Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, AKA The Green Arrow.

Courtesy The CW

Team Arrow

Courtesy The CW

Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak

Courtesy The CW

Caity Lotz and Katie Cassidy as Sara and Laurel Lance

Courtesy The CW

Wendy Mericle

Chris Frawley / © 2015 Warner Brothers Entertainment
Fill 1
Fill 1
November 06, 2015
Online Originals

On Target: Wendy Mericle talks Arrow Season Four

Arrow EP Wendy Mericle aims to make DC Comics' hero The Green Arrow his own man in an ever changing universe.

David M. Gutiérrez

The fourth year of most long-running shows is typically when a television series can hit its stride.

The cast has gelled. The characters have endeared themselves to viewers. The writing staff finds new and bold directions for the series. In short, it’s when the fun really starts.

Wendy Mericle, the Executive Producer of the CW’s Arrow, is entering new territory as she and Arrow’s cast and crew chart a new and different course for the Emerald Archer.

Arrow based on the DC Comics character, is the story of former billionaire-playboy turned crusading vigilante, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), and his quest to save and protect the people of Star City as the Green Arrow.

Aiding him are his tech-maven/genius strategist girlfriend, Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), fellow vigilante, the Black Canary (Katie Cassidy), his sister, Thea (Willa Holland), and John Diggle (David Ramsey), ex-military pointman. 

Now, with a new costume, modified codename, and a newfound happiness, Queen and company face a threat unlike any other they’ve encountered, a dangerous new enemy, Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough). Additionally, the team must overcome internal secrets, a major betrayal, and an upcoming death.

Firstly, congratulations on making it to a fourth season. What are some of the challenges you and the rest of the Arrow staff have encountered in mapping out the fourth season?

One of the basic challenges is making the show feel different while making it feel the same and keeping true to the characters and world we’ve created. The big challenge is taking this universe and spinning it in a new direction. 

One of the ways we’ve done that is by changing the tone, just a little bit. We’ve done that by mirroring where the main character, Oliver Queen, is coming from. He’s with Felicity Smoak, happier now, and in a relationship.

We’ve kind of closed the door on the first three seasons, which were more oriented to his experiences of his past on the island and in dealing with his PTSD from the five years he was gone [from Starling City].

We’re now at a place in what we call a “soft reboot: of the show and are trying to reinvent the show a little bit. Since it is the fourth season, you need to do that keep it interesting for ourselves and for the audience.

What about some of the luxuries of making it this far? Are you able to explore the characters’ relationships more? Are you able to use more of a shorthand?

There is definitely a shorthand between the characters – especially between Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity. There’s a lot of history to play on, and there are a lot of places you can go within scenes that can speak to previous episodes and experiences with the characters that help to give the scenes dimension.

We’re reinventing the show in some ways, but we do have a very strong foundation that the show is built upon. And, by the same token, we’re allowed to go to places we haven’t gone to before.

That’s really fun, like having Oliver crack jokes in the lair gives it a different tone; letting him have a more optimistic outlook on his mission and his humanity has been really fun.

And another really fun part has been being able to bring in other characters from the DC Universe. This season we were able to get John Constantine on the show. And that’s something I don’t think we could have done in seasons one or two.

His appearance is a byproduct of [Constantine] only being on NBC for a year. The only silver lining of that was getting to have John Constantine in our show.

While we’re on the topic of other characters from the DC Universe, the season premiere had a scene in a bar that took place in Coast City. In that bar was a guy wearing a bomber jacket with the name “Jordan” stitched on. Was that the Green Lantern, Hal Jordan?

It is a nod to Hal Jordan. Hal Jordan is in Coast City. It’s so funny because when we were at Comic-Con, that was the question of the day – “Is [John] Diggle Hal Jordan? Is Diggle’s brother going to be somehow involved with the Green Lantern?

Or how [is the show] incorporating this character?” And the truth is, that character is way too big. [Hal Jordan’s] in the feature film’s world. We’re going to be able to play around with it, but we’re not going to be seeing Hal Jordan on the show.

We were recently introduced to Curtis Holt, who in the comics is Michael Holt/Mr. Terrific. What have the audience reactions been to Curtis?

It’s been very positive. I think a lot of that is due to our luck in casting Echo Kellum in the role. He’s absolutely amazing. He can do anything . He can do action, he can do comedy, he can do drama.

He’s an amazing, versatile actor. He’s an absolute joy to work with on the set and we love to write for him. We feel very lucky to have him. The fans have been responding very positively.

