TCA 2014: ‘Gotham’ exec says Batman origin series is real mythology

Series star Ben McKenzie, left, and executive producer Bruno Heller talk about "Gotham."
(Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)

Batman fanboys need to get one thing straight when it comes to approaching Fox’s new series “Gotham,” set in the fictional Gotham City in the days before the caped crusader patrolled the night: Forget about strict chronology.

“Gotham” executive producer Bruno Heller joined director Danny Cannon and several cast members on stage Sunday morning during Fox’s day at the Television Critics Assn. press tour, and the writer made it clear that he wouldn’t be concerned with what had been established in previous iterations of the Batman story.

“It’s mythology in the true sense of the word,” Heller said. “Many stories can be told, but not all of them can be true with each other. We won’t break the canonical truth of the Batman stories, but we’ll play with issues of chronology.”

Heller is best known to TV viewers as the creator of the HBO series “Rome” and the CBS series “The Mentalist.”


In this version of the story, Batman is still a kid and years away from donning the cowl. The villains, however, are everywhere.

“How do you deal with crime at this level when there are no superheroes?” Heller asked rhetorically. “This is about people trying to overcome real problems, as opposed to learning how to fly ... To me that’s a more interesting story.”

Instead of Batman, viewers will follow Gotham City police detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), who is woefully outnumbered in his crusade to bring law and order to the city.

“It’s noir,” McKenzie said. “The structure that exists around [Gordon] is so daunting and challenging that no single man can overcome it.”


Cannon revealed that he looked to the crime films of William Friedkin and Sidney Lumet for inspiration, as well as archival photos of New York’s Bowery in the 1970s with costume inspiration from Iggy Pop, Blondie and the Ramones.

But don’t expect “Gotham” to be a period piece. The clothes and cars may be old, but the cellphones are new.

“It’s yesterday, it’s today and it’s tomorrow,” Heller said. “Because that’s the world dreams live in.”

While Heller remained vague about when or how we’d be seeing the full-blown versions of Gotham’s ghoulish rogues’ gallery, including the Riddler and the Penguin, he did reveal that the main arc of the first season would be the power struggle over Gotham’s underworld between the Penguin’s alter-ego, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) and Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith).


Smith’s character is original to the series and she revealed that her take on the crime boss is a combination of so-called “Queen of Narco-Trafficking” Griselda Blanco and Norma Desmond.

“I think oftentimes what drives a woman in all our stories is very different than what we’re used to seeing,” Smith said. “It’s unlike anything I’ve done before.”

While Heller’s stated disinterest in superheroes may make comic book fanboys pause, he also discussed how DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns has been a guiding light for the show and hopes that the prolific comic writer, who is also involved with “Arrow” and “The Flash,” will write some upcoming episodes.

Based on the pilot, “Gotham” doesn’t stray far from the dark and gritty vision of Gotham City that has been prevalent in most recent interpretations of the show. And while Heller does not say that it’s a family show, he does say that 12-year-olds are exposed to more adult material than he was even at age 16. And the violence on the series is very much in tune with the classic vision of the world.


“People are thrown off by the 1960s Adam West ‘Batman,’” Heller said. “That was an anomalous Batman. If you go back to the comics in the 1930s, they were scary and disturbing, they were about a morally compromised world... I think violence, if you show it, should be disturbing. That’s the only moral way to show violence.”

Follow me on Twitter: @patrickkevinday