Above you can see the first promotional image from Arrow, a new show based on the Green Arrow comic book that, if all goes according to plan, should debut on the CW this fall. Even though a teenage version of the Green Arrow character appeared in CW's last live-action superhero romp, Smallville, this series wants to do something different with the guy. According to a press release on DCComics.com, as the show opens billionaire playboy Oliver Queen has been stranded on a remote island for five years. When he finally returns to civilization, he does it with a mission—to clean up the streets of his home.
Arrow executive producer/pilot director David Nutter (who also directed the pilot for Smallville) mentions that the show will be "darker and harder-edged" than the Teen of Steel's series, and that Arrow wants to make "a real, believable world in which Oliver Queen can do incredible things." On the surface, of course, this sounds great, especially since Green Arrow's mostly known as a street-level crime-fighter a la Batman. But primetime network television hasn't had the best of luck with live-action superhero adaptations. Let's take a look at the last three to hit the airwaves and see what, if anything, Arrow might learn from their mistakes.
The Show: Heroes
Airdate: September 25, 2006 - February 8, 2010
The Plot: People all over the world beginning developing super powers, and now they're a hot commodity. Alliances form and battle lines are quickly drawn as these seemingly normal people wage a high-powered war for the fate of the planet.
Where It Went Wrong: For about the first season, pretty much everybody loved Heroes. But then it seems like the show kind of got caught up in its own hype. Plots became too drawn-out and outlandish, character motivations flip-flopped from week to week, and the show never really answered its biggest questions… at least not while people were watching. In many ways, it came to embody the worst parts of the soap-opera-y comic book stories (X-Men stuff especially) it was so clearly based on. Lots of folks proclaimed it dead partway through the second season, though it remained on life support long enough to get an abridged season four (but without a proper ending).
The Show: Birds of Prey
Airdate: October 9, 2002 - February 19, 2003
The Plot: After Batman bails on his home turf, Huntress, Black Canary and Oracle defend a futuristic Gotham City from a new breed of criminals.
Where It Went Wrong: Is "from the beginning" too harsh? It seems like a bad idea to tease a Batman television show—which lots of people would no doubt watch—and then focus on a relatively unfamiliar group of characters (not that the Bat-heroines aren't great, but still). Then you set the thing in the future, take away the recognizable villains… that connection to one of comics' most popular characters can only take you so far.
The Show: Smallville
Airdate: October 16, 2001 - May 13, 2011
The Plot: Teenage Clark Kent comes to terms with himself and his strange super powers in this retelling of Superman's earliest adve
Where It Went Wrong: Okay, to be fair, Smallville is definitely the most successful live-action superhero show of the past decade, if not ever. It maintained enough of a fanbase to last an impressive ten seasons, after all. But still, some viewers might take issue with the fact that the show started to lose its focus after a few years. Once you start embracing aspects of the comics like bringing in characters such as Brainiac, Mr. Mxyzptlk and Toyman, you might have gone beyond what a teenage Clark Kent can handle before finally putting on the cape and tights that the show's producers avoided like the plague. There's also the larger issue that perhaps Superman shouldn't be emo, although we can probably forgive a 17-year-old Clark for feeling down now and again.
It seems, then, that super-hero TV shows have a tough challenge to meet. If you stick too close to comic book-style stories, you might end up seeming silly (like Heroes), but you also have to have enough familiar material to not totally alienate your viewers (like Birds of Prey). Smallville probably found the most success because it managed to combine Superman comics and relatable personal drama pretty well. Do you think Arrow can do the same with a less popular character? Might it even do better? And, most importantly, would you watch a show about a crime-fighting archer that shares a network with Gossip Girl? Let us know what you think!