How Much of a Risk Is Fox’s ‘Gotham’ Series?

Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ: FOX  ) has been making a lot of headway with its forthcoming DC Comics-related series, "Gotham." Though the show will focus largely on Detective James Gordon (played by Ben McKenzie) and his colleagues in the Gotham City Open Police Department's Homicide Squad, Bruce Wayne will play a part throughout the series.

The catch, of course, is that Wayne will still be a boy when the series opens. Said to be a preteen still coping with the recent murder of his parents, the boy who will one day become the Batman will be played in "Gotham" by 14-year-old "Touch" star David Mazouz.

Casting Gotham
The announcement of Mazouz' casting filled one of the last key roles in the show, which makes sense as the role of Wayne could potentially stir up some controversy among fans. Though there is nothing particularly controversial about Mazouz himself, there are still many who are upset that the show isn't going to focus on Batman.

As the series will serve as a prequel to the "Batman" mythos and Wayne isn't expected to put on the cape and cowl until the last episode, it will sow the seeds for what will become Batman's rogue's gallery as well. Several major villains from the comics will appear in "Gotham," though in their initial appearances will do so in their "civilian" identities; most will have connections to the various mob families in Gotham City. The most notable of these so far is Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin, who has already been cast and should appear in the series pilot.

Looking beyond the casting
Much of the casting of "Gotham" appears solid thus far, but there's still an uphill battle to sell the series to potential fans. Not only will it feature the setting of the "Batman" comics without the Dark Knight himself, but it will also be competing for attention against other shows based on Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) DC Comics properties. The most notable of these is "Arrow," which has received acclaim for the way it has handled its reimagined versions of DC's "Green Arrow" characters. A spin-off of the show following the Flash is also in the works and will further provide a contrast to "Gotham" when it airs.

The success of "Arrow" will set "Gotham" up for a number of comparisons, some of which may not be fair to make. To overcome this, "Gotham" needs to focus on both compelling storytelling and not letting one part of its story overpower the other. The show will focus both on Gordon's fight against corruption in Gotham City and Bruce Wayne's growth from a traumatized boy into a man criminals fear. If the show can't balance the two parts of its story correctly, either the Bruce Wayne portions will seem tacked on for fan service or the Gordon portion will seem like filler designed to stretch out Wayne's development.

What if it flops?
Fox is definitely taking a risk with "Gotham." The company licensed the TV rights to the entire "Batman" lineup, giving it a big enough cast of characters to develop through the course of the series. Will that be enough, though?

Fox is being very ambitious with the show, and in order for it to play out the way that it's currently planned, it will need to stay on the air for several years. With Bruce Wayne starting the show around 12 or 13 years old, it would likely take at least five or six seasons to have him reach adulthood and be ready to don the cowl. While they could have him start younger if necessary, a 15-year-old Batman might raise more eyebrows than a Batman prequel.

If the show can't convince viewers to keep coming back, it's unlikely that it will last long enough for it to have a dramatic finale featuring Batman in costume. Of course, if it starts faltering the producers might finish it up with a "5 years later" episode to bring in Batman with an older actor. They might even switch to a "flash forward" format to put the hero onscreen periodically to draw in viewers and bolster ratings.

Can it succeed?
"Gotham" has potential, but that potential only extends as far as it is able to entice its viewers. Well-known characters in "before they were famous" roles and the potential payoff of one day seeing Batman in costume won't carry the series; it will have to give viewers a reason to come back. It needs to be more than just a police procedural that namedrops "Batman" characters, and it needs to be more than a stretched out "young Bruce Wayne" series. It remains to be seen if it will be able to pull off either of those aspects well, much less the balancing act that will keep casual viewers and Batman fans alike entertained.

If the producers can get the "Gotham" formula right, the show could turn in to a major hit for Fox. If they can't, then it's likely that David Mazouz will never get a chance to become Batman.

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