With anticipation at a fever pitch for Matt Ryan to visit Arrow as John Constantine this week, it's easy to speculate about what it might mean for DC's television future if Wednesday's episode is a ratings success and Constantine becomes a character The CW would like to use more often.
The failure of Constantine at NBC represented a rare blow for comics on screen. Since Iron Man and The Dark Knight came out and collectively changed the conversation about comic book movies, failures have been rare, while massive successes have been the norm.
That carried over to the small screen in 2012, when Green Arrow -- a relatively low-selling DC Comics character best known outside of the comics community as a regular guest star on Smallville's later seasons -- headlined his own series on The CW which became successful enough not only for a second season, but for a spinoff (now two).
Arrow was the tip of the comics-on-TV spear, and while Marvel has delivered impressive numbers for ABC and Netflix, no one network has been more obviously impacted by the success of comic book adaptations than the Warner Bros./CBS joint venture The CW.
Arrow was followed by The Flash, and while neither Amazon (think Smallville for Wonder Woman) nor Hourman got off the ground, the network launched the first female-led comic book show since Sabrina the Teenage Witch went off the air with iZombie. Next up, they've got DC's Legends of Tomorrow, a kind of TV Justice League, which will bring together a number of popular supporting characters from Arrow and The Flash with new heroes and villains that span all of time and, potentially, space.
Warner Bros. Television, which produces all of those series plus Constantine and FOX's Gotham, has struggled to get some shows off the ground. Syfy optioned Booster Gold and it sat on the shelf for so long that it's apparently being developed as a feature film now, with no Syfy involvement. Now they've got Krypton, which doesn't seem to be moving any faster toward production. Titans, too, is languishing -- although that one's not at Syfy but TNT. On top of these, there have been Deadman and The Spectre pilots that went into development and never got made, plus the aforementioned CW shows.
Right, now, FOX has Lucifer, sort of the heir apparent to Constantine in that it's based on a Vertigo title and dabbles in religion and the supernatural, with a dark, cheeky sense of humor and ostentatious production values (Constantine was nominated for a production design Emmy and, having been there myself, I can promise Lucifer's sets look amazing, too), but much has been made of the decision to bring NBC's version of John Constantine into the Arrowverse.
Supergirl is at CBS, but between CBS's co-ownership of The CW and showrunners Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg working on the Arrowverse shows as well, it seems unlikely the shows will ever fully rule out the idea of a crossover, even if there are no immediate plans to do so and some reluctance on the part of CBS. That means that, with Constantine, basically every post-Smallville DC superhero show except Gotham -- which takes place years before Batman ever takes shape -- could theoretically share a universe at present.
(Let's ignore for the moment that DC's multiverse has been introduced on The Flash, so really anything and everything could share a space, even non-superhero, non-DCU shows like iZombie and Lucifer.)
Assuming The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow continue to be big winners for The CW, could anything short of a spectacular performance by Lucifer push Warners to tighten their grip somewhat on the DC properties?
Marvel is notoriously controlling of their intellectual property, with an "it's all connected" philosophy between its movies, ABC series and Netflix shows that means everyone has to walk in lockstep and if you want to work with Marvel, you have to work with Marvel. The result thus far has been a cinematic universe that engages fans while it nourishes itself, pushing audiences to stick around through Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s troubled first season and to give lesser-known heroes like Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy a chance at the box office.
DC, so far, has had a different editorial approach. 300 filmmaker Zack Snyder's gritty, visually distinctive look has shaped the feel of their movies, which will share a common universe, but the DC TV shows have always been separate until and unless specifically stated otherwise.
That includes Constantine. When winks and nods to Justice League villain Felix Faust and longtime League memebr Doctor Fate appeared on the show, fans always wanted their favorite petty dabbler in the dark arts to be a part of the shared universe they so enthusiastically embraced on Arrow and The Flash. Showrunners for both Constantine and Arrow expressed a general sense of willingness, but said it was ultimately up to the networks.
Of course, when NBC bailed on Constantine and the show wasn't able to find a home at another network (including, yes, The CW), a trip to Star City was arranged for Matt Ryan's character and suddenly, poof! Constantine was part of the Arrowverse all along.
So -- will Warners take their ball and go home, opting to work only in-house and with their close friends at CBS if Lucifer tanks?
Almost certainly not.
Marvel Studios' relationship with Disney is fairly new and in the time since the pair have been married up, Marvel has been a dominant force in Hollywood. They're able to keep a firm hand on the wheel in part because they're enjoying a level of success that's almost unprecedented since the heyday of Disney's animation studios.
DC has a long relationship with Warner Bros., and for much of that time, the only thing of value they were producing...was comic books. Warner and DC have always played nice together, but Warner has always, unmistakably, been the one driving the car when it comes to the adaptations.
Again, there's something to be said for either approach. But if anything were to cause Warner Bros. to cede more control to DC and spend time worrying about what network offered them the most money, it would likely be a success, not a failure. If Supergirl continues to be a dominant force on a big three network, it could give Berlanti, Geoff Johns and the DC team more weight to throw around. But, particularly with Gotham succeeding both critically and commercially at FOX, fans who think everything DC does from now on is going to go through The CW are fooling themselves.
Now, if Supergirl is a big hit, Lucifer flops and Berlanti's rumored Booster Gold/Blue Beetle movie turns out to be a thing, there could be a conversation about the role of Berlanti's own production company going forward with DC. But that's a ways off still.
And, all of that said, The CW and the Arrowverse could absolutely be a place where characters -- especially if the actors are beloved by fans -- end up when their shows are over or cancelled. If it works with Constantine, there's really nothing stopping it happening with anything else that might fall by the wayside.