If it were up to you, and you could see any character from the DC Universe appear on Arrow, who would it be?

There are a couple of characters I really love. I don’t know if they would ever fit in the Arrow universe, but, obviously, Wonder Woman would be a very cool character to bring into it. She is obviously part of the DC World and very tied up in features right now.

The other character that I am just a big fan of is Raven from Teen Titans. She’s very dark, very interesting.

I’m a huge fan of Teen Titans Go! It might sound strange, but it’s one of my favorite DC shows. I just think Raven is an interesting character who would be worthy of being on Arrow or of having her own series.

Every season thus far has had its own thematic arc that stretches over the season. Is this season’s major theme secrecy and its repercussions? And how do you keep that consistent over the year?

We always say the show’s stock in trade is secrets and their repercussions. I would say that’s something for the whole series.

For this season, what we’re really trying to focus on is the idea of family and what that blood family means versus a found family, how does Oliver see himself within his relationship with Felicity and with this sister, Thea, but also within his Team Arrow family.

What we tend to do is have big broad thematics for every season, and then we break every season down into seven episode arcs and talk about what the scenes are for those mini-arcs within the bigger picture.

This season is really about the idea of family, not just for Oliver, but also for Diggle, and solving the mystery of his brother’s murder. And there’s also Felicity dealing with her mom and possibly also her father.

On the topic of family, we also have Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), one of the main villains who happens to be the father of Oliver’s sister, Thea, and was the father of Oliver’s late best friend, Tommy.  Will we see Merlyn’s evolution as a father?

The contrast between Tommy and Thea is an interesting one. I think he’s not someone who loved or embraced his role as a father or understood what it meant when Tommy  was alive. And I think Merlyn learned his lesson from that and is trying to rectify his mistakes with Thea.

That said, he really is a bad guy, a super-villain on our show, and not someone who is going to do the right thing. And this season, we are trying to explore how he has evolved as a father. We’re going to see him actually make some very positive decisions with respect to Thea this season.

But at the same time, we’re going to see him go to a much darker place by the end of the year. It’s that contrast and tension between those two parts of his life we’re very excited for.

Since Oliver Queen/Green Arrow exists on your show and in his own monthly comic with a mythology of its own, how do you regard the character’s use in other media? Are you cautious about borrowing from his current and past comic adventures? For example, this year in Arrow, Oliver is running for mayor, something he did in the comics.

It’s a combination. We know the comic books and have people on our staff that are very steeped in the comic book mythology, and we like to do homages and honor the mythology the show is based upon, but at the same time we want the show to be its own entity and to appeal to people who don’t know the backstory of Oliver Queen, who might not know he ran for mayor in the comic books.

Especially, for someone like me, I come from the angle of someone who doesn’t know the comic books as well as a lot of the fans do. It’s a tough something to strike sometimes, but as showrunners, Mark [Guggenhiem] and I really strive to make the stories appeal to those who know that backstory and those who do not.

With that said, the mythology of DC Comics and Green Arrow is very rich and goes back a long way. We hope to honor that as much as possible without stealing from that. We like to take ideas  and characters and put Arrow’s spin on them and make the our own.

With The Flash on the air and with a second spin-off, Legends of Tomorrow forthcoming, how are you tonally distinguishing Arrow from its sister shows? If The Flash is steeped in classic science fiction, is Arrow more along the lines of ‘50s pulp/noir with hints of mysticism?

Arrow sort of started it all and we are trying to maintain that tone of the show and the elements that make it different from the other two.

That said, the introduction of the Flash really did change the course of Arrow from how the show was conceived by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg.

It was rooted in the idea that there would be no super powers. It was very inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the gritty, grounded nature of those movies.

Then along comes the Flash, and suddenly we have Central City, crossover episodes, and are in a universe where metahumans exist. It’s been one of those things where we have to be very careful and very conscious of how we calibrate those characters and how we bring them into our universe.

People may not notice, but when we do introduce metahumans on the show, we try to bring in the ones that are more grounded and that speak more to the Arrow-verse than the ones The Flash are allowed to do. We are rooted in much more grounded world and try to keep it that way as much as we can.

What are the unique challenges of writing for Arrow?

This show has been very challenging on the staff in the sense that it has a little bit of everything. It’s one of those shows that’s not  easy to pigeonhole because we do dramatic storylines , we have some humor, so it helps to know how to write a joke.

