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After mixed fan reaction about the idea of a Gotham City without Batman, Fox's (NASDAQ: FOX ) upcoming "Gotham" series had its work cut out for it to win over hearts and minds. Set to follow rookie detective James Gordon in the years before Batman made his debut on Gotham's streets, the show has officially announced its lead: Gordon will be played by Ben McKenzie of "The O.C." and "Southland" fame.
News of McKenzie's casting has been met favorably, especially among fans of his portrayal of Officer Ben Sherman on "Southland." Though "Gotham" will take place in the "Batman" universe and will show the corruption of the city before Batman appeared on the scene, at its heart it will be a police procedural. Casting an actor who already has experience on a well-rated procedural seems like an obvious choice for Fox and producer Warner Bros. Television.
A Gotham without Batman?
The biggest question about "Gotham" is whether viewers will tune in week after week for a Gotham City without its most well-known resident. This isn't to say that Batman's alter-ego Bruce Wayne will be absent, of course. "Gotham" serves as a prequel to the Batman mythos, and Bruce Wayne will be 10 to 12 years old when the series begins. McKenzie's Gordon will be a homicide detective assigned to the double murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, allowing producers to put Wayne in the show without shifting the focus away from Gordon.
If all goes according to plan, the series will build over time to the introduction of Batman in the final episode. Several major villains from the comics are also scheduled to appear, allowing the series to show the origins of the bad guys as well as Gordon and Batman.
Can it work?
At first glance, "Gotham" seems a bit strange. Unlike "Smallville," the origin series for Superman that appeared on Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) WB (and later CW) network, the series doesn't focus on the hero from the comics. "Smallville" followed Clark Kent as he learned to use his powers for the greater good and developed his Superman persona. "Gotham" will feature Bruce Wayne's development into the Dark Knight, but it won't be the primary focus of the show.
McKenzie's casting shows that the production team is dedicated to the procedural format, however. This is good news if the studio hopes to sell the series as a procedural first and foremost, since the show's lead should be able to provide a strong performance as Detective Gordon from the beginning. With a "Nolan-esque" gritty tone that will first introduce major villains as their alter-egos instead of fully established costumed criminals, it should be possible to capture the feel of a police drama even in the world of Gotham City.
Will it find an audience?
One advantage that "Gotham" has over other DC Comics-based shows such as "Arrow" and "Smallville" is that it's airing on a larger network. Even if Fox can't sell the series to all of the Batman fans out there, it has an opportunity for even non-fans to start watching; this could be increased further by scheduling the series with a strong lead-in. If the show does build a following, the dual development of Bruce Wayne and James Gordon could give the writers plenty of material to keep it going for years.
It remains to be seen whether it will manage to satisfy the fans and bring in viewers week after week. Until then, we simply have to trust in Ben McKenzie's tweeted promise to "do my best not to screw this up."
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