One of the best things about HBO’s Watchmen was how it balanced legacy characters with new ones. They were able to bring in folks like Laurie Blake, Adrian Veidt, and Doctor Manhattan, but never to the point where it felt like they couldn’t trust new characters like Angela Abar, Will Reeves, and Wade Tillman. However, the absence of some characters was duly noted, specifically Nite Owl II, Dan Dreiberg. While we see remnants of Dan’s work, specifically his airship Archie, the character makes no appearance and is only mentioned briefly in passing.
Steve Weintraub spoke to showrunner Damon Lindelof about the character’s absence, and Lindelof explained that they spent a lot of time thinking about whether to bring Dan into the show, but ultimately felt that it tipped the balance too much towards the past:
Oh my God, yes. I would say that we committed, it’s hard to quantify hours. But, if someone said that we kicked around that possibility for 40 hours of overall room time, that would feel a little low to me. But, one of the things that we are constantly trying to solve for, was the ratio between old and new. And, I felt very strongly that Laurie needed to be in this show. And, I felt very strongly that Manhattan needed to be in the show. And, I felt very strongly that Veidt needed to be in the show. And, we knew that the central character of the show was Hooded Justice and his granddaughter. It felt like, if we added Dan into the mix, that the balance tipped too much towards the old, and not enough towards the new. But, we did discuss multiple versions of what it would look like for him to appear.
I think leaving out Dreiberg was the smart move. He’s a nice man, but his general decency has a hard time clicking into a world of race and legacy. You can already see the fabric beginning to stretch a little much with the introduction of Laurie, who makes a splash in episode three, but then the show doesn’t really know what to do with her. But at least she makes some sense because of her connection to Doctor Manhattan and Doctor Manhattan’s importance to Angela. Dreiberg would be too removed from what the show is about to really make much sense.
As for what happened to Dan, Lindelof points out that it’s explained in the Peteypedia, which the show considers canon. Basically, Laurie and Dan resumed their vigilante ways, they stopped the Oklahoma City Bombing, but in doing so, they were captured. Laurie cut a deal with the FBI, but Dan didn’t, and so he remains in federal prison.