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Supergirl boss: 'It's not about male or female, it’s just about empowerment'

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CBS

Supergirl is set to take flight on CBS this fall.

Arriving two decades after Superman, Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) was adopted into a human family (Helen Slater and Dean Cain play her foster parents — Easter egg alert!), and grew up keeping her powers under wraps — unlike her famous cousin, who has already fulfilled his destiny by sporting the cape. Kara comes of age working for media magnate Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) alongside her new friend/potential love interest James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) before deciding to embrace her own superhero side.

Want the skinny on the new series? Pick up Entertainment Weekly’s Comic-Con issue for the latest or read below to get the scoop from executive producer Ali Adler:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How close are you staying to the comics?

ALI ADLER: We absolutely are inspired by the incredible canon and the history that’s come before us. We have villains that we can use and we intend to use it as much as we can, while still being inspired and making her our own. She’s a modern superhero and embraces her powers as well as her insecurities in order to be a successful one.

Are you pulling from the new 52s or older arcs?

I think the answer is both. In our partnership with DC, we absolutely are inspired by certain super villains and some arcs, but we’re really reinventing it and trying to find stories that we really relate to. We’re not bound to the history, but we are inspired by it.

Arrow stayed grounded in reality, while The Flash incorporated metahumans and superpowers. But now Supergirl is going full on alien. How do you keep this show grounded?

Supergirl herself is a full-on alien. We embrace that. She comes from Krypton, just like he did. As we embrace other opponents for her, naturally we gravitate toward the species.

What’s going to make Kara a relatable superhero?

Very quickly, we’ll forget that she’s anything more than a very special woman. She’s got all the powers that we do, but if we’re doing our jobs properly, you’re seeing yourself in her. She has the same troubles. We start taking for granted her superpowers. They just become one with her.

We’re not quite seeing Kara learn her powers in the pilot. Is that something you plan to explore via flashbacks or will we actually see her discover more of her powers as she goes?

The answer is both. We’ll absolutely see some flashbacks of her discovering them, because she was 12 years old when she landed here, and she didn’t have these powers on Krypton. Kal-El came here as an infant. He didn’t know himself on Krypton. Kara hasn’t used these powers very much or very well, certainly not to the extent that she’s going to be a hero as she started in the pilot. There will definitely be a learning curve at the beginning of the season.

How much will we actually see Superman on the series?

Our prototype is the way the president is seen on Veep. It’s certainly [inspired by] so much of what Julia-Louis Dreyfus’ character goes through. Ultimately, this is a show about Supergirl and we really want to see it through her lens.

CBS is definitely more of a procedural network, so what’s the balance like between having standalone episodes and including some overarching mythology?

We’re figuring out the alchemy now. So much of it is about guiding this woman as she goes through her every day life inspired by her work life, inspired by her partnership with the DEO, the Department of Extra-normal Operations. The DEO certainly has a procedural component. We absolutely want to embrace not the rom-com, but the romance and comedy of life. Hopefully, if we’re doing our jobs, we’re making people laugh and feel.

What is the DEO’s main goal?

The Department of Extra-normal Operations, like the way the CIA discovers what they discover, this is a clandestine organization designed to uncover alien life on earth, but they’re not sanctioned in any way. It’s a covert operation and Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) is the director.

The DEO uses Kryptonite to bring Kara down in the pilot. Because Superman has been around for a while, her weaknesses are pretty much already known. How much more dangerous is this world for her because of that?

I wouldn’t assume that the world knows anything about Kryptonite. We do because we know Superman, but in our world, that’s a new idea that the DEO has researched. It’s even more so [dangerous]. We’re going to explore emotionally and physically what Supergirl’s weaknesses are. To assume she’s impervious to all things is to overestimate her.

It turns out that Kara’s sister, Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), is working with the DEO. How will that cause a rift between Kara and her sister?

This is the first time that Kara is looking at her sister in a different light. She did not know that she was a member of this clandestine organization. Of course that brings conflict, but in ways, Alex has been keeping her sister’s secrets for years. We absolutely debut them on the same page.

Alex Danvers is not a character from the comics. What should we know about her?

Alex is Alex. She’s not necessarily Alexandra. What you should know about her is she’s worked her entire life to be as strong, as successful and accomplished. She’s kind of grown up in her sister’s shadow. She’s had to work the way that Supergirl has grown up in Superman’s shadow, the way that we all have someone who we’re trying to prove so much to in our lives. She’s both been inspired by Kara and has often felt in conflict about how much she’s had to do in order to just be recognized for her own self worth and her own worth.

Is there anything you can tell us about the overarching mythology or big villain?

She faces her greatest fears in the first season. Emotionally, she is absolutely facing the scariest villain she can possibly face.

How much are you going to use this show as a message of female empowerment?

We intend less to use it as a platform as to show what’s obviously true. Half the population is this gender and this woman is very strong and very incredible. We intend to show that. It’s not about male or female, it’s just about empowerment.

Would you say Supergirl is a feminist?

It’s showing it and not telling it. We’d love her to just be a hero in all situations, and that she’s incidentally female, of course we’re going to be inspired by that.   

Executive producer Greg Berlanti has said before that Arrow and The Flash live within the same universe. Are you already planning a major crossover?

I can’t comment on that really. It’s an easier conversation when you’re on the same network. We just want to really debut her and platform her and her strength. In success, we hope to explore all possibilities.

What’s one thing you want fans to know about Supergirl in advance of the show?

We’re so lucky to have Melissa Benoist as our superhero. In real life she’s an inspiration and she’s just added so much dimension and a vulnerability to a character who is perceived as invincible.

Supergirl premieres Monday, Oct. 26 at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS.