The NBC comedy series Powerless is set in a world where humanity must cope with the collateral damage of superheroes and supervillains while Wayne Security, a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises, specializes in inventing and marketing products that make defenseless bystanders feel a little safer. Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) is the new Director of Research & Development for a team that she must convince to live up to their full potential, under a boss, Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), who’s just looking to leave Charm City behind to join Bruce Wayne in Gotham.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, executive producer Patrick Schumacker (who is co-showrunner with Justin Halpern) talked about how he got involved with Powerless, how the series evolved into what it is now, finding the right tone, Easter eggs and nods to the DC universe, the process for working DC characters into the show, not feeling the need to invent new superheroes and supervillains, at this point, the challenge of giving Bruce Wayne a personality when he’s not physically present, how Van Wayne is different from his cousin, and possible ideas for Season 2.
Collider: Since you didn’t originally create this show, how did you come to Powerless?
PATRICK SCHUMACKER: Justin [Halpern] and I are on a deal at Warner Bros., where we’re under contract with the studio, and we were developing some shows on our own. What ended up happening was that, when the show was picked up and Ben Queen was running it, the studio asked us to meet with him and potentially staff on the show, and that’s what happened. We were consulting producers, five days a week, working under Ben. We were with it, the entire time. And then, several weeks into pre-production, the studio and the network made a mutual agreement that they wanted to take the show in a different direction, and they tapped us to do that. Basically, that’s what happened. We were with it, all along, and then we were asked to take over. I’ve gotta give Ben all the credit in the world for developing the show and putting the cast together. We used pretty much everybody who was in the original pilot, and Ron Funches, additionally. We only recast one role from the pilot to now.
But the show was completely reconceived, which was a joint venture between us, DC, Warner Bros. and NBC. The show shut down for about a month, back in August, while Justin and I rolled up our sleeves and tried to come up with a more in-depth take on what we were doing. We met with DC several times. We sat down with Geoff Johns and Aria Moffly from DC, and in that meeting, the security angle came about. The original premise was insurance, and we decided that we wanted to do something that was more product-based, so we came up with the security angle. And then, we were going to put them in sales because that’s an easy thing to understand, but NBC asked if we could do something more along the lines of R & D because that would differentiate the show from something like The Office, that people are already familiar with.
So, we really embraced that and ran with that. We thought the R & D and more techie angle of it felt like a really cool, different way of going in the series. The marketing for the show is really leaning into that R & D, gadgetry, invention angle, and we leaned fairly heavily into that in the pilot, but in any workplace comedy, you want to eventually start telling more interpersonal stories between the characters and that’s what we start to lean into, even more, even though the backdrop is an R & D team that’s creating and designing products that help the powerless feel safe in a world where superheroes and supervillains are doing battle in the skies above.
We’ve got so many DC Comics shows to choose from on TV now, but this is the first comedy in that world. Was there any specific talk about keeping the tone of this show lighter than that of the films? Did you talk about the kind of tone that you feel is right, for the story that you’re telling?
SCHUMACKER: There wasn’t a huge discussion because the studio is very familiar with Justin and I. We’ve been working for Warner Bros. for a really long time, and we had actually been developing another project with DC prior to this, so they were familiar with us. Everything that we’ve done is of a specific tone. With the exception of working on iZombie, last year, as consulting producers, we’ve only worked in half-hour comedy. The shows that we’ve created, which were Shit My Dad Says and Surviving Jack, are of a specific tone, and we waned to try to recapture that sort of tone in this show, as well. I think everybody was on board with that. They know what we do best, or at least what we’ve done, in the past. So, there wasn’t so much of a discussion with DC about tone, other than they certainly want to embrace the lighter side of the comics.
As everyone is aware, their film side is of a darker tone, but their television side has a lot more levity, even the dramas on The CW. This has even more of that. I’m a huge comic book fan and I am very familiar with the lighter side of DC. I’m a huge Garth Ennis fan. I’m a big Mark Waid fan. I have his work on The Flash, and Garth Ennis’ work on Hitman. There is a flat-out, legitimately funny side to the DC universe that is untapped. Tonally, hopefully this show is along those lines, and has the tone that people would come to expect in a regular workplace comedy. As far as the interpersonal storylines are concerned and the relationships between co-workers, it is grounded, but it is set in a world where really heightened things can kick off stories. You’re living in a world where the watercooler talk is about Wonder Woman’s nip slip when she was fighting Brainiac. It’s some really interesting opportunities to organically work in the mythology from DC and the lighter side of DC mythology.