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Steven DeKnight's interview (writer/producer ng Smallville):
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hermione7
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Steven DeKnight's interview (writer/producer ng Smallville):

Steven DeKnight's interview (writer/producer ng Smallville):

Interview by Sana Saleh

DeKnight already indulges in fond reminiscence on his Smallville, Angel, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer experiences but stops himself short of dwelling on inevitable comparisons between the shows. While the three shows share a genre and the heroic rite of passage premise, he says that Buffy and Angel differ mainly from Smallville because they comprised Joss Whedon’s “singular vision” and were representative of shows that had next to no external creative impositions—an ever-present onus on Smallville, which from the outset has a pre-established myth as its foundation.

"By the time I joined Buffy, [Whedon] was already so established that we didn't get network and studio notes so we did whatever we wanted. We had an incredible amount of—we'd have some problems with standards and practices every now and then, usually over blood—but the studio and network gave us an amazing amount of latitude," he says.

Smallville's creative process is inflexible in comparison, bound by network and studio restrictions and, of course, the daunting specter of sixty-plus years of DC Comics mythology.

"Smallville is also much more bound to the actual process of what happens in TV. You have to pitch the show ideas to the studio, network…they give you a bunch of notes, they can kill the idea—though it really didn't happen as often by the time I got to Smallville. There're a lot of notes from a lot people," he explained. "With Whedon-camp it was a unique situation that just doesn't often happen."

While DC gives the Smallville writers a fair amount of freedom with respect to the general content and hijinks occupying the time of young Clark, Lana, Lex and Lois, if not their specific end points, other aspects of the myth are still required to remain static through the times. The greatest amount of creative freedom naturally fell on characters invented solely for the show, like Lionel Luthor and Chloe Sullivan, who were not bound to restrictions. DeKnight seemed most mystified by the minute technicalities and restrictions about which DC Comics routinely obsessed. Such stringency extended to popular comic book guest stars and even mere references to other constellations in the DC universe.

"Every now and then DC would pop up and agitate me. I mean, overall they were great and let us do what we wanted, but it's all these little things. They popped up and said I couldn't call Bart Allen "Flash", I had to call him Impulse. It was a technicality…and it was like, "Alright, but the audience is calling him the Flash anyway. It absolutely doesn't matter," he said.

DeKnight also wrote a scene in the episode Justice where the collection of heroes—the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg—joked about naming the group, throwing out suggestions and DC references like "the Titans", the "Legion of Superheroes", or the "Doom Patrol." Ultimately, all the references had to be removed.

Some restrictions have more to do with publicity issues than rights, especially a rival comic universe is involved.

"There was a Spiderman line that they insisted I take out. Their stance was they didn't want to help the publicity on the Spiderman movie, not that he needs any. My counter was, 'didn't one or two of those Spiderman movies mention Superman?" DeKnight said that had he been sole Executive Producer instead of a Co-Executive Producer, he would have thrown his back into keeping the reference to the rival Marvel Comics superhero, but reluctantly let it go.

Episode approval is subject to surrounding network activity, like casting decisions and coincidentally similar thematic content. DeKnight recounted how they had found the perfect actor to play a recent part, but he was also on neighboring show, Supernatural. "He'd have been on Smallville and Supernatural back to back in the same two hour block, so we couldn't do it,” said DeKnight.

"Episodes are not necessarily killed for creative reasons—we were going do an episode that we had already half broken, where a movie crew comes into Smallville and they were filming a movie version of Warrior Angel and Clark was hired to be the stunt guy. The stunt guy gets killed so Clark is hired to put on the warrior angel outfit and we're trying to get Kevin Smith to come in and be the director in the [episode], because he had expressed interest in being on the show," DeKnight said.

Where it landed in the CW Network's schedule, however, it would have only been one week following an episode where Supernatural explored a movie set theme. DeKnight was particularly enamored with this potential episode and hopes it will find its way into Smallville's schedule next season.

"But overall they were great. They gave us a lot of latitude in terms of reinventing characters," he admits.

And there was indeed plenty to reinvent. Smallville's lifeblood is telling the untold, piecing together the respective pasts of comic icons whose futures are arguably most globally recognizable. And aside from the complicated system of checks and balances that go into writing Superman's rite of passage, the show's tone, according to DeKnight, is simply on a different creative plane than the dark humor of Buffy and Angel.

