I recall looking forward to watching Birds of Prey on the WB, as not only was it considered a super hero(ine) show, akin to other TV shows (Smallville) or movies (X-Men film series, Superman Returns, Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman film series, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, Green Lantern) of my invested personal interest, but also featured an a strong female lead.
According to Comics Alliance‘s article, “‘Birds of Prey’ TV Rewatch, Episode 1: ‘Pilot’“:
In the long ago year of 2002, the WB debuted a live-action television drama based on DC’s Batman family of comic books, past and present. Entitled Birds of Prey, it focused on Batgirl-turned-Oracle Barbara Gordon, and Batman and Catwoman‘s vigilante daughter The Huntress, working together to defend the streets of New Gotham after The Dark Knight abandoned the city under mysterious circumstances. It was the first live-action Batman TV show since the 1966-68 series, and an early example of the modern comic book superhero TV show. Too early, really.
The show lasted just one 13-episode season, and never gained the sort of rabid fan following of other one-season wonders like Firefly. What was the problem? Looking back from the summer of 2016, one can’t help but assume it was a show before its time.
TV today is positively rife with superhero-inspired shows, many of them based on DC Comics, including Gotham on Fox, the CW shows Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl, and the upcoming Krypton. So it’s weird to think that a show starring Barbara Gordon, set in Gotham City, and featuring various Batman characters around the edges, only lasted as long as, say, Constantine or The Cape, when Arrow is on its fifth season and The Flash has Vibe and Firestorm helping Barry Allen combat the likes of The Clock King, Golden Glider and The Bug-Eyed Bandit.
Was Birds of Prey a good show that hit at the wrong time, or was it really a bad show that only deserved 13 episodes?
Additionally, according to the Comic Book Movie article, “DO YOU REMEMBER? The WB’s Failed “Birds of Prey” TV Series“:
In 2000, Warner Brother execs expressed an interest in doing a live action television series based on their held DC Comics properties. If rumor serves correctly, the first character they had in mind was Batman/Bruce Wayne. The series was going to explore the early days of Bruce Wayne in his travels around the world to train his body and his mind. However, Warner Brothers opted to go with a reboot in the movie franchise instead, handing the reigns to Christopher Nolan, who gave us “Batman Begins, “The Dark Knight”, and the soon to come “The Dark Knight Rises”. Once Batman was put off limits, the next character choice was Superman. Al Gough and Miles Miller developed for the WB a drama series that would feature a young Clark Kent dealing with adolescence and emerging super powers and it premiered in October of 2001. As we all know, that series was highly successful and ran for 10 years, becoming the longest running U.S. sci-fi television series in history.
By 2002, Smallville had already broken a record with the amount of viewers for its pilot episode and was getting consistantly high ratings with teens and young adults. In the fall of 2002, Smallville was starting its second season and the fan support continued. Seeing the huge success from this series, the WB decided to try their hand at another DC Comics property: The Birds of Prey.
Developed for television by Laeta Kalogridis, “Birds of Prey” featured the characters Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Oracle, Dinah Lance, and Helena Kyle, a.k.a. Huntress and aired on Wednesdays at 9 pm/8 C. The series took place in New Gotham, 7 years into the future. The pilot opens a couple of years in the past, on the night Batman and Batgirl had just thwarted one of the Joker’s schemes. While walking home, Selina Kyle/Catwoman was stabbed, leaving her daughter, Helena craddling her lifeless body. After hearing of Selina’s murder on the tv, Barbara goes to rush to Helena’s aid, but is shot by the Joker before she can get out of her apartment. Like in the comics, this gunshot paralyzes Barbara from the waist down, confining her to a wheel chair for the rest of her days. It is after this that Batman/Bruce Wayne leaves Gotham City without a trace.
Seven years into the future, we see that Barbara Gordon has become Oracle and monitors the entire city from The Watchtower through a high-tech security system. Helena Kyle has become Huntress and uses the aid of Oracle in her fight against the criminals of New Gotham. I guess this is where everything starts to go wrong with the series. Helena is not Helena Bertinelli (the way we all know her in the comics). She is Helena Kyle, the daughter of Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne. To make the continuity even worse: In this series, Helena is a meta human with super human reflexes, agility, and speed, allowing her to leap large distances in single bounds and perform inhuman acrobatics. In the comics, she cannot do this and is completely human.
