Who would have thought way back in 2001 when Al Gough and Miles Millar launched Smallville, their ambitious, slightly revisionist television series revolving around the teenage years of Clark Kent, that it would still be on the air eight years later? Originally Gough and Millar only hoped to eke out five seasons of the future Man of Steel’s small town history, all the while gently tip-toeing around DC Comic’s and WB’s strict rules and regulations about how much they could tinker with the mythology. Their intention was to flesh out Clark’s formative years in Kansas while setting up the epic rivalry with Lex Luthor that would eventually springboard both characters into their future roles as Superman and arch enemy, respectively.
Fast-forward to the present and a lot has now changed. First off that original story arc has expanded by 44 hours and counting. Smallville’s become the Energizer bunny of genre TV proving the Superman mythology might even be more powerful on the small screen (considering the lackluster acceptance of Singer’s big screen Superman Returns). Its longevity has even pushed DC to lighten up on its universe and let the show play with its rich cast of ‘verse comic book heroes, villains and more.
Smallville has even survived major bumps including network changes (moving from The WB to The CW), cast losses (Sam Jones III, John Schneider, John Glover, etc…) and the shows never stupendous ratings.
Yet even all of those tectonic sized changes can hardly compare to what’s shaking up Smallville’s eighth season. Gone are creators Gough and Millar, who are now screenwriting full time. Long time executive producers Todd Slavkin, Darren Swimmer, Kelly Souders, and Brian Peterson all stepped up to fill the void and now co-run the series.
On the casting side, Clark’s long-time love Lana is also gone with actress Kristin Kreuk’s decision to leave the series. And most devastating of all is the loss of Clark Kent’s nemesis - Lex Luthor. After seven years of head shaving and being dastardly, actor Michael Rosenbaum bowed out of the series to explore new horizons. Which begs the question how do you bounce back from that?
The man willing to answer that is executive producer Darren Swimmer who talked with Newsarama about all of those changes, what to expect from season eight and more.
Newsarama: Welcome to the hot seat, Darren! Let’s start with the biggest change for season eight – show creator Al Gough and Miles Millar are no longer with the show. Did you all have a “pow wow” before they left on how to stick to their blueprint for the series or did they give dispensation on following your own path for the eventual outcome of the show?
Darren Swimmer: We had lots of discussions about how things will carry on. A few of the things we’re doing this season are their direct suggestions or things they had put in motion. Since we’ve been working with them for six seasons, we’ve got a pretty good sense of where they plan on going with the story, and we would like to stick to their vision as much as possible.
They’ve shared with us their concept of the way they see some of the final scenes, but they’ve been very generous about letting us take the series where we feel it needs to go. Overall, they’ve been incredibly helpful and supportive during the transitional period, and they’re not falling off the map. We have and we’ll continue to run ideas past them once in awhile.
NRAMA: When the news hit a lot of fans and some in the industry seemed to be genuinely shocked. But inside the writer’s room was there more of an inventible sense that a changing of the executive producer guard was coming?
DS: Their departure wasn’t expected, but it wasn’t a huge surprise either. The guys have become involved with some very high profile film projects [The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor] recently, both as writers and producers, so it was something we all understood right away.
NRAMA: Taking a quick look back at season seven, what really worked for you story-wise and character-wise and what perhaps fell short of intentions?
DS: The 2007/08 TV season was a unique one, not just for Smallville. The writers’ strike and the ensuing work stoppage had a profound effect on storylines. As awful as this was for all of us, it wasn’t a terrible blow to the storylines. Sometimes hidden and unexpected challenges can actually make the writing better.
The most profound effect was that as we saw the writers’ strike becoming a very possible reality, we started figuring out ways to make “Veritas” the final episode, if necessary. We realized it was the last script that we could finish before the strike started. So what was supposed to be episode 15 quickly became our season finale.
When we fortunately came back [in April ‘08] for another five episodes, we re-cut “Veritas” and extended the story with the kind of pacing that we originally wanted. I think Lex’s descent into evil worked wonderfully, and a lot of that credit belongs to Michael Rosenbaum who did an amazing job taking his character to new depths.
NRAMA: It’s been announced that Kara is not returning as a regular in season eight. Did that stem from the writers feeling her storyline was tapped out or was it a case that the arc didn’t achieve what you intended?
DS: We had always imagined that Kara might only have one season. She had a great arc, coming to terms with her situation as a fish out of water on Earth, and at the same time, she served as a way for Clark to explore his origins and the history of Krypton.
NRAMA: Since she’s left hanging out in the Phantom Zone will we get resolution on her fate early in the season?
DS: We’re very interested in bringing Kara back for some episodes this season, schedules permitting.
