Opinion: Why TV Should Not Give Up On Wonder Woman

[Please keep in mind that this is just an opinion piece and no offense is intended toward anyone who worked on NBC’s Wonder Woman pilot.]

As the networks announce their Fall 2011 schedules this week, it probably still can’t be argued that David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman was one of the most buzzed-about pilots going into the Upfronts season. The amount of fan love for the character coupled with some controversial choices had people talking. The days spent shooting on Hollywood Boulevard brought Wonder Woman even more attention, as did the costume design which wasn’t popular with everyone. (As it stood, it is said the light-blue-pants-and-boots version doesn’t even appear in the pilot)

But as fast as news seemed to come that Wonder Woman would be coming to TV, it seemed that it died just as quickly, as WW didn’t land a place on the NBC schedule.

I’ll admit: The original draft of the pilot, which so many people tore into when news came out, wasn’t that bad to me. There were even some clever moments I liked. I liked that this Diana could be someone people could identify with, and I liked that Wonder Woman was a bit of a celebrity as she would be in the real world. I thought the “Diana Themyscira” alter ego was unnecessary and added to the confusion, and I kind of cringed at some of the casting… but I was excited to see what would happen, and glad we’d get superhero TV this Fall after losing Smallville.

The initial reviews of the actual pilot worried me. The notion that Steve Trevor would lack charisma, or that the villain would be campy… not good. Wonder Woman killing? Even worse. I understand that she’s a warrior but to me, Wonder Woman should be a character that young girls can all look up to while the guys watching can be enamored with her beauty. Like Superman, Wonder Woman is meant to be the best example; a role model.

This is going to bite me hard if the project is revived under the same people, but I now agree that David E. Kelley & co. might not have been the best fit. What Wonder Woman really needs is a younger writer, preferably even female, though someone along the lines of Joss Whedon would “get” it too. Look at what Julie Plec has done as one of the showrunners of The Vampire Diaries – that show’s lead character, Elena, has male interests but is not defined by them. Sadly, I think this version had a Diana who WAS defined by the men around her… and when you don’t see the appeal of Steve Trevor yourself… why should you get behind the show?

I’m probably getting away from my original point here, and that’s what gets back to Wonder Woman. There is demand for a Wonder Woman TV show, I think. The thing is, we demand a good Wonder Woman TV show. And I say this not completely implying that what was done was bad – I’ve never seen it, though I’d love to – but a Wonder Woman TV show is something that I think would be more universally welcomed. I was there for the development of Smallville and although there were a few detractors at first, the finished product spoke for itself. And then there was The WB/CW’s Aquaman, a pilot that a lot of people wanted to see, that sold tons on iTunes… and I bet it wouldn’t have done so well without positive word of mouth and excitement.

So what now?

When David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman was shopped around, it was said that the license fee and budget would be too much for The CW. I’m not a TV producer; I don’t know what things cost for sure, but I would imagine a large chunk of that fee included Kelley’s salary, big effects and sequences like shutting down Hollywood Boulevard (that can’t be cheap), and hiring actors and actresses that couldn’t have come cheaply. Some of the names involved with Wonder Woman were movie-level names. I’d hate to imagine how much they cost to hire.

But back to The CW. Many people have pointed out that it is the network that aimed to be about “kick-ass women.” Whether it’s the ladies of The Vampire Diaries, Maggie Q on Nikita, or upcoming Ringer star Sarah Michelle Gellar, those are definitely women that’d fall into that category. And who is the most “kick-ass woman” of all? You’ve got it. Wonder Woman.

So what I’d propose is this: I’d urge Warner Bros. Television to not give up on Wonder Woman, even if this particular project didn’t cut it. Smallville showed us that a network like The CW can build a following for a show of that nature, even if SV’s early days were on The WB. Sure, the concept would have to be tweaked. An origin story would be nice, and something The CW audience could identify with… after all, leaving Paradise Island for Man’s World has parallels to moving away to college. Get a Diana Prince in her early 20’s. Change it up from Smallville and start with the costume even, but make sure the only dual identities involved are Diana Prince and Wonder Woman. Don’t waste money and effects budgets on closing down major streets or flying cars. But remember what makes Wonder Woman so great – that whole “role model” issue. Girls want to be her, guys want to be with her. Bring on some writers and producers who are familiar with this kind of material that wouldn’t be as expensive to hire as David E. Kelley; preferably, people who love the character. Folks like Geoff Johns, Gail Simone, or Bryan Q. Miller would fit all of those categories, and the right WW project would probably encourage some of TV and movies’ best directing talents to come in. Cutting out the unneeded budget MIGHT cut down the license fee. Therefore, a network like The CW might jump at it, if they could afford it, and a good WW TV series could conceivably last years – which is a lot better than doing an expensive show that goes for less than 13 and then peters out.