We have a lot of action and have procedural elements every week. I would say just writing this type of show and breaking stories makes you a better writer because you have to become a jack-of-all-trades. It doesn’t allow you to become the master of one.

You can’t rely on one strength when you’re writing this show. You have to have a full range of abilities. Everyone [on the writing staff] is able to do all four of these  things and bring those to an episode. As a writer, it’s exciting. You get to learn new things, push yourself, and challenge yourself in ways you might not on a more straightforward show.

Let’s talk about your writing process. What makes a script a “Wendy Mericle” script?

The stories that I like to break are the ones that have very strong emotional underpinnings. One of the things that I wanted to do when I came on the show in an Executive Producer capacity was to make sure that the emotional storylines were really there, and I wanted to bring them to the fore and to explore the relationships in equal parts to the action.

That’s something I feel I bring to the show and try to mine as a writer. Those are also the scenes I enjoy writing the most. The scenes between Oliver and Felicity, the scenes between Oliver and Diggle, especially since those relationships have been around since the beginning of the show and are so rooted with so much water under those bridges. I do enjoy writing those.

Is there a piece of professional writing advice you wish you had received starting out?

From my perspective, having been out [in Los Angeles], having worked as an assistant, and having made my way up the ladder,  the advice I’d give is you can’t give up. It sounds very trite and clichéd to say that. But it really is a marathon. It’s not a sprint.

When you start out as an assistant, and you’re in with a group of people all trying to do the same thing, some people will have success very quickly and early. For some, it takes longer. Some people are just doing a steady climb.

It’s dangerous to compare yourself to others, but it’s inevitable because you’re all competitive, and you all want that staff job and to climb the ladder to become an executive producer or get your own show. It’s just important to remember to stay in the game and not walk away.

It’s about finding your voice [as a writer] and your people, and being loyal to the people who understand what you’re trying to say or write.

Was there a television show that helped you make the decision to become a TV writer?

There were two, West Wing and Northern Exposure

Northern Exposure was on the air earlier than West Wing, but I grew up without television, so I didn’t see it until it was already off the air. I loved that show.

And West Wing was another one that hit me on all the levels. I thought it was an amazing series.

No TV? That’s probably an extremely unique experience for a showrunner. Is that difficult in the writers’ room - especially given how pop culture has become its own shorthand?

My parents took the TV away when I was five. They said I had to go play outside and read books.

Absolutely, [it’s a challenge]. It still is. It’s one of those weird things where people will reference things. My co-showrunner, Marc, who knows television from the 80s, knows every show like the back of his hand, will quote them, knows the theme songs, and has an incredible encyclopedic brain for those sort of things.

I know movies pretty well from that era as we were able to occasionally go to the theater and even rent movies. It is a very strange thing to be able to say to people I’ve never seen an entire episode of The Cosby Show, or that I have no idea [what they mean] when they make jokes about Family Ties.

There’s no baseline for me. But I do have a strong background in literature, in film, and that has served me well. Over time, I’ve tried to watch at least one episode of everything I’ve missed so I can have some sense of it.

Is there a character on Arrow you prefer writing?

 love writing for all of the characters, but would have to say Diggle is probably my favorite to write for. He is the moral compass of the show and gets into the more philosophical questions and the ethical issues that Oliver faces.

I like that he’s strong voice  with a strong point of view, and one that I think I agree with in a lot of ways. He also served in the military and has a very interesting world view I find intriguing. I like writing to that.

What’s your favorite Arrow episode thus far?

I have a favorite flashback story in “Seeing Red”. It’s also one of my favorite episodes. It’s unfortunately the episode where Moira Queen [Oliver’s mother] was killed.

There’s an amazing backstory where Oliver thinks he’s gotten a girl pregnant, and he doesn’t know it, but his mother has bought the girl off. 

The girl calls him and lies to him, she says she lost the baby even though she didn’t. Moira paid her to leave town and not tell the Oliver the child exists.

Stephen Amell gave this amazing performance, it  was one of the best ones I’ve ever seen on TV. It was so powerful and moving. When he heard the baby had died, he almost cried. It was just very calibrated and beautiful performance. It was so powerful and I loved it.

Finally, are there any hints for what we can expect to see this season?

We’re taking Oliver to some very dark places, even though the season starts out very light. His fight with Damien Dhark is going to force him into one of the more challenging ethical positions he’s been in through recent seasons.

As seen in the season premiere, we’re going to say good-bye to a very prominent character on the show. It’s going to be a tearjerker at the end.

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