"Smallville is just a different style, it's much more sincere. Buffy and Angel—we did some wacky, wacky stuff that wouldn't work on Smallville. But I would try to work in a little humor wherever I could, and a particular combination of humor and darkness wherever I could," he said.


Character and Clarity

DeKnight returned to the discussion of his former shows' disparities—of the conclusion being common, built-in knowledge for audience and writing crew alike versus characters unbound to specific endpoints. Was it particularly challenging to be creative within the former situation, or are both formats ultimately just as challenging?

"At the end of the day, if you're a television writer worth your salt, you should be able to step into any show and absorb the tone of thatshow," DeKnight said. "You need to make it yours—but keep it within the context of the voices that have already been set up.”

And this, according to DeKnight, is at once the most enjoyable and challenging aspect of writing in television, regardless of the show, overarching tone, or even genre.

"Generally you'll spend two to three years on a show, and then you'll move somewhere else. So you get a challenge every couple of years. Which is nice."

DeKnight admits to having a soft spot for super-powered mystery shows, with every week posing a similar mysterious set up, but simultaneously new and bizarre challenges that test the heroic mettle of the characters.

"For me it kind of opens up the storytelling. It's not about the super power, but the metaphors you can demonstrate with those powers. Buffy is a great example because it wasn't a monster of the week show. Yet there is a monster every week."

He continued, "But the monsters weren't just there to be monsters. The monsters were there to illuminate our characters. It was about how the monsters or the bizarre situations affected them in a very real and emotional way."

For DeKnight, despite the reliable and arguably predictable set up of the episodes, it was a very characterization-driven process.

"In fact Joss always told me, "Character and Clarity" above all else," DeKnight says, in a way that makes plain it is an ingrained mantra on his creative palette.

He says Smallville was initially a little tricky for him because revealing the characters' cores was not as gradual a process; the show begins automatically with Clark's web of relationships with parents and friends and their steady impact on his growth. "Smallville, at its starting point, is already about the characters and their interactions," he said.

And whereas Buffy is set in a strange and supernatural atmosphere from the outset, Smallville is painted as a picturesque midwestern farm town that is plagued by mutant activity and crises with gradual intensity and increasing frequency. Whereas past depictions of Superman's hometown were of a wholesome town and, later, a temporary haven from adult strife, Smallville in the 21st century is a mere veneer of security and a veritable training ground for his eventful cape-clad years.

"Smallville is really kind of the reverse, this very normal world with strange things happening. Whereas Buffy and Angel, there's this very unusual world with these grounded, emotional characters. They're very hard to compare," DeKnight insists. "They're vaguely in the same genre, in terms of superheroes and unusual things happening, but beyond that they're two completely different approaches."


__________________


That was Clark, the boy raised in Smallville, the man trying to carve a life for himself in Metropolis. A life which the most important element was a vivacious young woman named Lois Lane.

Old Post May 26th, 2007 02:35 PM
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The Cape Casts a Shadow

Accordingly, a new approach to Smallville required a unique approach the Clark Kent character, and this belief certainly seemed to manifest itself in episodes DeKnight penned himself, which featured a craftier, more flawed, more layered Clark Kent despite the bold primary colors comic Clark and television’s Clark shared in terms of attire.

"And Clark is a hard character to write for, I mean, not the voice—but the problem with writing Clark, Superman, is that he is so damn powerful. Sometimes you just have to throw these obstacles in his way," he said.

Unlike the comic books, DeKnight continued, "We can't have him fight a giant robot, or Darkseid, or someone that could give him a run for his money. Every now and then we can do an episode like Combat where someone can give him a run for his money, but it's expensive to do that and we can't do it every single show," DeKnight said. "Clark is really tricky because at any moment he can bring down the house, so you have to maneuver reasons for him not to be able to."

Add to that the cultural permanence of the character, and the emotional attachment of many of the fans who envision their own set of standards within and in spite of the modern and unprecedented complexities the show explores.