Do Wonder Woman right and it’ll be HUGE. But don’t think that the failure of Wonder Woman on NBC is an indication that there’s no market for her on TV. I think the thousands of articles about that pilot that will probably never even air is an indication TV should still think about being in the Wonder Woman business. Wonder Woman is right up there with Batman and Superman among DC’s best legendary characters – and she deserves the right treatment and exposure that a good TV series would bring.


  1. Scott

    Absolutely fantastic idea, right on the money and very well-written. I think we should start a campaign, be it Facebook or otherwise, to get WW on TV somewhere, this time with the right writers, story and costume.

  2. MikoPike

    I agree with the article for the most part. The point is people want Wonder Woman. They really do. They just don’t want to see it done poorly. I am not saying this about the current production, because I have not seen it, but I agree that this pilot failing shouldn’t reflect badly on the character’s potential or demand. Audiences have been waiting for her to return to multimedia for a long time, and when she does, they will respond. My one disagreement with the article is that as far as I am concerned, uber violence with Wonder Woman is fine, she has slain more than one of her opponents in the past, but having said that, it should be done in a way to illustrate a trait of the character, her fierceness as a warrior, and not done off-handedly. Wonder Woman does not walk around killing people at random. Again, I am not saying that is how it was handled in the pilot as I have not seen it, but the fact that the action scenes contained that level of violence actually came as welcome news to me since I was afraid this interpretation was going to be, well, namby-pamby. Wonder Woman is an inspiration, and has intellect and compassion, but at the end of the day, as an Amazon, she also ought to make the guys from ‘300’ look like the Mickey Mouse club. The trick is balancing that with her great wisdom and beauty and other properties into a cohesive whole. We won’t know if this version of Wonder Woman was going to be that, but hopefully once Wonder Woman returns to tv or movies, it will be in a way that conveys how epic she truly is.

    • When the initial Wonder Woman promo shots came out I was more than surprised that they took a character so strongly entrenched in Greek Mythology and made her “LA”…bad move. As a lifelong fan and reader of WW there are those of us that understand that her origin IS her story. It IS the reason why she is a WARRIOR of PEACE. The contradiction of speaking and teaching peace and also valuing all life but then snapping your neck if need be is exactly what a soldier must do and I see that as the conflict of the character. I’ll give that can be a very hard sell but the majority of the public that is not a WW fan can only go based on what they may have grown up with…the Super-Friends and the WW show with the ever perfect Lynda Carter…2 VERY watered down versions of the character but I was in front of the tv whenever she was on. Again, keep in mind…if it weren’t for WW there would never have been a Xena, Buffy, Ripley, or Lara Croft. People have used the words ‘corny’, ‘cheesy’ and I believe it was Megan Fox herself who called Wonder Woman ‘lame’. People forget that Batman (during his 60′s tv show) was so beyond campy (even moreso than the WW 70′s show) but generations since then have been introduced to the brooding Dark Knight. Same can be said of Superman as well. He’s a much more complex character than an alien that simply fights for ‘truth, justice, and the American way’. She simply hasn’t had the mass exposure to let the public know who the character REALLY is. Why is WB making this more difficult than it has to be?? In my opinion the essential WW viewing is the animated Justice League program or the animated WW movie from ’09. The writer’s of those incarnations made her a princess, woman, goddess, warrior, friend, jaded/loving/big sister/every little boy’s crush/and more importantly, the symbol of what she is…a figure that girls aspire to be…a compassionate, take charge woman living in a new world dominated by men. They brought out her peaceful, naive nature as a woman living as a fish out of water in a world she was exiled from to the true warrior she is. Also keep in mind the rich territory of conflict with the Greek Gods and mythological characters that are prominent in her comic series gives her such a ample amount of antagonists. Interesting (and very sad) thing about NBC’s WW is that they have NO IDEA who they are dealing with. WW has a built in audience. She is known the world over. You don’t need to ‘revamp’ a character who’s survived 70 years. 70!!! There’s a reason why we all know who she is. Simple word. Icon. Keeping true to the roots is giving the fans what we want. Clever casting (an UNKNOWN for the role…remember, WW IS the star) and, dare I say, a script that not only keeps the fans happy but allows for the growth of new admirers is what will help this character become an even bigger franchise. As far as her appearance, I truly see a no brainer. She wears armor (described so in the JL show and the comic itself) NOT a costume. The comics have delved into many different variations of her signature look and I can guarantee that the true fans want to see elements of that. Look at how many times Batman’s ‘costume’ has changed. It has become much more formidable over the decades. As for the look of WW I see elements of Troy, Xena, Clash Of The Titans with the ‘old red, white, and blue’ in there and you’ve got it. Why is this so difficult??? I am very anxious to see WW back on the screen, but not unless it’s done correctly. She is considered one of ‘The Big 3′ in the DC Comics Universe and can stand toe to toe with Superman and Batman (both of whom WW has fought and kicked their asses throughout the years). She deserves better treatment WB…pull your head’s out of your butts and look at what Marvel did with their own hero steeped in mythology…there’s a reason why Thor is number 1 at the boxoffice. I feel very confident that both women (for the female empowerment message) and men (let’s face it, a powerful woman kickin’ butt is always hot (and I’m gay will respond positively. I’d definitely be interested to see the viewpoints of others out there

