The Idea For Smallville Came From A Rejected Batman Prequel Pitch From Tim McCanlies

If you were watching television between 2001 and 2011, at some point you probably either watched or at least stumbled across "Smallville." The episodic adventures of a young Clark Kent, who was destined to become Superman, "Smallville" was a teen soap opera/monster-of-the-week TV ratings bonanza for The WB (which eventually became The CW), and for a whole decade, it was one of the network's signature shows.

Unlike previous Superman live-action shows, however, "Smallville" eventually went out of its way to incorporate other heroes and villains from the comics, creating its own sprawling universe. Over the course of the series familiar costumed crime fighters like Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna, Dr. Fate, and Hawkman — to name a few — teamed up with the fledgling superhero.

And yet over the course of the show, despite a series of amusing references and teases, "Smallville" never introduced Bruce Wayne, the Batman, in the series. And that's pretty danged funny since "Smallville" actually started out as a backdoor pilot pitch for a "Bruce Wayne" TV show.

Before Batman Begins began

Superhero movies were just starting to boom in the early 2000s, and even though Batman was one of the most famous characters in the world, "Batman & Robin" had effectively killed off the film franchise. The time would soon come for a reboot with Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins," which rewrote the character's origin story and focused on his first attempts to fight crime dressed up as a giant Chiroptera.

But years before "Batman Begins" hit theaters, screenwriter Tim McCanlies — who wrote the screenplay for Brad Bird's animated classic, "The Iron Giant" — was pitching a similar idea for a TV series called "Bruce Wayne."

"There's a lot of similarities [to 'Batman Begins']," Tim McCanlies told Mandatory. "We were sort of drawing on some of the same subject matter but the comics usually were panel three, Bruce as a kid is over his dead parents. Then there's a shot of him mixing test tubes in college, and then he's in the costume."

"So I wanted to explore that whole five or six-year thing and it became a big deal at Warner Brothers because they kept wanting to get movies mounted at the time. Darren Aronofsky was going to try to do 'Batman: Year One.'" Unfortunately for McCanlies, Warner Bros. was so committed to bringing Batman back to the big screen that a live-action TV series was a very tough sell, even though the screenwriter says networks were interested. "Suddenly it came down to Alan Horn," McCanlies recalled. "Lorenzo DiBonaventura was the vice president of Warners and I had done five things with him including 'Iron Giant.' He was sort of my guy over there and yet he really screwed up my TV thing saying, 'No, it's a features thing.' I still give him s*** over that."

When Bruce met Clark...

According to Tim McCanlies, it was his own pitch for the "Bruce Wayne" television series that inspired the creation of "Smallville," even though "Bruce Wayne" itself never got made."'Smallville" sort of came as a result of my thing," McCanlies said. "'Smallville' was sort of a long story and I'm under a little bit of a nondisclosure agreement with Warner Brothers because of various things. 'Smallville' started out as a backdoor pilot in the 'Bruce Wayne' bible."

For anyone unfamiliar, a series bible is a compendium of characters, storylines, and pitches for future episodes of a series. The bible for "Smallville," for example, would likely have had biographies for Clark Kent, Lana Lang, Lex Luthor, and all the other major supporting characters, as well as concepts for ongoing storylines, standalone episodes, supervillains, and superhero team-ups. According to McCanlies, his pitch bible included "an episode called 'Smallville' where a young Clark Kent comes to Gotham City. It's like a newspaper convention and Bruce tries to get rid of him and lose him and he can't. Everywhere he turns, Clark's right there."

"The idea was always to do a 'Smallville' pilot," McCanlies explained.

Thinking 'Small'

Unfortunately, the plans for Tim McCanlies' versions of both the Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent TV shows fell apart, because of old-fashioned creative differences. "Warner Brothers and I disagreed on what direction it should go and so they paid me off, handsomely, and went off and did their own," McCanlies said. We may never know what Tim McCanlies would have done with the TV series "Smallville," but at the very least he told us what he wouldn't have done.

"I guess I can say this much. I told them what 'Smallville' should not be is a 'Dawson's Creek' esque 23-year-old underwear models preening and pretending to be high school sophomores and who's sleeping with whom. And they said, 'That's exactly what we want to do.'" And that's exactly what they did. But there was one idea McCanlies had that did, in a roundabout way, wind up in "Smallville," a.k.a. the Superman series that didn't show Clark Kent becoming Superman until the very last episode. "They kept saying, 'No, you can't have Batman,'" McCanlies recalled. "I kept saying, 'Well, I'm not doing Batman. I'm doing Bruce Wayne. You don't see the costume until the last show of the seventh season.'"

Hey ... at least we eventually got "Gotham," right?