NBC’s Powerless is shaping up to be one of the more interesting shows on the upcoming winter TV schedule, injecting some comedy into the frequently humorless world of the DC Universe. The series has undergone extensive changes in its attempts to blend workplace sitcom antics and superhero mayhem, though; most notably in the decision to change its setting, a generic insurance company, into a subsidiary of Batman’s corporate piggy bank, Wayne Enterprises. The change also meant a (non-superheroic) transformation for Alan Tudyk’s boss character, changing him into Van Wayne, a dim-bulb cousin to Bruce.
“You’ve got Trump and then you’ve got the idiot sons,” executive producer Justin Halpern said, describing Van’s relationship to the main Bat family with a bit of political poking at the president-elect. (Tudyk himself seemed happy with the change, saying, “I wasn’t a Wayne before and now I am; totally better.”) Halpern joined the show late last year, after original creator Ben Queen left the project. The reshuffling prompted efforts to tie the series more tightly into the wider DC Universe, even as the creators have been forced to deal with the ”red tape” of Greg Berlanti’s CW superhero shows. (For the record, Powerless takes place in the extra-fictional Charm City its own, separate version of the DC world, dubbed Earth-P by the showrunners.)
Halpern and his co-EP, Patrick Schumacker, are clearly conscious of the capes-and-tightsrope they’re walking with the Vanessa Hudgens-starring series, tapping into the name recognition of their parent universe while also wanting it to stand as its own, separate thing. “We make it a point not to use Batman and Bruce Wayne as a crutch,” Halpern said. “We don’t lean into that past the pilot that much.” Meanwhile, they’ve also developed strategies to slip jokes and character ideas past their corporate overlords. “The lesson I’ve learned it to ask for everything,” Halpern said, “Or, just go with it and get a laugh at the table read and then they’re stuck.” Powerless debuts on February 2 on NBC.