How the Failure of ‘Green Lantern’ Created the DC TV Universe

Paul V. Rea
TV Movies
TV Movies

Greg Berlanti, the man behind all of the various CW shows that make up the DC TV Universe, also co-wrote the 2011 Green Lantern film for Warner Bros. You remember how that movie bombed hard? Berlanti wanted to put it and the studio behind him. But Hollywood is a small town and that bad experience with DC’s ‘Emerald Knight’ ultimately led to the writer’s greatest success.

Grant Gustin as The Flash, Greg Berlanti and Melissa Benoist as Supergirl
Grant Gustin as The Flash, Greg Berlanti, and Melissa Benoist as Supergirl

Back in the early 2000s, Berlanti mostly did family and teen dramas like Dawson’s Creek and Everwood for The WB. A lifelong comic book fan, in 2005 he pitched Marvel a version of Iron Man with a dark and drunk Tony Stark. Marvel took the character in a different direction, but the meeting led his agents to look for more comic book gigs. “And so then I pitched Warner Bros. on Green Lantern,” he told New York Magazine. He and his writing partners, Michael Green and Marc Guggenheim, wrote a script in 2007. “We talked a lot about Top Gun meets a space opera.”

When Good Movies Go Bad

The Green Lantern script went into the bovine-like Hollywood digestive process known as “development” and Berlanti mostly went back to work on other projects. He ran a few prime time shows for ABC (Brothers and Sisters, Eli Stone, Dirty Sexy Money) before he pitched his first superhero show in 2010. It sold but, unfortunately for Berlanti, ABC didn’t really want a superhero show. “(The network) didn’t want superpowered villains,” he recalls. “They wanted Bewitched with powers. If you can imagine.” The result of these conflicting visions is No Ordinary Family which managed to eke out 12 meh episodes before cancellation.”

Around the same time, Green Lantern (the third draft of the script at this point) went before the cameras at Warner Bros. Berlanti was still a producer on the film but the final product was out of his hands. When he saw the result, he learned a hard but necessary Hollywood truth. “I would rather make my own mistakes and learn from them than have other people take the material. If you’re not executing it, if you’re not there, not everybody can know what’s in your head.”

Berlanti’s Big Move to the DC TV Universe

Despite the failure of the Green Lantern movie, Berlanti built a professional rapport with Warner Bros. throughout the process. When the studio looked toward expanding their superheroic efforts to television, he got the call. After two bad experiences with the genre, the writer was hesitant. But the opportunity to see his version of the characters he loves brought to life was just too good to pass up. Arrow premiered on October 10, 2012, and (cliché but true) the rest is history.

posters for DC TV Universe Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash
The DC TV Universe: Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash

With four DC TV Universe titles airing on the CW this fall, Berlanti’s shows are not only the most prolific of the superhero genre; they are considered by most to be better than their cinematic counterparts. The writer says the medium is better for the material. “TV lends itself a bit more to comic books. Comics are ongoing. You get these twists and turns in the narrative and go deeper in smaller moments into these characters’ lives. You don’t have to keep a high-octane train moving at all times,” he explained to NY Mag. “I think one of the joys of television in general, versus film, is that things get to settle. TV’s job is to make you lean in, and a film’s job is to make you lean back.”

Arrow and spinoff The Flash return to The CW in October. Flash on 10/4 and Arrow on 10/5. Berlanti’s Supergirl will join the guys the following Monday on 10/10, and Legends of Tomorrow lands on 10/13.


Check out what’s in store for the DC TV Universe with our look at Berlanti’s next project.

Paul V. Rea
A monster science created but could not destroy; Paul V. Rea is a radio, TV and web journalist based in Clarkesville, Georgia. Paul is addicted to television of all genres and can often be found mouthing off about things he sees @paulvrea on Twitter.
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