The next character we meet is Dinah Lance, better known to the comic world as Black Canary. In this series, she is a few years younger than Helena and has no previous combat experience, nor does she have her canary cry. Instead, the writers gave her a precognitive ability and other extra-sensory abilities.
The main plot in this series consists of Huntress, Oracle, and Dinah working together to stop meta human criminals in New Gotham, while having a strained relationship with GCPD detective Reese. This was clearly meant to draw in the female crowds with the relationship drama that was and still is one of the big story platforms in a WB television show.
Obviously, this series was not executed properly at all. It only last for a 13 episode run. The pilot episode drew in a record amount of viewers, but due to the poor production and story quality, viewership dropped like 15 ton weight and sank beneath the waves into relative obscurity. I feel that had the series been more of a direct interpretation of the comic book counterpart, this series may have stood a chance. Producers and executives made the mistake of making it too much of a girl-power, emotional drama that it just couldn’t flow properly. Not to mention the fact that all the facts and character origins were SO badly changed and misconstrued that they got away from the purpose and meaning of these characters.
If movies like Batman Begins, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Smallville can teach movie/tv execs anything it’s that these comic books have existed for so long for a reason!! The characters are already great the way they are. All you have to do is dress up the actors, put them on a set, and create stories for movies/episodes around those character persoanlities. Don’t change their powers. Don’t change their origins. Don’t change who they are because you seem to think you know a better way to interpret them because you’ve been a fan for 5 minutes. I’ve been reading comics for 19 years and I can admit that I probably can’t make a tv show or movie that will please everybody, but at least I could say that I was true to the characters in the comics.
If ever you get the chance and really want to see proof that there are worse live action DC Comics properties than Halle Berry’s “Catwoman”, then buy or download “Birds of Prey”. It’s only 13 episodes and will really help you appreciate the Nolan movies even more, and may even get you guys to love watching the Schumacher Batman movies (I can’t promise that last part).
Finally, according to World of Entertainment‘s blog post, “Retro Review: “Birds of Prey”“:
As The Dark Knight Rises stormed its way through the theaters this summer, I found myself re-watching some of the previous Batman films such as Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), Batman & Robin (1997), Batman Begins (2005), and The Dark Knight (2008). During this time I found myself debating whether or not I should watch the short lived television series Birds of Prey, which ran from 2002-2003 on The WB Television Network for 13 episodes. Ironically enough, this year marks 10 years since the show first hit the airwaves, making this a perfect retrospective review.
The show was created by Laeta Kalogridis (screenwriter of Alexander and Shutter Island) and based itself off the DC Comics series. After Batman (played briefly by Bruce Thomas) vanishes, he leaves New Gotham City in a vulnerable state. In the absence of the Dark Knight, who better to take over the family business than Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott). Helena, a.k.a. Huntress, is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. She works with Batgirl/Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer), who was forced to hang up the cowl after she was paralyzed by The Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill; portrayed on screen by Roger Stoneburner). She reinvents herself as Oracle, working out of a high tech base located in the Gotham Clock Tower. They are soon joined by a teenager named Dinah Redmond (Rachel Skarsten), a runaway who seeks out Helena and Barbara and eventually joins the group known as the Birds of Prey. Dinah, born Dinah Lance (aka Black Canary), is the daughter of the original Black Canary. They are assisted by the former butler of Bruce Wayne: Alfred Pennyworth (portrayed by Ian Abercrombie, famous for portraying Elaine’s Boss, Mr. Pitt, on Seinfeld).Together, they fight crime to protect New Gotham City. Also among the main cast was a new character, Detective Jesse Reese (Shemar Moore) and Helena’s psychiatrist, Dr. Harleen Quinzel, a.k.a. Harley Quinn (Mia Sara).
The series followed a villain of the week format, specifically villains who were metahuman. For those unfamiliar with the term, metahumans are individuals who are born with powers that cannot be explained. Helena is half metahuman; her mother, Selena Kyle (Maggie Baird), was metahuman while her father, Bruce Wayne, was a normal human. Dinah Redmond, also metahuman, possesses abilities that are just beginning to emerge. With the help of Oracle and Huntress, Dinah trains to become the hero her mother once was and make a name for herself.