  3. Steve

    I agree. But I think Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson should take the helm. I think Lightning could strike twice there. But she HAS to be in costume and full blown superhero. Not early days like SV.

  4. Chris

    I agree she should not kill. I only know of her killing Maxwell Lord because she had NO choice and it caused her to give up the mantle of WW in the comics. As for Joss Whedon, his ideas were about as bad as some of the stuff I heard about this pilot. He acted like he was no fan of WW and even said, “I never watched the series and I was never a fan of the comic book.” WW is a character that could be huge and pave th eway for female superheroes to hit the screens on their own, but if they keep giving poor reflections of the character, we will also be hopeful and not get the show or film we deserve…

  5. Christopher DC

    Thanks for the article, Craig. I’ve already read several articles and postings from “experts” who say this latest debacle proves that Wonder Woman has become too outdated and cheesy to be successfully translated to the live-action medium. I don’t agree with this at all, and I’m glad you don’t either. I’m with you in that I think any future pilot must begin with the original story of the character and detail how Princess Diana evolved into Wonder Woman. I also liked your idea about having her start off as a young, college-age woman whose first few adventures in “Man’s World” would be educational in more ways than one! If the failure of the David Kelley project teaches us nothing else, two lessons certainly should be learned: 1) Don’t mess with the costume. Call it sexist till you’re blue in the face, but as soon as that first photo of Adrianne Palicki was released in the “new, modern” uniform, the project was doomed, as it became all too clear that the trappings of Wonder Woman were not going to be respected. The Wonder Woman costume is as iconic as the character herself, and while it may be tampered with to a limited extent (such as substituting a short skirt for the bikini bottoms, or a full blouse instead of the halter top), there can be no radical changes like those the Kelley pilot attempted to put forth. 2) Don’t mess with the established mythology of the character. Wonder Woman is not a corporate executive, but a princess from a lost realm of women-warriors, who has superhuman powers augmented by magical gadgetry, and who sees herself as an ambassador and peacemaker as much as a crimefighter. Any serious attempt to “modernize” Wonder Woman must find a way to incorporate these aspects of her background; they are what make her unique and special, and cannot be eliminated without stripping her of her most identifiable traits. There is one other thing that might be attempted with a future Wonder Woman project, one that will not meet with a lot of approval at first but what might be the thing to set her apart from the other rough-and-tumble action heroines of the modern era: gear her more towards a family audience. This will help establish her as being a true role model for younger girls, and it will also give her a distinct identity when compared to such characters as Buffy, Xena, Sarah Connor, Max (from “Dark Angel”), and the other heroines who have graced the airwaves in recent years. A heroine with tremendous strength and fighting prowess, yet refuses to give in to anger and finds creative ways to defeat her adversaries without resorting to killing them, would set her apart from her contemporaries and could potentially make her even more popular. Add a decent supporting cast, make Steve Trevor into a full three-dimensional character (and a legitimate romantic interest), and you could have a solid TV series capable of running for a long time. Surely any decent writer worth her (or his) salt could make Wonder Woman into a complex, dynamic heroine while still keeping her fun to watch. We’ve seen what happens when Wonder Woman is given the “10:00 PM Time Slot” treatment; what can it hurt to go in the other direction and try to create a series the whole family can enjoy? Whatever happens with Wonder Woman, I sure hope it happens soon, because I’m turning into a doddering old man and I can’t wait another thirty-two years for the next live-action Wonder Woman project!

    • kanezona

      I couldn’t have said it any better. The demise of this TV pilot can be seen as a good omen. If Wonder Woman is going to return the airwaves, then she’s got to be done correctly. It’s just that simple. Fans as well as the curious TV viewer demand that such an iconic character be produced with a love and genuine affection for the character. That means basing the pilot as well as the resulting series on her comic book/source material. The origin is what needs to be told to kick start the series off on the right foot, combing equal parts drama/action/mythology/comedy/feminism as well as heart. The character of Steve Trevor needs to be charismatic secret agent and a love interest for Diana. The relationships between Diana and her mother/the Amazons/Steve/Government co-workers all need to explore the dynamics between these characters and what it means for her to be a daughter, princess, Amazon, Ambassador of Peace, superheroine, girlfriend, & Government employee, all wrapped up in three identities: Princess Diana of Themyscira, Wonder Woman & Diana Prince.

