×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

DC Boss Diane Nelson Talks Superhero Strategy Vs. Marvel at Variety Summit

The big boss of DC Entertainment is committed to keeping the story arcs of its many characters separate across its film, TV and digital properties, in contrast to the singular universe approach taken by its biggest rival, Marvel.

Diane Nelson outlined DC’s creative strategy and the growing components of Warner Bros.’ DC Entertainment division during a wide-ranging conversation Wednesday at Variety’s Entertainment and Technology Summit, held at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills. Nelson’s mouthful of a title — president of DC Entertainment and WB Consumer Products and president-chief content officer of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment — underscores how important DC has become to fueling business throughout Warner Bros.

DC has a big year in store at the box office in 2016 with the highly anticipated “Batman vs. Superman” coming in March followed “Suicide Squad” later in the year — the first wave of 10 DC-branded movies expected to hit over the next five years. But she emphasized that there is no push for creative crossover among the films or with DC’s plentiful TV series, including CW’s “The Flash, “ “Arrow” and the upcoming “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”; CBS’ “Supergirl”; and Fox’s “Gotham.”

DC leaders have opted to keep its character worlds highly distinct in order to offer maximum creative flexibility to the writers, producers and directors that Warner Bros. works with in translating new and vintage DC properties in all manner of media. Creatives would otherwise be limited in tailoring projects for specific buyers. She noted the wide tonal differences between “Gotham” and “Supergirl,” not to mention “Teen Titans Go” on Cartoon Network. DC’s focus has working with Warner Bros.’ exec teams and creators at the various division levels, in recognition of the expertise they bring to developing products for their markets.

“We’re so talent driven,” Nelson said during the Q&A with Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein. The focus on a single universe of characters with connected storylines “could end up handcuffing our creators into trying to work with the same storyline or force them to hold back characters or introduce certain characters. Ultimately it hinders the ability for someone like (showrunner) Bruno Heller to come in and create ‘Gotham.’ “

She noted that Fox’s Batman prequel has no creative constraints regarding “Batman vs. Superman” and vice versa. The single universe approach “has worked beautifully” for Marvel, she added, but didn’t make sense for WB.

Nelson credited Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Kevin Tsujihara with pushing DC Entertainment’s various executives to “push out” projects and properties with the potential to be leveraged by various studio divisions — similar to Disney’s franchise-driven approach.

Since Tsujihara took the reins of the studio in 2013, “we have broken down a lot of walls among the various (WB) businesses. We’ve had interaction across every business at Warner Bros.”

DC-related properties have driven some $8 billion in consumer products sales for the studios and more than $3 billion in home video titles. It also drives about 50% of the video game business at Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.

But at its core, DC is a publishing company. The titles published by DC Comics and the Vertigo imprint are the “foundation of the (DC) business,” she said. She credited DC publishers Jim Lee and Dan Didio with reinventing the publishing business starting in 2011 when the pair instituted “a total reboot of our publishing line — it’s been hugely successful in the past four years.”

The print comics — which are increasingly paired with digitally published titles — are a vital content source for DC and Warner Bros. at large. Vertigo, which focuses on stand-alone fantasy stories, is an engine “for getting original IP into the company and feeding other businesses as well as our publishing business.”

Nelson acknowledged that the are growing concerns about whether Hollywood is becoming oversaturated with superhero fare. The growth in the amount of comic-based fare only heightens the pressure to ensure that the storytelling at the heart of DC properties is strong and distinctive.

“We do believe we’re in a period time where comics and superheroes are really the driving force within pop culture,” Nelson said. “We have to be really sensitive to making sure were not creating any stories that don’t feel like they’re ready to be told… We have to make sure we’re getting the right story and the right content from the talent we work with. Ultimately we think if it’s a great story people will go out to see it.”

Among other topics Nelson touched on:

  • Nelson called CBS’ upcoming “Supergirl,” which is a departure for the Eye, “a really special show” designed to work for fans of the Superman milieu as well as general audiences.
  • Nelson was effusive about the contributions of uber-showrunner Greg Berlanti, master of “Arrow,” “Flash” and “Supergirl,” and Warner Bros. TV chief Peter Roth, to the success of DC’s TV series.
  • The venerable Mad magazine remains an important asset under the DC umbrella. But it’s been challenging to mine the magazine’s topical humor in other media. “We have more work to do on the publishing side to make sure we’re feeding enough (material) to leverage into other media,” she said.

More Biz

  • Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018

    Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018 Compensation Soar to $129.4 Million

    Discovery Inc. president-CEO David Zaslav is once again making headlines for an enormous compensation package. Zaslav’s 2018 compensation soared to $129.44 million in 2018, fueled by stock options and grants awarded as the longtime Discovery chief signed a new employment contract last July that takes him through 2023 at the cable programming group. Zaslav received [...]

  • Jonathan Lamy RIAA

    Jonathan Lamy Stepping Down From RIAA

    Jonathan Lamy, the Recording Industry Association of America’s longtime executive VP of communications and marketing, is stepping down from his post after 17 years, he announced today. As he put it in an email to Variety, “I started back in 2002, which means it’s been 17+ years, four different RIAA CEOs, three format changes and [...]

  • Fox Layoffs

    Disney-21st Fox Layoffs: TV Divisions Brace for Deep Cuts

    A second day of layoffs has begun on the Fox lot in the wake of Disney completing its acquisition of 21st Century Fox on Wednesday. Longtime 20th Century Fox Television Distribution president Mark Kaner is among the senior executives who were formally notified with severance details on Friday morning. 21st Century Fox’s international TV sales [...]

  • anthony pellicano

    Hollywood Fixer Anthony Pellicano Released From Federal Prison

    Anthony Pellicano, the Hollywood private eye whose wiretapping case riveted the industry a decade ago, was released from a federal prison on Friday, a prison spokeswoman confirmed. Pellicano was sentenced in 2008 to 15 years, following his conviction on 78 charges of wiretapping, racketeering, conspiracy and wire fraud. He had been in custody since 2003, [...]

  • This image taken from the Twitter

    HBO’s Reaction to Trump’s ‘Game of Thrones’ Campaign

    Everyone wants a piece of the “Game of Thrones” lemon cake. From Bud Light to Red Bull the world of Westeros is open to a lot of brand partnerships, unless you’re using that iconic typeface to push a political agenda. In November of 2018 President Donald Trump unveiled a “Thrones” inspired poster with the words [...]

  • Leaving Neverland HBO

    'Leaving Neverland' Lawsuit Proves to Be a Judicial Hot Potato

    The Michael Jackson estate sued HBO last month for airing the documentary “Leaving Neverland,” which accuses the late King of Pop of serial child sexual abuse. Since then, the case has had a difficult time finding a judge to handle it. Three federal judges have recused themselves in the last week, citing potential financial conflicts [...]

  • Members of the public mourn at

    Guy Oseary’s New Zealand Fundraiser Nears $150,000, Continues Raising Money

    In the wake of the horrific shootings at New Zealand mosques last week that killed some 49 people, Maverick chief Guy Oseary launched a GoFundMe campaign to “support those affected by this tragedy at this very difficult time,” and began it with an $18,000 donation. Boosted by donations from many celebrities — including Amy Schumer, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content