The messaging behind The CW’s “The Flash” series, debuting at 8 tonight, has been clear — that it’s a brighter, more optimistic show than networkmate “Arrow,” which it spun off of, and embraces superhero tropes more wholeheartedly than most TV and movie adaptations. DC Entertainment chief creative officer Geoff Johns raised the stakes even higher during a press event on Monday at the company’s Burbank headquarters featuring himself, executive producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg plus stars Grant Gustin (The Flash/Barry Allen) and Tom Cavanagh (S.T.A.R. Labs creator Harrison Wells).
“This show, more than any other show I think out there, ever, embraces the superhero lore fully on,” Johns told reporters. “There is no reluctance on anyone’s part. We’re all in on this. This is the most comic book show that’s ever been made.”
While that may be welcome news to existing comic book fans, it could run the risk of reading as slightly off-putting to more mainstream audiences — but the folks behind the show are confident that those viewers will find “The Flash” a welcoming place on Tuesday nights.
“Even though it is a spinoff, you don’t need to have watched a minute of ‘Arrow’ to enjoy ‘The Flash’ pilot, and to enjoy that world,” Kreisberg, also an executive producer on “Arrow,” said.
“Or have ever watched a superhero show, period,” Johns added. “It really gets you in through the characters. It is a character drama that happens to be a superhero show. The best superhero stories are ones that are metaphors for other emotional journeys; they put this glitz and glamour on top of it to make it fun.”
“For me, I think the most satisfying thing about it — and there are lots of satisfying things about it — is that it makes you feel the way that we used to feel when read the comic books when we were kids,” Berlanti — himself also an “Arrow” EP and developing a “Supergirl” series at CBS — said. “I think there are tons of comic book shows on TV now, we’re fortunate enough to make another one of those, but they don’t all have that exact emotion.”
In “The Flash,” the explosion of the S.T.A.R. Labs particle accelerator — as depicted last season on “Arrow” in the episodes that introduced Gustin as Barry Allen — not only gave The Flash his super-speed, but also sparked a new wave of superpowered metahumans throughout Central City. In the show’s pilot, it’s responsible for the climate-controlling powers of the show’s take on perennial Flash Rogue the Weather Wizard (played by Chad Rook), and Berlanti said in the first five episodes of the show, viewers will also see heroic characters birthed from the incident.
“We’re really cognizant of not having too many people affected by the particle accelerator just being villains,” Berlanti said. “Sometimes it’s that, sometimes it’s someone who’s good, sometimes there’s a villain who — in the case of Cold — is someone who’s not affected at all. I just wouldn’t want anybody watching the same show every week.”
Speaking of Captain Cold, “Prison Break” alum Wentworth Miller has been cast as the freeze-gun wielding Leonard Snart, one of the most prominent members of The Flash’s rogues gallery — and a personal favorite of Johns, who wrote the character extensively during his time on “The Flash” comic book series.
“We look at DeNiro in ‘Heat’ a lot,” Johns said. “He’s this guy who pulls jobs very carefully, and suddenly there’s something else in the city, and he has to change his game up. He has to figure out how to deal with this new threat in Central City. It’s all about him evolving and surviving in the new world order. Guns aren’t going to do it, so he’s got to have something a little stronger.”
Another comic book character known to soon be seen on “The Flash” is Ronnie Raymond — played by Robbie Amell, the cousin of “Arrow” star Stephen Amell. In the comics, Ronnie Raymond is one-half of Firestorm, and Johns said it won’t be long until he’ll be seen in that persona. But not every character’s destiny may match their in-print history.
“There are so many characters that are from the lore — obviously Caitlin Snow [played on ‘The Flash’ by Danielle Panabaker] in the comics becomes Killer Frost, and Cisco [played on ‘The Flash’ by Carlos Valdes] becomes Vibe — but I wouldn’t necessarily count on that same track happening,” Johns said.
Also a possibility of showing up on “The Flash” at some point? Booster Gold, now that the Kriesberg and Berlanti-developed Syfy series starring the time-traveling fan-favorite is no longer in development.
“Booster Gold’s a very beloved character,” Johns said. “I would say the chances are probably pretty good.”
While introducing familiar comic book characters — Berlanti said “The Flash” is also almost something of an “anthology” show, given the ability to introduced superpowered heroes and villains — and embracing that sensibility is a big part of the show, the producers also emphasize the human element of the series. Kriesberg compared Barry’s relationship to his three father figures — current superhero mentor Wells; Det. Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), who raised him; and his imprisoned birth father Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp, the Flash of the 1990 CBS series) — to, of all things, 1993 drama “Searching for Bobby Fischer.”
“We like to take it in steps,” Berlanti said. “Without a doubt, the most affecting part of the show is two, three people on the screen having a great scene together. As long as we keep succeeding at that, I think it’s fun to offset it with the other stuff. We do try and up our game, and we try and push everybody to the limit, because we know how important it is that people watching the show don’t say, ‘They blew all their money and time and energy on the pilot.’ We are working really hard to maintain that level of everything — emotion, heart and spectacle.
“We don’t wait around,” Kreisberg said. “We always feel like this is our chance, and this might be the only season we get to make, and these might be the only 13 episodes we get to make. Everything we want to do, we’re throwing in there.”
One of the things they’re definitely not waiting around for is a full-fledged crossover with “Arrow,” which is scheduled to take place during the eighth episodes of both shows this season. “The Flash” episode is titled “The Flash vs. Arrow,” certainly suggesting conflict; while the “Arrow” installment is dubbed “The Brave and the Bold,” a name used by DC Comics over the decades for superhero team-ups.
“I think when you do episodes — and I don’t say this pejoratively — that have a gimmick like that, the best thing you can do is that it’s not just the gimmick,” Kreisberg said. “It’s also advancing the storylines that we’ve been telling, and that your characters really grow. These aren’t just about the crossovers of the cast. They really are very important episodes for what Barry’s going through, what Oliver’s going through — we have one of the biggest surprises on ‘Arrow’ of all time in ‘The Flash’ episode.”
It’s a chance to advance the storylines, but as Gustin points out, also an opportunity to have fun with the characters interacting in their shared but very different worlds.
“David Ramsey [who plays Diggle on ‘Arrow’], in our ‘Flash’ episode, is funnier than he’s ever been, because what he’s seeing is blowing his mind,” Gustin said.
“When we were working on the script, we sort of realized that the best version of ‘The Flash’ part of the episode was almost this meta-commentary on how serious everyone is on ‘Arrow.’ There’s a lot of jokes at Oliver’s expense on The Flash side of it,” Kreisberg said. “When we went to go do the ‘Arrow’ side of it, it became the reverse” — where Barry, Caitlin and Cisco are thrust into a “very dark, twisted episode” of “Arrow.”
“It’s the same show,” he continued. “‘The Flash’ episode feels like an episode of ‘Flash,’ and the ‘Arrow’ episode feels like an episode of ‘Arrow,’ even though you’ve got characters from both crossing over.”
Gustin is clearly at the center of “The Flash,” and much like how Barry Allen is stepping into a brand new identity in the opening episodes of the series, this is the actor’s first starring role in a TV career that’s included short-term recurring stints on “90210” and “Glee.”
“I feel like every day, it’s harder to tell a difference between me and Barry as we go, because I’m Barry more often now than I’m Grant,” Gustin said. “And I think I carry him with me a lot when I leave. I’m just thinking about the script and the character all the time. He’s so bubbly and positive and everything — it’s hard to remain that way with everything that’s changing in his life right now.”
“The Flash” premiers tonight at 8 on The CW.