Commentary: Comic Adaptations And The Outdated Pilot System

by Frank Martin

It’s very difficult when a current system of doing things tries to apply itself to something wildly different. In terms of television and storytelling, this means seeing the pilot system of cable and network TV trying to adapt comic book stories. Comics are often written in long-game format. That means the first issue would not be produced unless the creative team was planning on seeing the arc through to the end. The same can’t be said for television. Executives will often green light a pilot — a single first episode — before deciding if it’s worth ordering a full season of the show. But if the show is planning on delivering on its stories in future episodes, that pilot might not give a good accounting of the story as a whole.

So instead, writers and producers will try and gear their pilots into being as attractive to executives as possible. This means trying to cram as many characters and opening plot lines into the premier episode as they can. This is not how comic book stories are supposed to operate, and so the adaptation may fall flat. Preacher does this a lot as many of the comic’s later details are shoved into its first season.

Instead, comic adaptations are much better suited to streaming and premium services. In these instances, whole seasons of a show are ordered rather than just a pilot. With the freedom of knowing they have multiple episodes to work with, writers can pace a story arc to fit much more in line with how the source material plays out. That’s not to say that a comic book adaptation can’t work in the pilot system. It’s just that producers have to be careful with what properties they’re adapting. Some comics are perfectly fine working an issue at a time. A pilot for something like that would be perfect for adaptation. But more executives and producers need to take a look at the comic books they are adapting before trying to make it fit into a system it wasn’t designed for.

Preacher is now streaming on Hulu.

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