates everything that made the show great in the first half of the series. Second to that — the Homecoming floaty dance, which captures what makes the second half of the series of very lovely.
Overall, “Smallville” seems to have survived so long in part because it was willing to change things about its DNA as the story and cast progressed over the years. These days, the show seems to be built much more so on direct references and characters from the comics than it did in its early, formative seasons. What do you think that comics universe connection means not just for “Smallville” but for the future of comic adaptations on TV? Will we be seeing more shows heavily indebted to the comics before too long, or is this a rare occurrence on that front?
Green: Absolutely. The fan audience out there should realize that they really owe a show like “Smallville” for teaching not just viewers but executives how to appreciate the source material. Early on in “Smallville,” we were working with a network and studio who were very supportive and interested…but they didn’t really understand what we were doing. They didn’t know great villains. They didn’t know Darkseid or Brainiac, and if they did, they were scared of them because it sounded too much like comic book stuff and not enough like what they were familiar with. “Smallville” Was really able to bridge that gap and slowly teach them that you didn’t have to just do “Monster of the Week” but you were able to take comic book tropes from the Golden Age, Silver Age and Modern Age and tell not only stories that were television friendly but that were modern and relevant. They felt very of the times. “Smallville” kept doing that over and over again in a way that paved the way for shows like “Heroes” and “Lost” and the big movies coming out like “Green Lantern.”
I think it’s awesome to appreciate the value of the source material. That source material has a nuclear intensity, but it isn’t obvious to someone who doesn’t have an emotional connection to the source material how it would play on the big screen. I think seeing it work so well on television helped bridge the gap.
Loeb: Every story, every show is unique. Comics are great source material as we will continue see – especially now that I get to do that at Marvel! [Laughs]
Miller: I think, so long as costume is never placed before character, that any mythos has a shot of making it on TV.
Everyone’s got their list of things they’d like to see happen by the end of the show. Is there anything in particular you’ll be looking forward to in the finale on Friday night?
Loeb: Only that they go out, the way they came in. It was a show that embraced the good in people and weren’t afraid to be that way. Tom, Michael, Erica, Kristin, Allison, John, Annette, Glover – that was the cast in my day – were so superb. Up, up and away!
Green: One of the things that’s fun about working in television is that you think you know how things are going to end, and then you surprise yourself. I remember talking about it in the room…”Wouldn’t it be great to end the show like this?” But it’s now nine and a half years later, so the show wants to be something different. I’m just looking forward to being surprised.
Miller: I wouldn’t want to spoil what has yet to be spoiled by international commercials for the finale, so you’ll just have to wait and see!
“Smallville’s” series finale debuts tonight at 8:00 Eastern and Pacific on The CW.