Sometimes change is very good. Take for example the television series Smallville. Every one from comic book fanboys and to devout (and plenty of jaded) fans of the CW series have spent months talking about how the loss of series creators/showrunners Al Gough and Miles Millar and Michael Rosenbaum as the iconic Superman nemesis Lex Luthor in season eight are equivalent to final nails in the coffin for the series. But in Los Angeles where the recently promoted quad Smallville showrunners (Todd Slavkin, Darren Swimmer, Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson) have spent the summer crafting the future of the series, there are here to tell fans that last rites are far from being thrown around the office.
They all enthusiastically agree that the imposed change has provided the writer’s room with some of their biggest challenges in years. And that thinking outside the Al and Miles path has shaken up their creativity and allowed them all to dig deep for new interpretations of the Superman mythology as applied to the Smallville universe.
Over the summer, executive producers Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson talked to Newsarama about the good, the bad and the ugly of all the new changes and what it means for Clark Kent and his pals in season eight.
Newsarama: Kelly, Brian, season eight of Smallville is returning with a lot of changes on camera and behind the scenes. Arguably the biggest loss is Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor. What did that force you to do creatively to compensate?
Brian Peterson: We can’t say enough great things about Michael Rosenbaum. He made the character of Lex Luthor for our show. It was sad to see him go to pursue his own interests but the character is going to be very much a part of this season. What’s great is that it’s opened the door to bring in new villains from the DC universe. We needed a foe as great as Lex and there are very few of those out there, so we brought in Doomsday who is going to be a great part of the season.
Kelly Souders: And we brought in Tess (Mercer) who is going to be a formidable opponent for pretty much everybody in the cast at some point. But as much as we lost [executive producers] Al (Gough) and Miles (Millar), who have been our mentors for a long time and we are still in communication with them and they have been supportive, but obviously, we took some massive hits this year.
But in a strange way it kind of forced everybody to look at the show differently, which you don't often have an opportunity like that after seven seasons. So it allowed the writers to walk in kind of with a blank slate in some ways and look at how to really reinvigorate and reinvent the show: the characters, the situations, and the relationships. So we're actually all very energized. I haven't seen the writer’s room this energized in a little while, not that they weren't really passionate before, but I think it's just forced everyone to dig deep.
NRAMA: What is the theme of this season then?
Sounders: I would say this season, across the board, for all characters, [it’s time] to move on to the next phase of their life, which is kind of exciting. So there's a sense of leaving the past behind and moving to the next part of the Superman mythology.
NRAMA: Clark and Lois work together at The Daily Planet this year. What has that added to the show?
Peterson: The dynamic of Clark and Lois at the Daily Planet is fantastic. It is iconic. It’s exactly what those two actors feel like they were meant to do. I mean they are just great together and watching Clark and Lois together in the way that we're used to seeing them, from everything that we remember, I think is making a really fun show this year.
NRAMA: Is there a concern the show will start to feel more like the ‘90s series, Lois and Clark?
Peterson: I would say no because that’s not the feel of our show and isn’t the characters that people have gotten to know on our show. As they work together, you see the tension and the sparks fly which is really fun, but it’s all born out of the same Clark Kent that we all know and the same Lois we know on our show. There’s no change in tone of the show.
NRAMA: Erica Durance is still not a full cast member. Is she only doing her standard 12 or 13 episodes this year again?
Peterson: We have an option for her to do more. What is great is that she is really present in all the episodes so far. She's just front and center and is doing a great job. So yes, there is an opportunity for more.
NRAMA: What about the still unresolved romantic ties between Clark and Chloe?
Peterson: We have an episode this year that addresses the sexual tension, the love tension between the two of them. We do touch on it this year.
NRAMA: Going back to Doomsday, how much leeway are you taking in reinventing the character apart from the comics without alienating the purists?
Sounders: First I think the way we approach it is nobody could ever step into Michael Rosenbaum and Lex Luthor's shoes, so I think that was the first [thing] when we sat down to really think about the season, about the villains, and who Clark was eventually going to be fighting that was our number one thing. Don't try to replace Lex Luthor. There's just no point to it, we can't do it and we would never want to. We honor the character. We honor the actor so much but that said, we looked around at who was going to be the biggest villain we could possibly bring in. We talked about Doomsday. We sat down with DC Comics and they said there hasn’t been much back-story on Doomsday. What Smallville tries to do when they reinvent something is also try to link up eventually with what happens or to get the sense that is where a character is going so everything kind of matches up [with the comics]. So just because [Davis Bloome/Doomsday] comes on the scene as this really great, fun-loving, charming paramedic that doesn’t mean we aren’t also trying to figure out how he lines up down the road.
Peterson: Al and Miles created a show that uses the DC mythology but always puts a little spin on the new characters, much as we did Brainiac (James Marsters). We got to a place that people understood that we were linking up and we were true and respectful of the mythology. And that is what we are doing with Doomsday.
Sounders: And Doomsday in the comics is a lot of fun and a great villain. But when you start thinking of playing scene after scene after scene, you want to start with the human side of that…and that’s the part that Smallville has always done a great job investigating.
NRAMA: Is there a chance that you will get Michael to come back to play out that series finale between him and Clark that Al and Miles always envisioned?
Peterson: Yes, although we did play part of that final moment in the [seventh] season finale. Al and Miles were instrumental on that finale not knowing what opportunities we have ahead of us. But we definitely have some ideas. His character is very much threaded throughout the season.
NRAMA: So on the flipside, what needed to stay the same so Smallville still feels like Smallville?
Sounders: Well, the great thing for the four of us [executive producers] is that since we've been on the show as long as we have, these characters – and it sounds kind of cliché - but the characters and the world and the show has a life of their own. So you can't ever come in and change some things. You can't come in and do a ninety degree turn even if that's your intent because the characters are so true to themselves.
I think our cast does such an amazing job of embodying the characters that they really live as real people, so when we talk about all the changes it’s probably more of an evolution than change. I think Allison (Mack) has just been such a great Chloe and will always be that Chloe. This year it's just about opening up her world a little bit more.
The same thing goes with Clark Kent. I think that the show has been successful based on it's ability to kind of give us an origin story of Superman that felt real but also had some reinterpretations in it. We are just following in those footsteps that Al and Miles created for us. Clark Kent is still the same Clark Kent; we just want to get him closer to the Superman that we know, that the general public is more familiar with.
NRAMA: What will we see this season of Clark’s journey to Superman? And Al and Miles always said “no flying and no tights.” Does that remain now that they are gone?
Peterson: What’s great is that up to this point, we haven’t done a lot with Clark trying to learn to balance the double identity of Clark Kent and this Superman figure. So this year is very much about double identity and learning the balance of that which is a long journey in itself.
Sounders: That's actually his main thrust this season. Saving people in Smallville was one thing, when he had to run to the factory to save Chloe the roads weren't very crowded, the streets weren't very crowded. Being alive in Metropolis as Superman is a very different experience and you will find very quickly in this season that he discovers it's not so easy when you’re running through crowded streets or you’re having to run into a crowded crisis situation.
Peterson: Or you're accountable to Lois back at the Daily Planet! [laughs] And the only thing we can confirm is that there are absolutely no tights!
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