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“The Writers’ Room” Interview: “Smallville” creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar

Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar discuss their writing approach, the controversial departures they made from the Superman comics and the impact of Christopher Reeve.

Q: You guys have worked together a long time. How did you discover your mutual love for Superman?

AG: We were actually approached by Warner Bros. Television where we had an overall deal. We didn’t approach Smallville as comic book geeks since neither of us had ever read a Superman comic. Rather, we came at it as outsiders who wanted to make a show for the fans and the uninitiated alike.

MM: My first real exposure to Superman was Richard Donner’s movie in 1979. We have since worked with Donner on Lethal Weapon 4, but I remember thinking the movie was kind of boring. However, I really loved Superman II. I had the poster for Superman IV: The Quest For Peace on my bedroom wall when I was a kid — but I’m not sure that is a good thing.

Q: Smallville stirred up a lot of controversy with hardcore comic book fans devoted to the original. How did you guys deal with that?

AG: Like all writers — we tried to avoid it as much as possible! We stopped reading Ain’t it Cool News where we were being burned in effigy everyday, and didn’t go to the San Diego Comic-Con until Season 2.

MM: Listening to fan boys is tiring, frustrating and ultimately futile. Smallville began at the dawn of the fan-forum era — we used to scan the posts to get a sense of the general feeling, but that’s it. If we did course-correct a storyline it would be because the fans’ sentiment mirrored our own. The truth is the so-called “hardcore fans” will find fault with anything and everything. We had no interest in following the established mythology of the D.C. universe or aligning our timeline with theirs.

Q: What would you say was the biggest change in Superman’s past that you introduced in Smallville?

AG: There were numerous departures. 1) The meteor shower that brought Clark to Earth, killed Lana’s parents, and caused Lex to become bald. 2) Having Lex Luthor live in Smallville and giving him a father, Lionel Luthor, which he never had in the comics. 3) Making Jonathan and Martha Kent much younger than they ever were in the comics or other iterations of Superman. 4) Introducing Chloe Sullivan who, like Lionel Luthor, was a character we created for the series and wasn’t from the canon.

MM: The biggest change was probably the notion that Clark arrived in a meteor shower that brought death and destruction to Smallville.

Q: What was the most controversial?

AG: Making Lex and Clark friends. That was a radical idea at the time, as well as casting an African American actor to play Pete Ross and a Eurasian actress to play Lana Lang. You would not believe how much flak we caught for those choices from the internet peanut gallery.

MM: Again, probably the meteor shower because it led to accusations that we over-relied on the “freak of the week” formula. We had a super-powered, crime-fighting teenager — we figured he had to battle someone every week. It’s not like sleepy Smallville was a hot bed of crime. It wouldn’t exactly be great drama if Clark was forced to use his awesome abilities to solve the case of the missing library book. I have zero regrets about that.

Q: Looking back, is there anywhere you wish you’d taken the characters of Smallville?

AG: I wish we had a better trajectory for Lana Lang. That was probably a three-season love story that lasted six seasons.

MM: It’s so torturous and slow. Ultimately, it damaged Lana in the audience’s mind. Because Clark refused to tell her the truth about his identity, he was constantly forced to lie to her. Although justified, Lana’s response to his behavior made her seem cold and unsympathetic — even though from her POV, Clark was a sneaky, bold-faced liar.

Q: What’s your favorite episode from the series?

AG: An episode in Season 2 called, “Rosetta.” We introduced Christopher Reeve as a scientist named Virgil Swann who helped Clark figure out he was from a planet called Krypton. Having Chris do the show gave us the ultimate geek stamp of approval. He did one more episode before he died.

MM: Selfishly, my favorite is the one I directed, “Memoria.”

Q: How much did actor Tom Welling influence the writers of the Superman/Clark Kent role?

Al: Since TV is an ongoing relationship between the writers, actors, and their characters, they definitely influence how you write for them.

MM: Tom was fresh off the bus when he was cast and didn’t have any experience. His growth as an actor during the run of the series was pretty remarkable. If he had an issue with a script or scene, we were always open to discussing it. Remarkably, that happened very rarely. I think he was working so hard, he didn’t really have time to sit in his trailer and over-critique.

Q: Is there another comic book hero that you would like to turn into a television series and which you could imagine lasting ten years?

Al: I think The Wonder Twins are long overdue for a live action series.

MM: We valiantly lobbied for Wonder Woman. We also almost succeeded in bringing Aquaman to the small screen but were thwarted when the WB got swallowed by UPN and became the CW. The atmosphere at the new network was very hostile to Smallville and they were not open to doing another comic book series. It was all about Gossip Girl — looking back, it’s kind of amazing we survived at all.

THE WRITERS’ ROOM: “The Walking Dead, Smallville & other comics” airs Fri. Apr. 25 at 9PM/8c.

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