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COMMENT: Birds and ‘Fly take off in new US schedules.

By Mark Clapham on 24 November 2002

Last week in the US the TV schedules for the 2002-03 season were announced. Aside from the usual renewals and cancellations were the green-lighting of some prominent genre projects, including two shows with impressive production pedigrees. ‘Birds of Prey’ is based on the DC Comic of the same name, and comes from the same stable as the hugely popular ‘Smallville’. New space opera ‘Firefly’ is from ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’ creator Joss Whedon, and
therefore has a buzz around it you can hear from space.

‘Birds’ first. Seems that the WB network and Tollin-Robbins productions are building a niche on exploiting DC Comics properties. It’s a smart move – the WB’s parent company, AOL Time Warner, also owns DC, making the worlds of Clark
Kent, Bruce Wayne and co a good source of marketable properties. With Marvel all conquering at the cinemas, it’s about time DC’s core franchises got a bit more of an airing. While ‘Smallville’ avoided treading on ‘Superman’ movie rights by the prequel route, thereby avoiding all that credibility-
shattering spandex, ‘Birds of Prey’ goes in the opposite direction to get the same effect. While in the comic former ‘Batgirl’ Barbara Gordon and her
pals are contemporaries of Bruce Wayne’s crime fighting antics, in the TV show they’ll be filling a vacuum, seven years after Wayne left New Gotham. So it’s a post-Batman show, so to speak, trading on public awareness of Batman, the Joker and so forth without treading on the toes of the proposed ‘Year One’ or ‘Batman and Superman’ movie projects.

If Tollin Robbins and
the WB can pull this off, and start building a TV version of the DC universe, then they’ll have created not just a franchise but a virtual sub-genre to build up and spin-off from. Having built up the ‘Buffy’ franchise only to have the series itself snatched away by rivals UPN, the advantages of the WB for building up an alternative of their own, complete with brighter teen show and the darker, more adult, companion show, are obvious.

If ‘Birds’ is part of the WB’s response to losing ‘Buffy’, then ‘Firefly’ is Fox’s attempt to get in on the Whedon action. After six years of producing but not broadcasting ‘Buffy’ (and latterly ‘Angel’) the Fox network is hungry to
get closer to the action. Whedon’s ‘Firefly’ – a space opera with western overtones – is a tempting possibility for Fox, who must see the combination of the creator of ‘Buffy’ with large scale space action as having amazing
franchise possibilities. ‘Trek’ has always been crippled by weak characterisation and ill thought out – or non-existent – long term plotting.
‘Firefly’ is unlikely to be weakened by either of these defects. Also, with ratings winners ‘The X Files’ and ‘Ally McBeal’ gone, ‘Dark Angel’ never
having really taken off and ‘24′ more of a critical than a ratings success, Fox could do with a high profile drama right now.

So, that’s where
the two shows are in the US, but when and where will the UK get to see them? As a Fox production, ‘Firefly’ should be a shoo in to appear on News International stablemate Sky One – add to that the fact that Sky monopolise genre broadcasting, especially of imports, and the predominance of Whedon’s other shows on the channel, and only a stupidly large bid will stop
‘Firefly’ from debuting on the Murdoch channel. Expect it to appear either in autumn or early 2003. ‘Birds’ is a more difficult placement: superhero shows are a more difficult call, and while Sky will find room for ‘Firefly’ it’s schedule already has one comics spin-off in the form of ‘Mutant X’ –
they may not have room for another one. With ‘Smallville’ doing good business on Channel 4, then that might be a logical home for the ‘Birds’ –
but C4 has had to cut Clark Kent’s adventures for the 6pm screenings, God knows what they’d do to a darker sibling show. Their treatment of ‘Angel’
doesn’t bode well. But if the logical place for ‘Birds’ is near to ‘Smallville’, then maybe there is a home for it. Digital channel E4 has been showing repeats of ‘Smallville’ to back up the C4 screenings, and could do with an exclusive import to show off. ‘Birds’ would make a nice addition to a line up of shows that desperately needs refreshing – there’s only so many constantly looped repeats of ‘Friends’ and ‘Smack the Pony’ we can take.

These speculations could, of course, be irrelevant. As two high profile, high budget productions, ‘Birds of Prey’ and ‘Firefly’ could be
dead by Christmas if they don’t deliver the ratings goods stateside. If they do get satisfactory ratings, and prove worth the investment, then let’s hope they arrive in the UK sooner rather than later. I don’t know about you, but these are two shows I can’t wait to get a look at.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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