  6. I agree with all of your comments. The people want another superhero; let it be Wonder Woman.

    You have an iconic hero; it’s hard to get it wrong. Yet this latest iteration of the character doesn’t seem to get anything right!

    Bring back the pants, bring back the fantastical element of the show, put back the mystery, give it a Doctor Who adventure feel that the whole family can enjoy.

    Kelly’s version seems about as far away from that as is possible to be, and when you have a hero that’s self writing (like Wonder Woman), it’s a mystery how this show got green lit in the first place.

  7. Iuri Andréas Reblin

    You left me wordless. You just said all should be spoken about the show.
    Thank you and I hope your words reach some WB ears. DC/WB cannot leave us orphans.

    Yesterday I downloaded and saw Aquaman’s pilot and I asked myself why this project didn’t go further. It was ok for me. Anyway. I was thinking on all possibilities of superhero’s tv show: came up some names as Firestorm; Captain Marvel (and the movie will come out or not?), Zatanna, Green Arrow… But what I really thought: it is women’s time…. We wanna see a superpowered girl on our screen and Wonder Woman is that one.

    Well… let’s wait.

  8. You all have it right!
    There is no reason why this show should have gone the way it did.
    WW has such a rich history/mythology, why change it? It is epic as it is and without changing it, the story needs to be told with intelligence, passion and adventure. Three qualities that sum of Wonder Woman/ Princess Diana. Don’t mess with the ideals.

  9. Brian

    Here’s the real truth to the matter. Television networks have found their luck-pot-O-gold in reality TV and reality TV type shows. Unprofessional actors, low budget no-name actors. No story writers, typical run-of-the-mill script writers, no special effects.. no huge “budget” All they have to do is push the hype of these type of shows and brain wash “over-time” that these types of shows are **quality programming.” Watch as more and more story-line, fiction, real actor shows disappear and are replaced by these type of shows. While the networks rake in the same “or more” cash than ever before and we sit around like a bunch of smucks and take it all in gullible as we are. Agree? Please start posting more comment with this same point of view to television network sites and websites like this. Eventually more people will realize the real goal of “real TV.”

  10. Phoenyx

    I think the people that get Wonder Woman the most are obviously her fans. She is all about equal rights. As a gay man she was my first role model ever!!! I think they should reshoot the pilot with a different writer. They need to start with her origin how she came to be, then as a princess then champion of Themyscira and going into man’s world as the amazons have called it. I know this sounds cheesy but she is someone that inspired me to be a better person on this crazy planet. Her attitude about the world and wanting to help it is an inspiration to us ALL. It is amazing how such an endearing character can help show us how beautiful this world is and to always fight the good fight in any dark hour. Love to all! 🙂

  11. ken welckle

    David E. kelly should have followed these main rule’s on his wonderwoman pilot. That jeff davis followed when he rebooted and updated the Micheal J Fox teenwolf movie’s for a series on Mtv for a new generation.

    1. give it depth
    2. get serious
    3. cast the hell out of it.
    4. have humor
    I added the last one.

    above all appraoch it way the richard donner approached his superman back in 1978. That it has it’s own sense of reality to it.

  12. Mighty Ursus

    Enjoyed your analysis, but disagree on one point. While no one wants WW to be a one woman killing machine (i.e. a really, really good looking Bruce Willis), one thing about her character that special is that she Will kill, if there is no other way. This side of her makes her more interesting. We know Superman doesn’t kill, but the comics have taken it to the extreme where he won’t take even one (thoroughly evil) life (in self defense, yet) even if it means the death of all humanity. Batman is in some ways worse. In the 1980s reboot they got the character right whereas he does not set out to kill people, but if the extremely rare situation should occur that death of the villain takes place as a result of their own action or because that is the Only way to save innocents, he would take that step. Since then, we’ve seen him pull back from taking a life and people would have died except for something out of left field that he couldn’t have known would save the day (Huntress shows up, Moscow police shoot the bad guy, etc.). Batman doesn’t have to go around offing a people, but part of his effectiveness against the underworld would be the belief that he might.

    Similarly WW should not kill as an expedient, or as a strategy. But it would be an effective side of her character (just like it is in the comics) if the world knew that if there was no other hope, she just might.

  13. Torvik

    Got to have an Invisible Jet!!!

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