The task of writing Clark Kent— a Clark Kent who is still relatable to today's teen and young adult demographic, but retains a strong superman ethical code; who is powerful and viscerally thrilling to watch, yet sensitive, grounded in relationships, and struggling with all the raw emotion young love entails; who is currently relevant, and yet a direct call-back to the boy scout conceived several eras ago—is a perpetual tightrope walk.

DeKnight recounts some of the more incredulous moments he had in the writers' room in attempting to maintain that balance.

"Strangely, I was always the one in the room always yelling: 'He can't kill him! Clark cannot kill that [villain]! There were a couple of skirmishes, particularly in the episode Combat, where originally, story-wise, Clark actually deliberately killed Titan—he basically picked him up and threw him at this big jagged spike coming out of the wall. And I said 'Aah! You can't do that!'"

DeKnight, too, then has his own unshakeable views of Superman's standards and tried to transfer them to the other writers.

"That's what makes Superman different. My argument was always he's not Batman, and it's not exactly self defense there, we can't vague it up; if it was Batman, yes, maybe you can cross that line, but not Superman."

There was also a similar conundrum in the episode Wither, but the debate about that concluding battle ended with a reminder of the nature of the villain.

"We decided 'Well [the villain] is actually a plant, a phantom, not actually a human…and even then he doesn't actually kill it, so…I think we vague-d it enough there."

Still, DeKnight said that as Clark fought more villains, realism would make a mockery of writing each villain a death by their own hand, or easily and swiftly contained by episode end. While writing around the impossible decisions a hero has to make was routine when Clark was a fresh-faced and naïve teen and he was busy with the discovery of each of his superpowers in a bizarre alien puberty of sorts—it seemed creatively shoddy and almost ethically fantastical as the seasons wore on.

In the show's sixth season, DeKnight explained, the writers vowed to pose those impossible challenges for Clark, and have him deliberate over the sobering outcomes. The Phantom Zone criminals, for instance, released in the aftermath of Clark's battle with the popular villain General Zod, were written such that they could not be easily contained by Clark like the Smallville mutants of seasons past. What's more, Clark has yet to adopt a visible and public alter ego who has a mutually respectful partnership with government authorities at this point—adding to the pressure of containing the global threat the phantoms posed ethically and effectively.

This made things interesting for DeKnight.

That's why I really love writing for Clark—even if it can be a little tricky," DeKnight gushed.

DeKnight and the writing crew viewed Clark's pre-dual identity development as ripe ground to explore the questions that would later be less of an issue with an alliance with authorities. Clark is routinely shown trying to save or refusing to kill the show's main villains, Lex and Lionel Luthor, and should a villain actually die, DeKnight liked to write moments of reflection and conflict in the aftermath.

“We had to write that moment in Combat where Clark thinks about Titan’s death,” he says. He tried to keep Clark sensitized in spite of the increasing gravity of his crises, show an uneasiness with death, however unavoidable, and in effect preserve the ethical fiber of the character.

In DeKnight's view, it only helped that Tom Welling grew as an actor right along with his character's development, carrying the series with poise and helping make the increasing darkness of the show a seamless creative progression.

"Tom [Welling] has continually impressed me," said DeKnight. "Every single year he just grows by leaps and bounds. I remember when I directed the tragic episode Ageless—tragic for me I might add, because I just think it was a wretchedly bad piece of work and I have really no one to blame but myself and you learn from your mistakes—but just from that, when I worked with Tom, and with him on Justice a year later—the improvement was just incredible," he marveled.

Aside from glowing commentary about his talent, DeKnight could not say enough about Welling's professionalism. "He's a guy that just really, really strives to do his best and learn as much as he can. A lot of shows, when you get to the sixth season, your main star can be a problem. But Tom is never a problem. He's a great leader, a great guy. Everything that you’d hope Tom Welling would be, he's that times a hundred."

DeKnight could not help but quip about Welling's physical suitability for playing young Superman.

"Also…Tom's actually bigger than he looks on television. He's a big, big man. I need [to stand on] a few boxes myself when I'm talking to him. Doing the Justice League episode was hysterical because it was me and Kyle [Gallner], who played Flash—we just looked at each other, a couple skinny short guys surrounded by these guys that were huge, going 'This sucks,'" he joked.


