After all, Batman: The Animated Series used a ton of characters and elements from the comics that nobody in the general, non-comics-reading public had ever heard of before.
Yeah, but it still had Batman and it still used the characters people were familiar with.
Actually many of the characters we're familiar with now made their screen debut in B:TAS -- not just characters created for the show like Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya, but Harvey Bullock, Leslie Thompkins, Mayor Hill, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Ra's al Ghul and Talia, Killer Croc, the Ventriloquist, Rupert Thorne, and a number of others. At the time, they were totally unfamiliar to non-comics audiences. The show made
TV shows based on comics are not made only for people familiar with the comics. That would be pointless, since comics readership is in the tens of thousands at best while TV shows need millions of viewers to survive. It should be taken as read that the show's characters -- even the main heroes and villains -- are going to be unfamiliar to a lot of the target audience. When Smallville
was on the air, I heard stories about viewers who had absolutely no clue that the show had anything to do with Superman. They may have heard of Superman, but the name Clark Kent didn't have any prior meaning to them. So you really can't assume that audience familiarity is important. The goal, as a rule, is to make a show that's accessible to people who aren't
already familiar with the characters, to make it new for them. Every show needs to stand on its own, regardless of its source material.
And considering the last show set in Gotham they tried that didn't have Batman or the usual villains aka Birds of Prey got canceled I don't think the general audience is that invested in the overall world.
That show wasn't drawing on the rich comics material that I'm talking about, but on more of a low-budget approximation of what the Burton and Schumacher movies did. That's completely unrelated to my point, which is about the untapped potential of what the actual comic books
have established about Gotham over the decades -- material that has never been touched by screen adaptations. I've mentioned Gotham Central
several times. Its main character of Crispus Allen has only been adapted for the screen once, in three of the shorts in the Nolanverse Gotham Knight
anime. Its other lead, Renee Montoya, was created for B:TAS, but the version of the character developed in GC and after, who grew far beyond the minor supporting role she had in TAS (including being outed as a lesbian and eventually becoming the Question), has never been seen onscreen. There are no doubt quite a few other characters that could be drawn on, not to mention a great many comics storylines about Gotham's history and culture.
Birds of Prey
's failure wasn't due to its premise. Any premise can be done well or done poorly, and BoP tended toward the latter. It was a pre-Nolan show so it was going for a campy, Burtonesque take on superheroics which was no longer enough for a modern audience. It was saddled with a "secret metahumans" premise in a misguided emulation of Smallville
. It suffered from a bland and totally miscast lead actress as Huntress (though Dina Meyer was one of the best Barbara Gordons ever and Ian Abercrombie was an awesome Alfred), and it was trying too hard to be Charmed
rather than Birds of Prey
. And it suffered from a small budget that gave it a claustrophobic, backlot feel. But there was a lot of potential in the underlying idea of a team keeping Batman's legacy alive after Batman had been broken and gone into retirement. It could
have been done well. The reasons why it failed had nothing to do with what or whom it was about.
It's a false premise to compare Batman: TAS, an animated show on a children's network (however good and with a devoted but small adult fan base) with a live-action show which has to compete with the big boys on a network channel.
No analogy is meant to be exact, and I wasn't offering it to make the point you seem to think I was. The point is what I said above, that B:TAS is an example of a show that made use of many, many characters and storylines that had never been adapted for the screen before and made them work so well that audiences today have forgotten
that they were totally unknown outside of comics before B:TAS. We assume we've always been watching Two-Face and Ivy and Ra's, but the fact is, before 1992, nobody outside of the comics audience had ever seen them. So it's not about what the audience is already familiar with. It's about what ideas exist in the source material that the creators of an adaptation can generate interesting stories from. I'm not talking about the show's chances of success or failure; I'm simply discussing process.