CBS has added “Supergirl,” a series based on the DC Comics character, to its lineup. The question is: Will it fly?
“Supergirl” doesn’t fit the traditional mold of a CBS series. The network – whose viewers on average are older than the planet Krypton – tends to launch the kind of procedural dramas that the core audience loves. That’s why “NCIS” tends to be the highest-rated scripted show on network TV.
Along comes “Supergirl.” Not only is the comic book genre aimed at young viewers, but Supergirl is the youngest of all the heroes fighting crime these days on network, cable or online services.
“Supergirl” executive producer Greg Berlanti knows a thing or two about bringing comic book characters to TV. His “Arrow” and “The Flash” are hits with the CW Network. The key for him has been to imagine the series as if the central character had no superpowers.
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“When we were building, constructing this universe, we added a workplace element because we felt like that hadn’t been represented on a show like this, and an adult sibling relationship,” Berlanti says. “And very often – most often – those are the things that we’re writing toward on the shows that are the emotional dynamics. I think that’s what excites us.”
At the same time, the “Supergirl” makers didn’t want to alienate their core audience of comic book readers, who would not accept Supergirl – or her secret identity of Kara Danvers – if they strayed too far from the original printed stories.
One way that is accomplished is making sure any sequences that feature superpowers or big action scenes are staged as big and as realistically as possible.
The problem was finding someone who could be believable in a workplace setting while able to trade punches with killer aliens. The producers found that someone in Melissa Benoist.
Their problem was finding the right actor who could be believable in a workplace setting while able to trade punches with killer aliens. They found that in Melissa Benoist.
The 27-year-old Colorado native comes to the series with minimal credits. She’s best known for playing Marley Rose on two seasons of “Glee.” One big help for Benoist in playing the role is that she had a lot of dance training when she was growing up. That helped her not only in dealing with the rigors of making the character fly, but also in handling the choreography of fight scenes.
Benoist was the very first person executive producer Andrew Kreisberg saw for the role.
“As soon as we saw her, we just knew she was the one,” Kreisberg says. “She had the strength, the hope, the heart, the humor and just that instant likability, and Peter Roth (chief executive officer of Warner Brothers Television) said after watching her that it’s the closest feeling he’s had since he saw Christopher Reeve.”
Benoist auditioned for the role almost a year ago. As soon as she saw in her email inbox the subject “Supergirl,” she says, she knew automatically that the role was something important, exciting and rare.
The actress knew then that she wanted the role because it has so many elements.
Part of (Supergirl) feels this responsibility to save people and to help people, but I love that she’s a dork.
Actress Melissa Benoist
“Part of (Supergirl) feels this responsibility to save people and to help people, but I love that she’s a dork,” Benoist says.
CBS is banking on these elements to give it a hit with a very different show for the network. The CW Network – the sister company to CBS – looks like it would have been a better fit. It has already had success with “Arrow” and “The Flash” (starring former fellow “Glee” cast member Grant Gustin. Another DC Comics-inspired show, “Legends of Tomorrow,” is set to be a mid-season replacement.
The CW also is airing “iZombie,” another production inspired by a comic.
Mark Pedowitz, president of the CW, says “Supergirl” didn’t wind up on the network because there already was a legion of superheroes there. That left CBS.
Nina Tassler, chairman of CBS Entertainment, opted to pick up the series because the character was so relatable.
“The journey that they were taking the character on, we felt, just spoke to sort of where today’s generation is. We also really responded to the fact that it had a very broad appeal. So we felt that we could have genre fans, but we also felt the relationship of this young woman to the people at work. It was a great workplace comedy,” Tassler says. “And, more importantly, we thought that this was a genre and a franchise that would certainly open up and bring in new viewers, as well as being very appealing to our big CBS fans.”
Geoff Johns, chief creative officer for DC Entertainment, and “Supergirl” executive producers Berlanti, Ali Adler, Andrew Kreisberg and Sarah Schechter have tried to expand the appeal of the show with supporting cast members.
Older viewers have Calista Flockhart, who is playing Kara’s boss. She was the new kid on the block at the end of the 20th century when “Ally McBeal” was hot. The show casting has some diversity as well with Mehcad Brooks cast as Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen.
The actual character of James Olsen is 75 years old. In those days, I think people lived a much more monochromatic existence, and so now I think we’re sort of making up for some of those inequities.
Actor Mehcad Brooks on playing Olsen
“The actual character of James Olsen is 75 years old. In those days, I think people lived a much more monochromatic existence, and so now I think we’re sort of making up for some of those inequities,” Brooks says.
It’s still Benoist who will be doing the heavy lifting, noting that the show’s kryptonite will be low ratings.
“Supergirl” isn’t the first time CBS has turned to a female superhero from the pages of comic books. When ABC opted not to continue with “Wonder Woman” after the initial season in 1975, CBS picked up the series, which starred Linda Carter, and aired it for two more seasons.
It’s been tough for female superheroes to find a place on any TV outlet. NBC tried in 2011 to re-launch a “Wonder Woman” series starring Adrianne Palicki, but the pilot episode was rejected before it aired.
For Marvel Comics-inspired female superheroes, “Agent Carter” is only a mid-season replacement for ABC, while “Jessica Jones” won’t launch on Netflix until November.
The lack of TV shows featuring female superheroes means there haven’t been a lot of role models for young girls. From the very start, Benoist could see the importance of her character in that regard.
“I saw it particularly when crew members would bring their young daughters,” Benoist says. “Seeing their faces and seeing the way they reacted to me as Supergirl as opposed to me as Kara, that was a little bit of a wake-up call.”
She’s using that as motivation to help create a series that she hopes will fill a void for young female viewers. It’s a challenge for any superhero.
- 8:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26, CBS47