__________________


That was Clark, the boy raised in Smallville, the man trying to carve a life for himself in Metropolis. A life which the most important element was a vivacious young woman named Lois Lane.

Old Post May 26th, 2007 02:36 PM
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hermione7
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A Tangled Web and a Trio for the Ages

Calling Smallville's character relationships "complicated" would be an understatement. Perhaps the most complicated of them all is the relationship between Clark Kent and Lex Luthor.

Returning to the topic of villainy, DeKnight pondered whether Clark Kent ever would permanently give up on his former best friend, and the now actively menacing villain, Lex Luthor. Couple the history between the two with the Clark's steadfast hope and it becomes a complex relationship to write once deteriorated. DeKnight said there was only so much Lex could do before Clark could remain in denial about his former friend; when the young Luthor's machinations and Clark's fight against them called for active enmity.

"This year we pushed it much further, much closer to the mythology—Clark finally recognizes that Lex is a serious threat," DeKnight said, on Clark learning of Lex’s secret laboratories and mutant prisoners. “I don't imagine that they'll ever become buddy-buddy again. Though I think… maybe there might be some cold war truces."

DeKnight thinks that even in the show's relationship dynamics, making the seemingly impossible possible—if only for a moment—is where the series tends to excel. He immediately refers to the episode Nemesis, where Clark and Lex are caught in a deadly explosion and cave-in and must save each other to make it out alive. As much an emotional test as it is a fight for survival, the cave-in forces them to confront the decay of their friendship and their individual failures to preserve it. DeKnight hopes the series will continue to explore that which is unsaid between the two of characters, to tap into their history despite the escalating enmity.

"To me the most interesting thing that would be next season, is that there's some situation where Clark and Lex are forced to work together, to stop some mutual threat." While he said it has yet to be discussed in the writers room, "It's been bandied about a lot in my head."

It comes as no surprise, then, that the Clark Kent and Lex Luthor relationship is his favorite to write.

"Hands down, for me it's the Clark and Lex relationship. I'm a comics guy, so it’s all about the Clark and Lex stuff—which I'm sorry there wasn't a lot of this year. I just love their interaction because Smallville built them as friends. There was one point where Lex comments to Clark that he's like the brother he never had, that he's so happy to have Clark in his life. That's what makes the show interesting for me," he said.

What gives the show its unique pathos is the mutual affection the future enemies shared once upon a time and, rather than write the same unsympathetic and cartoony buffoon of past incarnations of the bald villain, the unprecedented insight into Lex Luthor's psyche and gradual downfall.

"We know where Clark going, we know his back-story, raised by the Kents, last son of a dead planet—but the really cool twist is to be able to see the rise of the villain and what made him a villain. And all those times where you think he's so close to being a good guy…” DeKnight trails off. “And Michael [Rosenbaum] just plays it brilliantly."

"It's such an iconic kind of story," DeKnight says, musing about the tragedy of the deepest hate borne of the deepest affection, and allowing Superman to witness the actual person behind his arch-nemesis.

To further ratchet up the iconic caliber of the show, the writers emphasize parallels between Clark, Lex, and Lois, making their destinies that much more entwined. They are written with similar personality ticks—fierce obstinacy, emotional avoidance, and a will of steel. The writers sew the struggles of the three characters with the same thematic threads; misunderstood by others and ill fitting in their environments, having run-ins with authority and interruptions in schooling, and the trio can certainly swap war stories about the tyrannical father figures in their lives.

"We basically draw, Lois especially, a lot from various mythologies," said DeKnight. The fusion is christened with their own unique vision. "Lois is from the myth of being very strong, classically pig-headed, and taking her father, Sam Lane, straight from the comic books. With Lex it was a little different because Lionel was created for the show. For Clark, problems with Jor-El I believe Al [Gough] and Miles [Millar] pulled together… and it all just match up nicely," he said.

His tangent from there about Superman canon betrays his view of fan complaints on the topic.

"And the thing about the superman canon—and it always makes me twitch when fans yell 'that's not canon!'—is there are so, so many variations of the Superman legend. Some of them are horrible, some of them are great, some of them frankly I've never heard of—and we take a little bit from here, little bit from there, and stitch together what we need."

