Powerless - Season Pilot
Credit: Chris Large/NBC

Come February, NBC will debut DC Comics’ first comedy, Powerless, a workplace series starring Vanessa Hudgens as the new director of R&D at a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises. Does that mean Batman is going to show up? Don’t hold your breath.

“Even if you want to see [Bruce Wayne’s] hands pop into frame, you’d have to go get [Ben] Affleck; you can’t just have anyone’s hands,” executive producer Justin Halpern said at the Television Critics Association’s press tour on Wednesday, explaining that there’s a lot of red tape involved if they want to depict characters that already exist in the film franchises or in the Berlanti-verse shows on The CW.

It’s a fine line the producers have walked in negotiating with DC Entertainment to feature some of its heroes and villains. “Usually they’re very protective of their characters — for good reason. A lot of people invest a lot in these characters,” Halpern says. “We ask for as much as we can get, and we see where we can find a happy medium. Like anything, they wanted to make sure they didn’t think the show was terrible before they let us use stuff.”

Besides getting to use the name Bruce Wayne — the boss at Wayne Security is his cousin, played by Alan Tudyk — the series aims to use DC Comics characters that the casual viewer may not have heard of. “It’s one of those things where there’s a concern that most Americans [don’t know] anything but the Big 5,” Halpern says, referencing Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Green Lantern. “So if we use something that’s not one of those five, there’s a little trepidation.”

That said, the producers plan to introduce other characters and induct new fans into the deeper world of DC. “The idea is that we’re going to pull from the entire canon of the comics,” EP Patrick Schumacker says. “You’re going to see characters you’re familiar with if you are a hardcore comic book fan. A lot of those heroes, I would look them as underdogs.”

The members of the Justice League, which also includes Aquaman and Cyborg, exist in this world, and what they do affects these characters — you just probably won’t see them. “We have some interesting high-concept episodes that we’re working on in the future,” Schumacker says.

In fact, Powerless takes place in an entirely different universe than the events of other DC movies and TV shows. “We don’t treat the films as things that have happened in this world,” Halpern says. To put it simply: The films are one universe, the Berlanti-verse is another, and Powerless lives in its own — but they all fall under DC’s multiverse.

The original concept of the series found Hudgens’ character working as a spunky young insurance adjuster specializing in regular-people coverage against damage caused by the crime-fighting superheroes. But the series changed gears about 15 weeks in, as Schumacker says that angle was not generating the workplace storylines they wanted to be telling. After brainstorming with DC, “We landed on security products,” he said, “because we still wanted to do the idea that they’re working on stuff that will make you or me a little bit safer” while there are demigods running around, causing destruction.

Having the series take place at a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises was purely for name recognition, Schumacker says. “It is ultimately Bruce Wayne’s company, but this takes place in Charm City, a totally made up city for this version of the show,” he says. “We’re saying this takes place on Earth-P.”

Powerless will debut Thursday, Feb. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

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