Before “Iron Man,” Guardians of the Galaxy,” and comic movie franchises ruled the box office, Sony Pictures had big plans to turn a different Marvel franchise into a hit.
The studio set their eyes on adapting a graphic novel, “Powers,” a police procedural that takes place in a world where having superpowers is the norm.
The series comes from Brian Michael Bendis, who started Marvel’s popular “Ultimate Spider-Man” comic in 2000, and follows Christian Walker, a former superhero who has since become a detective while grappling with the fallout of losing his own powers.
Production for the series goes back to 2001, when it was optioned for the big screen. That never happened.
Eight years later, in 2009, FX ordered a pilot for “Powers.” Michael Dinner (“Justified”) was set to direct. The show was cast with Jason Patric, Lucy Punch, Carly Foulkes (who went on to become the T-Mobile girl), and Bailee Madison in lead roles.
In 2011, Bendis announced that FX greenlit the project.
Powers pilot was just greenlit by FX! it’s official! your window of reading Powers while it was still cool is running out :)
— BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (@BRIANMBENDIS) February 26, 2011
However, it never went through either. A premiere episode for the series was filmed, but in November 2011, Deadline reported the series was undergoing reshoots and “retooling.”
FX ordered more scripts in 2012 for the series, but it never went anywhere. The network’s president John Landgraf told reporters at a Television Critics Association’s press tour “Powers” was “as difficult an adaptation as I’ve ever worked on.“
Now, three years later, the series has found new life on Sony’s PlayStation Network as the platform’s first original series. Sharlto Copley (“District 9”), Michelle Forbes (“True Blood”) star as leads on the dark, gritty adaptation.
Ultimately, it took a new medium and a fresh approach in the adaptation’s premiere episode to help get “Powers” off the ground.
How “Powers” ended up on Sony’s PlayStation Network
Sony’s PlayStation Network has been searching for the right original series to produce for a number of years.
“At that point and time we were starting to see original content on other services and in general, just kind of culturally start to pop,” Sony PlayStation’s vice president of marketing John Koller told Business Insider.
This was around the time when shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” were rising in popularity.
“We said, ‘There’s something here. We know our gamers don’t just game 24 hours a day. They game and they watch shows as well. And they do other things in life,” Koller continued. “The two primary shows that they watched at that point and time were ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Walking Dead.'”
The company’s sister division Sony Pictures came to PlayStation with a number of scripts including one for “Powers” back in 2012.
“We all agreed that we needed to have content that was relevant and timely for the gaming audience, and so [Sony] Pictures came to us with a number scripts. We tested a handful of them with gamers primarily … and ‘Powers’ was the clear winner.”
With the series going nowhere at FX, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to breathe new life into “Powers” on a new medium.
“When they [Sony Pictures] heard that we were interested after they presented it, they doubled down and were able to extract it from another group, bring it over to us, and production started,” said Koller.
Casting for “Powers” was announced in summer 2014 for the series with Copley, Forbes, Susan Heyward, and Adam Godley (“Breaking Bad”) announced.
Novelist Charlie Huston came onto the series as an executive producer and showrunner after becoming involved with the series during its second-to-last iteration over at FX.
“They wanted to write some additional scripts if they were going to move forward after they had shot their pilot,” Huston told Business Insider. “I was one of the freelancers hired to do that.”
Getting the series right
You could say the major reason “Powers” never went anywhere was because of the premiere episode. They all stuck strictly to the comics.
Fans of the “Powers” graphic novel know the first six issues revolve around the death of a popular superheroine, Retro Girl, and bringing her killer to justice.
So the beginning of PlayStation’s “Powers” series may come as a huge surprise. It takes a huge departure from the comics. Retro Girl’s alive and well. In her place, a different hero is killed off at the series’ start.
“All the previous approaches that I know of, they all killed her,” Huston tells Business Insider. “Some of the previous approaches they killed her in the pilot, and solved the murder in the pilot. Some of the previous approaches killed her in the end of the pilot, and then they planned to solve it over the course of the first season. But they all killed her.”
“That’s where my head was at coming into it because it’s that thing where your brain gets caught in, ‘It’s canon.’ You’re familiar with the story, and you think, ‘Well, that’s how it’s got to be,” Huston continued.
“But, as we kind of plowed our way through it, and I thought more about it, there were a couple of things:
One was, that, in the comic book, you only get to know Retro Girl after she died. Brian [Michael Bendis] and Michael [Avon Oeming] have said themselves that they didn’t expect the series to go more than five or six issues. So, they wanted to do everything all at once out the gate, because they didn’t think it was going to last. So, they wanted to kill the biggest hero in their world right away, and have that be the first case.
But that necessitated them killing a character that the readers didn’t have a chance to get introduced to and more familiarized with and care about. That had to happen retroactively. So, when I was looking at it, I was like, ‘Well, you know … we’re introducing a great character. People would like to know this character’
And then, once we started really developing her and getting invested in it, it started to become a matter of, ‘Why kill her at all?’ ‘Why introduce her at the beginning of the pilot and kill her at the end of the pilot?’ ‘Why introduce her in the pilot and kill her in episode four?’ This is a great character.”
And so Forbes (“The Killing,” “True Blood”) was cast as Retro Girl.
“It became important to me. I felt that the immortal, eternally youthful version of the character in the comic book was, for me, less relatable, and less useful for telling a certain kind of story about the burdens of celebrity and the burdens of power of her time,” said Huston. “I thought that would be more interesting if we had an actress who’s actually been around and lived a life, as opposed to a 25-year-old who would have had a much harder time bringing that kind of gravitas to the world and who visually would be telling that story to the audience.”
Why it took so long to get this show made
It’s taken about 15 years since “Powers” inception as a graphic novel to be adapted into a series.
From the outside, it sounds like a series that got stuck in development hell. Huston doesn’t see it that way.
“To me, it’s less a story of development hell, and less a story of why can’t this get done, and more an indication of how compelling the book is and how everybody understood there’s something really strong and important here … something worth pursuing and worth sticking with no matter what the obstacles have been,” said Huston. “Brian and I have both said, there’s not necessarily a person or approach that really cracked this for us.”
Huston doesn’t credit the change in the pilot episode alone in helping “Powers” to finally make its way to screen. He says the ubiquity of comic book characters today help an enormous amount in knowing this is the right time to release the series which takes an alternate look at superhero lives.
“To a large extent, what happened was, popular culture caught up with the book,” says Huston.
“Superheroes became such a dominate force in the popular culture that all of this basic superhero 101 that a general audience needs to have for you to be able to riff on what a superhero is, and play games with the idea of what it would be like to live in that world as opposed to just telling stories that are really focused on the superheroes themselves,” he added. ” To be able to tell those stories, you need an audience that matured a bit in the genre and now we have it. So, as much as anything, it may just be the project needed ten years for the popular culture to catch up with how cool it is.”
You can watch the first full episode of “Powers” below:
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