DeKnight's arrival in the fourth season coincided with the show's introduction of Lois Lane. To DeKnight, Lois is a prime example of unique and modern vision melded from the best of classic mythology, without falling into the trap of writing her at her final endpoint and robbing her of the same explorative journey as a young Clark and Lex. As DeKnight searched for his creative niche his first season on board Smallville, he guided the creative process of the writers collectively searching for Lois' "voice" on an already established set of characters.

In Lois, DeKnight found occasional respite from the overwhelming seriousness of the show, a loud and colorful addition to a terminally intense ensemble of teenagers.

"Lois is such a cool character to write for because, basically, when I write Lois I dip into my Buffy and Angel brain. She's just that kind of character. She's irreverent, and she's flippant with a heart," he said.

Still, the writers tried to ground that indomitable free spirit once the character took root in Smallville. After two years they decided it was time to show Lois' romantic side, without sacrificing her fierce independence and steadfast refusal to have her happiness hinge on a male—even if he happened to be a hero figure with whom she is enamored. In heavy handed foreshadowing to her future relationship with Superman, she fell in love with the visiting Oliver Queen, secretly the Green Arrow. The call of duty eventually summoned Queen away, and Lois, unaware of his secret identity, tearfully informed him she would not wait for him to return.

"When we got to Justice, we did this big emotional break up with Oliver Queen, and I was a little bit concerned because I hadn't seen her do anything like that before,” DeKnight admitted. This was a first for both the character and actress.


“I was also a little concerned about Justin [Hartley] too, because I hadn't seen him bring on the depth of his character. It was such a pleasant surprise, they both showed up on set so ready to do the scene and Erica was just phenomenal, just phenomenally into it. She was amazing. She showed up on set with tears in her eyes and I'm thinking 'This is great!'"

DeKnight liked it because it highlighted vulnerabilities Lois rarely betrays to others.

"It allowed us to show a more human side of Lois, that often times we kind of breezed around, making her maybe a little light. It was still the same Lois, but with hurt and real emotion behind it all.”

One early concern of the writers was that, while they were finally cleared by DC Comics to actually use Lois Lane , they had to avoid strains of characterization overlap with her cousin, Chloe Sullivan, who was aspiring to professional journalism from the start of the show. The writers kept this concern in mind according to DeKnight, but overall did not regard it as too much of a challenge. Lois, after all, had not latched on to her future career upon arrival.

"Originally there was some concern about duplication of character. I know some online fans complained that Lois is going to steal Chloe's thunder. And there was some conspiracy theory that Lois is going to die and Chloe take her identity."


__________________


That was Clark, the boy raised in Smallville, the man trying to carve a life for himself in Metropolis. A life which the most important element was a vivacious young woman named Lois Lane.

Old Post May 26th, 2007 02:38 PM
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Gender: Female
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DeKnight dismissed such "conspiracies", illuming some of the reasoning behind their ease with featuring two aspiring female reporters.

"It's like 'Wait a minute, now Clark's also going to become a journalist and that doesn't step on Chloe," he said, pointing out that besides Clark—who has yet to actively aspire toward the profession—there are countless journalists, and different types at that.

"I understand the concerns that her cousin is already a journalist." But just as Clark's end point is a cape and alter ego as a means to his heroic end, however, "Lois has to slowly figure it all out, too," her own means to effecting change in her world.

DeKnight continues, "And Lois approaches it from a completely different perspective. She's very much the classic, shoot from the hip, get-into-trouble Lois." He said that the writers gradually wrote a deliberate contrast between style and ethics and overall approach between the two budding journalists and cousins.

"We wanted to distinguish between how the two of them go about it. What we were doing was important because we didn't want both of them doing the same thing." As such, Lois is written as having her characteristic penchant for undercover investigative work and Chloe is written as a computer-oriented researcher; Lois initially vocalized cynicism about reporters and Chloe has unbridled enthusiasm about it from the outset.

And when finally in the bullpen herself, Lois shown killing a story that would be spun tastelessly by her tabloid's editor, in contrast to many similar stories Chloe had written and run with nary a pause for concern. DeKnight cites this scene, in the episode Reunion, as one of the subtly defining moments for Lois, laying the groundwork for eventual realizations about her craft and how she wants to pursue it. "There were ethics starting poking up right there...in that scene. We're definitely trying to distinguish between the two styles."