NRAMA: On the other hand, season eight brings back Justin Hartley as Oliver Queen (a.k.a. Green Arrow). It’s been reported we’ll get more of Oliver’s history – how will that focus fold into the storyline of season eight?
DS: As fans of the comics know, Oliver Queen had some rough times in his earlier life. This season we’ll get a glimpse of how some of those experiences are coming back to haunt him.
NRAMA: With Tom Welling working on other projects too will Oliver serve as a character that can fill the times when Clark won’t be available or will they work in tandem mostly?
DS: As far as Tom’s schedule is concerned, Tom will appear in all 22 episodes. We do plan on having Clark and Oliver team up more this year than we’ve seen in past seasons.
NRAMA: Speaking of core actors doing less on the series this year, how difficult was it in the writer’s room to work out the amended presences of Kristin Kreuk (Lana) and Michael Rosenbaum (Lex) this year?
DS: What helps is that neither character is actually dead in the universe of the show, even if they don’t appear every week. The effect that both of these characters has had on Clark is indelible. Luckily, both actors are so incredibly talented, they created personalities that will continue to resonate in the lives of the other characters. Aside from missing the actors and their work, it hasn’t been a problem in the writing room in terms of story and plot. Once we made the shift in our minds, we moved forward with the new characters and dynamics. We aren’t constantly saying to ourselves, “Damn, I wish we could use Lex in this scene.”
NRAMA: With Michael are you pacing yourself on calling on him to reappear for the true end of the series?
DS: It’s too early to presume that season eight will be the last, so it would be premature to make any kind of a call.
NRAMA: Let’s shift then to the new season Big Bad – Davis “Doomsday” Bloome played by Sam Witwer. He’s such an important villain in the comics (Superman’s killer) but was he an easy choice to bring into Smallville?
DS: Part of what excited the four of us to bring Doomsday into the show was the fact that he has no previously established Earthly alter ego in the comics. Davis Bloome will be very different from the Doomsday we’ve seen in the comics. Especially at first. We thought it would be interesting to see the human side of a character that had very little humanity in the comics. Sam Witwer is tremendously talented, and we’re all really thrilled to begin working with him.
NRAMA: How’s he going to mess up Clark’s life this year?
DS: Doomsday did kill Superman in the comics, so Clark better be on his toes.
NRAMA: Tess Mercer, played by Cassidy Freeman, is also heading to Smallville as Lex’s handpicked minion for LuthorCorp. It’s great having female adversaries in the mix so what’s she bringing to the creative pot for the writers?
DS: The fact that we can play romantic tension between our main villain and several of the other characters gives us a different deck of cards to play with. She’ll be interested in Clark, but for entirely different reasons than Lex was. Cassidy Freeman really brings the role to life, so it’s been exciting to write for her.
NRAMA: As the characters are getting older it makes sense to break out of Smallville, so will season eight frame more around Metropolis?
DS: Yes. But Clark definitely isn’t leaving his hometown behind for good.
NRAMA: Is this year setting the groundwork for the future Lois and Clark relationship – especially in context of their working lives at the Daily Planet?
DS: Well, I think we’ve seen a hint of it in the season 7 finale. The two will definitely be spending more time than ever with each other.
NRAMA: You almost didn’t get Allison Mack (Chloe) back so was there some fear in the writer’s room on how you were going to deal with that if the worst happened?
DS: We’re all incredibly happy to have Allison with us this season. We’d been plotting out the season with lots of elements that involved Chloe, so it was definitely a shock when we thought we wouldn’t have her back. We were in between seasons at the time, so it ultimately didn’t affect the writers’ room.
NRAMA: What can we expect from Chloe this season?
DS: Chloe will have some very big storylines this year, and if you thought it was hard to be Chloe Sullivan, this year will be no exception.
NRAMA: With the huge success of superhero films on the big screen this summer, has that encouraged you to dig deeper into the Justice League adding some more of those faces to Smallville this year?
DS: It’s great to see the success of the superhero films, but we’ve always tried to bring in interesting new members of the DC universe, and this season will be no different. We’re very excited about the characters that’ll be making an appearance this year. I’m not sure how much of it I can reveal, but keep your eyes out for some interesting visiting heroes.
NRAMA: So in parting what’s got you most excited about season eight?
DS: Having some great new cast members in Cassidy Freeman and Sam Witwer, as well as having the opportunity of working with Oliver Queen and Green Arrow more frequently, is exciting. But probably what’s most exciting is moving Clark one step towards fully embracing his identity as a superhero. Being in Metropolis a lot more will keep things fresh, and having Lois and Clark shoulder to shoulder at the Planet will no doubt lead to some interesting new dynamics.
Smallville’s eighth season begins September 18th on Thursday nights at 8pm on The CW.