Television Pilots: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

Television Pilots
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
Created by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg and Phil Klemmer.
Pilot, Part 1 written by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg and Phil Klemmer
Broadcast on The CW
Television Pilots is a new feature taking a look at recent series premiers and de constructs how they’re written as pilot episodes for future story lines. It should be noted that these aren’t reviews, but will feature them, and is instead written for academic purposes.

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Television Pilots
DC's Legends of Tomorrow
Created by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg and Phil Klemmer.
Pilot, Part 1 written by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg and Phil Klemmer
Broadcast on The CW

Television Pilots is a new feature taking a look at recent series premiers and de constructs how they’re written as pilot episodes for future story lines. It should be noted that these aren’t reviews, but will feature them, and is instead written for academic purposes.


DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is the fifth television series in the “Arrowverse” – a shared television continuity consisting of Arrow and its spin-off series The FlashVixen and Constantine – featuring an ensemble cast based on those series’ supporting characters and allowing them to come in to their own. The key to getting the pilot episode right for something like DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is for it to not forget how simple it needs to be. A pilot episode tells your audience, “This is what the series is about” and should do no more than that. Television allows story tellers to map-out narratives over time, so not becoming self-indulged in its own context is vital. And the way to test whether DC’s Legends of Tomorrow successfully pilots itself is by whether understanding it requires knowledge of the other “Arrowverse” series. (The term “Arrowverse” as first used officially by Guggenheim in a promotional video for Vixen‘s pilot (CW Seed, 2015).)

Arrow protagonist Queen makes an appearance, but not in a way that implies the audience need to recognise Queen. Within the context of continuity, Queen’s presented as a supporting character: the right move. The time-travel narrative also means the characters are bound by parallel events of other Arrowverse series, ensuring that nothing’s lost to the audience. However, what is more interesting is the narrative choices made during this premier episode. For instance, the child killed by Hath-Set in the pre-credits sequence is revealed to be Hunter’s son. There’s an argument to be made that revealing this twist early was important to make Hunter’s motivations more believable, which the audience need in order to follow Hunter as an empathetic character, but the wisdom behind this narrative choice can only answered by future episodes’ ability to create equal twists. If that is what becomes of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, its pilot episode will have been effective emotionally. But at this stage, it’s impossible to say whether the writing team have prematurely blown one of their most important pieces of story; an ambiguity which extends to the further revelation that Hunter isn’t in fact a Time Master at all, but a mere rogue. In television, these kind of reveals are what make finales worth the wait, which only makes whatever that will be even more anticipated given the plot points that have already been used. Another potential issue that will only be resolved by future ratings was the opening exposition. The uncommon possibilities DC’s Legends of Tomorrow‘s pilot entailed meant the series could begin from any character’s focal point. But the inherent problem therein is which character should be given that privilege. Instead, new character Hunter starts the episode by explaining the story of Savage, before introducing the concept of the Time Masters, the framing device that will allow DC’s Legends of Tomorrow to even happen. For a first episode, exposition is always required but feared – too little of it will fail to sell a concept, but too much of it will alienate its audience by giving the impression that background exposition is a regular feature. Followers of Arrowverse will notice how Hunter’s narration is similar in tone to Arrow‘s opening narration from Queen (‘Green Arrow’, 2015), which Allen then adapted for himself for The Flash (‘Flash of two Worlds’, 2015).

Providing clunky exposition always risks making the audience feel as if they’re starting a story half-way-through – the opposite purpose of a pilot episode. But the way the pilot for a concept such as this was executed is also another exciting point of discussion: how do we establish to the audience what the Legends of Tomorrow are? Saunders and Hall were introduced in The Flash (‘Fast Enough’, 2015) so as not to confuse long-term Arrowverse viewers of who they are; so Saunders and Hall could’ve been the audience surrogates for a narrative joining the pre-established Legends of Tomorrow, before explaining each member’s origin later.

But the route taken is to drop the team origin story as a single episode, in-which each member is introduced and brought-together by a catalysis character, that being Hunter. The nature of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow as a spin-off meant that some characters had already met – Mick Rory was last seen in The Flash (‘Rogue Time’, 2015), Palmer is revealed to have been tutored by Stein (Stein just doesn’t remember), while Stein also refers to meeting Snart, despite this having not been chronicled on-screen, while Palmer, Saunders and Hall have already met Hath-Set during a two-part Arrow/The Flash crossover (‘Legends of Today’, 2015) (‘Legends of Yesterday’, 2015) event that was written with the purpose of setting-up DC’s Legends of Tomorrow in the first place.

Ultimately, the pilot of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow balances the continuity of its source material for new audiences by downplaying the gimmick of it, while still leaving room for the wider Arrowverse audience to fill-in the gaps on the elements that don’t matter. While I can’t speak for what others thought, I can provide this academic criticism (Mims 2016):

The beginning of the pilot was quite messy at times. Things were rushed too quickly to get to the main action. Rip Hunter goes on a brief montage to assemble the heroes and they’re already on their first mission within 10 or so minutes of the show. The show also brings the danger of having an already established cast originating from other shows. These characters will have to present themselves anew for a brand new audience that haven’t watched “Arrow” or “The Flash.” As an avid watcher of both shows, I can say that “Legends of Tomorrow” does a fair job of introducing these characters to new people, but will desperately need to flesh them out more in the future.

(‘Pilot, Part 1’, 2016)

References cited

(2015) ‘Fast Enough’ The Flash, Season 1, episode 23, The CW, 19 May.

(2015) ‘Flash of two Worlds’ The Flash, Season 2, episode 2, The CW, 6th October.

(2015) ‘Green Arrow’ Arrow, Season 4, episode 1, The CW, 7 October.

(2015) ‘Legends of Today’ The Flash, Season 2, episode 8, The CW, 1 December.

(2015) ‘Legends of Yesterday’ Arrow, Season 4, episode 8, The CW, 2 December.

(2015) ‘Rogue Time’ The Flash, Season 1, episode 16, The CW, 24 March.

(2016) ‘Pilot, Part 1’ DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Season 1, episode 1, The CW, 21 January.

Christal Mims. (2016). Legends of Tomorrow, episode 1. Available: http://www.highlandernews.org/22370/legends-of-tomorrow-episode-1/. Last accessed 10th March 2016.

CW Seed, (2015). Vixen | Series Premiere Featurette | CW Seed. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1GOM-kNjq8 [Accessed 11 Mar. 2016].

Author: the Purple Prose Mage

I'm not Batman, but I wish that I were.

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