"And we deliberately started Lois out at a tabloid, getting her feet wet there, and then towards the end of the season she really starts to try to get into more serious journalism. But first we definitely want to distinguish between them and their styles."

Besides talking about the journalistic considerations going into writing Lois—even the introduction of her interest was a call back to guest star and future boss Perry White’s strange experience with Clark’s malfunctioning abilities—DeKnight segued into the matters of the heart between the comics’ most famous romantic duo.

We've also run up against this issue, where, obviously Clark and Lois end up together. But it's something we can only hint at in the TV show because there are restrictions with the features department. But the hinting at is most of the fun anyway,” he said, adding that all other relationships on the show have nearly exhausted the tension.
“And this year, every so often you see an interest between the two, a little jealousy, a little glimmer of something going on there that neither one will admit to. The classic thing being Crimson, where under the influence of Red Kryptonite, Lois makes Clark the Whitesnake mix tape."

The writers were all heartbroken that they could not afford to put a Whitesnake's song in the episode. They enjoy how much color they are can to add to this duo.

But what of the thought process around the most prominent relationship the show—the Clark and Lana relationship? One-time sweethearts and lovers, but ultimately star-crossed, the two can neither stay together, nor completely let go, leading to an interminable wait for fans anticipating either outcome.

"The writers are always conflicted about this," DeKnight says. On the one hand, Clark's love for Lana humanizes him, and on the other hand, the writers want to gradually move him along.

"I've always said early on, that the Clark, Lex, and Lana relationship dynamics, to me were what the show was built on. I know a lot of people complain about this, but this from the beginning what the show was built on—human relationships and love."

“I think the Clark and Lana relationship has to progress, there has to be roadblocks, things going wrong…but at the end of the day they're always going to love each other," DeKnight said, citing Clark's steadfast affection for Lana in the mythology.

"Even when he's moved on…he'll always have that spot for her in his heart. We all know they can't end up together," he said, but they can still regard each other as the first loves do.

DeKnight hopes the writing crew will show Lana filling her mythological shoes as Clark's confidante. "I would assume that's the natural progression since obviously now she knows his secret." Despite the difficulty of exploring a full blown romance—DeKnight thinks the revelation will open new avenues for the relationship.

The one possible issue is Lana's apparent death in the season Finale. On the potential characters deaths in the finale, DeKnight was free only to say that "at the beginning of every season we talk about killing somebody. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't.”

He admits that it is obvious they cannot kill Clark, Lex, Lana or Lois.

“Obviously you can't kill your leads. Everyone else, to some extent is always open. Lionel is always open, Martha despite DC wrangling is always open, Chloe is always open. There have been many and various people on the chopping block."

That ultimate decision is not for DeKnight to dwell on too extensively, however. At the moment his hands are full and, as always, imagination on overdrive as he maps out his next few projects and envisions the day his own dream show is on the air.


__________________


That was Clark, the boy raised in Smallville, the man trying to carve a life for himself in Metropolis. A life which the most important element was a vivacious young woman named Lois Lane.

Old Post May 26th, 2007 02:38 PM
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Jaeh
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okay.. sorry, i didn't really read all that, will get back to it, but.. why, 'writer/producer ng smallville?' don't get me wrong dude, just asking..


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Old Post May 27th, 2007 05:06 AM
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hermione7
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ok dude.. sorry bout that.. its writer/producer of Smallville..

info: Steven de Knight will not be back or will not direct any episodes in season 7..


__________________


That was Clark, the boy raised in Smallville, the man trying to carve a life for himself in Metropolis. A life which the most important element was a vivacious young woman named Lois Lane.

Old Post May 27th, 2007 02:37 PM
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Amazon
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quote:
“I think the Clark and Lana relationship has to progress, there has to be roadblocks, things going wrong…but at the end of the day they're always going to love each other," DeKnight said, citing Clark's steadfast affection for Lana in the mythology.

So it's his fault we have the crappy relationship between Clark and Lana. Geezzz maybe now that he's gone we can get some real relationships going instead of the bull we've been getting so far.


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Old Post May 27th, 2007 03:22 PM
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