How Are So Many Comics On TV?

At the start of every month I look online for what books will be coming out and figure out what I can afford. I double check my findings each Wednesday before going to my local shop to make sure I know exactly what I’m getting. I mostly do it to save money, because I know if I linger too long without direction I end up spending more than I should (sure, that’s a general metaphor, too).

It’s a big win for a book to sell an amount in the low six figures. Only the largest titles seem to do it on a regular basis. But I flip through the guide on my TV or see the ads on my Twitter feed and can’t get through them without seeing listings and promos for super-charged programs. Between the two big publishers alone there are nine shows currently on the air. Nine!

Yeah, they each come with built-in audiences, but how do they do it? How is there enough room for all of them to exist at the same time, with all the other ways people can entertain themselves?

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As it turns out, these shows probably manage sharing the airwaves because of reasons that have to do more with TV’s reputation than anything else.

It’s the reigning free time entertainment champion and fueled by its own history. Think of it like this: you get an allowance of free time each week that you work for and you don’t want to blow it. Where is that sweet middle ground that’s both safe and rewarding?

It’s not on the internet, that’s for sure. User-created content is fun for when you’re bored, but not when you’re actually looking for fun. So you go to the TV, where networks have a similar situation. They also have an allowance, in the form of a budget, and don’t want to spend it indiscriminately. It’s way more costly for them if they blow it than you, so they want to get it right.

A natural trust has evolved and continues to be built by TV show creators and their audience, centered on the value and respect of each other’s time and a craving for quality. For superheroes this dynamic breaks one of two ways.

As mentioned, super-shows come with a built-in audience. There are storylines abound to reimagine or reconstruct because they’ve never graced the small screen. Readers are often familiar with them or their impact on continuity. Take Flash, for example. Showrunners hinted at using the flashpoint arc multiple times before diving in this season. This is a way to endear themselves to longtime fans.

It’s also a way to hook newcomers at a critical juncture. For as much as major storylines from the comics can satisfy people already familiar with them, there is equal opportunity for others to follow along even if they’ve never picked up a book. The history of the characters is easily accessible and suddenly additional voices can join the conversation.

Conversation about these shows also spurs loyalty to them and the way they’re delivered. TV might have changed the way we set up our chairs in gathering areas but much of its impact still comes from people talking – just at a commercial break or after an episode. Superheroes always have something going on even if it feeds into an excessive escapism. It’s like they come pre-packaged with buzz.

Given the myriad entertainment outlets I’ve grown up with and how I’ve consumed media I hadn’t considered just how much TV still means…in terms of amusement, at least. It’s not about the substance of superhero TV shows but how they play into this long-standing and well imbued relationship.

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