CBS has yet to cast its Supergirl, but the network gave some tantalizing details about what the network’s entry into the super-hero genre will be like.
Appearing at the Television Critics Association’s semi-annual press tour in Pasadena on Monday, CBS entertainment chairman Nina Tassler was pressed for details about the project — which marks the network’s first entry into the genre since 1990’s short-lived version of The Flash — while critics also wondered why the network swooped in and grabbed the show rather than putting the series on its sister network, the super-hero-stuffed The CW.
First, since Supergirl is on CBS, you can definitely expect the show to be a crime procedural. Yet Tassler emphasized the show will have serialized elements as well. “There will be [crime] cases, but what [executive producers] Ali Adler and Greg Berlanti pitched was a real series arc for her,” she said. “The beauty of it is now with shows like Good Wife and Madam Secretary, you can have serialized story elements woven into a case of the week. She’s a crime solver, so she’s going to have to solve a crime. She’s going to get a bad guy.”
Tassler described the CBS version of the DC Comics icon as “a very strong, independent young woman. She’s coming into her own. She’s dealing with family issues. She’s dealing with work issues. It’s a female empowerment story. If you look at the strong female characters we have on the air, it really is resonant of that … We’re big feminists. It’s her intellect, it’s her skill, it’s her smarts. It’s all of those elements. It’s not just her strength, which she does have.”
CBS has been searching for the perfect actress for several weeks and sources say the network is leaning toward a lesser-known performer for the role. Tassler emphasized the actress has to carry the series. “She’s got to be an every woman,” she said. “She’s got to be specific. She’s got to be a terrific actor. I think back to having had the good fortune of being at Warner Bros. when we were doing Lois & Clark, the chemistry between Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher was really wonderful. So I think in this case, it’s looking for someone who embodies both the freshness and the exuberance of being a young woman in today’s challenging climate and being someone who can carry this kind of series on her shoulders. It’s a big, big show.”
Though there’s no actress announced yet, CBS has a costume design ready to go — one that Tassler was most definitely excited about. “We have seen the costume,” she said. “Awesome costume.” Tassler added that the costume was being made by Oscar winner Colleen Atwood, who also did the costumes for Arrow and The Flash.
And speaking of which, reporters also wanted to know what made the young-ish super-powered character a good fit for CBS — especially when sister-network The CW has made youthful DC heroes a major part of its brand. “I think we’re watching an evolution with regard to the way that superhero characters are portrayed,” Tassler said. “There’s a humanity. They’re flawed. There’s a relatability. For our network right now, what we did respond to was the character’s humanity, the other characters in the show as well — the story trajectory and the character’s arc and growth. These are all things that made her just imminently relatable, and made the story exciting. We made a decision based on the pitch that we heard.”
Earlier during the press tour, The CW’s president Mark Pedowitz was asked if he was dismayed that CBS landed the big title instead of his own network. Not surprisingly, the executive said he was fine with it. “I’m happy for [Warner Bros.] that they were able to sell it to CBS. We were aware of it. We knew about it … You don’t want to become just one thing to everybody. So it’s good to have some diversity, and I’m very happy that they sold it to another network.”
Pedowitz added that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a crossover between his DC titles like Arrow and The Flash.
Superhero titles have exploded on broadcast over the last few years. In addition to The CW shows, ABC has Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Fox is enjoying ratings success with its freshman drama Gotham, while NBC recently launched the struggling Constantine. Yet finding a successful female-fronted title has proved more challenging. NBC crashed with its 2007 Bionic Woman reboot and then its attempt to reimagine Wonder Woman in 2011 died during the development process. ABC launched Agent Carter last week to strong reviews, though the first episode’s ratings were a bit softer than expected.
CBS, meanwhile, tends to struggle whenever it tries to get too outside-the-box with its dramas (remember musical Viva Laughlin or parter-swapping drama Swingtown?). But if CBS can somehow fuse the draw of a superhero show with a crime-solving format, Supergirl could be a formidable hit.
Supergirl has a series commitment but no premiere date yet, but next fall is a good bet.