SDCC 2015: Supergirl Executive Producer Greg Berlanti Not Worried About Oversaturating the Superhero Genre

Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor-in-Chief

Emertainment got the chance to sit down with Supergirl Executive Producer Greg Berlanti, known for showrunning the majority of the DC superhero shows on television, taking charge of both Arrow and The Flash.

For someone who does so much, it could seem like Berlanti is at risk of doing more of the same. “I think if you make a good show, for what it is, that’s what counts,” Berlanti said, asserting that he doesn’t think there’s potential to oversaturate media with superhero shows. “There’s been so many different types of genres in televisions—cop shows or procedurals for example—. I grew up watching shows in the 70s and 80s and there were great action adventure shows. The shows we’re making are, at the heart, action adventure shows. It’s supposed to be a fun ride and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll find an audience.”

“We try and make everyone different from the other ones,” Berlanti said, expanding. “I always ask ‘What’s this show without super powers?’ In this instance, we have an adult female sibling relationship, we have a sort of workplace comedy, and a young woman trying to find her way in the world and discover what her story is. Then you have aliens in this, which we don’t have in the other shows. We have that pathway into an intergalactic element to the story telling.”

But what specifically makes Supergirl different? Berlanti says that it’s the woman playing Supergirl, Melissa Benoist, that’s a major differentiating factor. “When you’re doing an iconic character, you’re looking for the essence of the character,” Berlanti said. “It’s really the essence and the warmth and strength, which is what I was looking for from Supergirl: someone who represented the best in us and could feel emotionally for. She’s here to protect this world, but not of it. Melissa had all the optimism and hope. Once you find the one, you can’t let them go, and we didn’t.”

There was concern that Supergirl would be going toe-to-toe with Gotham. “There are so many different ways to watch television and there’s so much competition to begin with in TV,” Berlanti said. “You just have to make the best show you can. Gotham makes a great show, but we make a great show too and I think we’ll be okay.”

Supergirl isn’t the only one to fit the narrative of “here to protect this world, but not of it” and Berlanti addressed the elephant in the room throughout the press room as well. “You’ll see some Superman villains, because he exists in the universe,” Berlanti said. As for how they’ll navigate without Superman, Berlanti says the supporting cast fills that role nicely. “In a way, how could Jimmy represent Superman on the show? And he had that essence of James Olson. Like, you can see Jimmy growing up to be that guy. I think Chyler with Alex, we were looking for someone who could have their own show and hold their own opposite of this iconic character. David as Hank Henshaw is also great—he’s stern and intimidating, but there are a lot of fun surprises.”

Still, some fans might be wondering why the ‘big man in blue’ doesn’t just show up to save the day. “Our third episode is about why Superman won’t always show up when he’s needed,” Berlanti revealed to us. But there will be some Superman villains in Supergirl. “You’ll see some Superman villains because he exists in the universe. It’s interesting to bring some of those characters over. And there’ll be a main human foil you’ll be hearing about within the next ten hours and you’ll be hearing about that casting as well.” The foil he’s talking about was revealed to be none other than Peter Facinelli as Maxwell Lord.

In fact, it seems like Berlanti surrounds Supergirl with many would-be villains: Hank Henshaw, who becomes the Cyborg Superman, and Winslow Schott, who becomes the Toyman. “The way we always like to do it is think of it as an origin story for all the characters,” Berlanti said. “We know that in the comics certain characters evolve, but it could take years to get those characters get to that place in the show. What’s fun about that is the show operates on two different levels: people who are familiar with the comics will know where they end up, but it’s also fun for people who don’t and embrace the character as who they are in that moment.”

As the interview rounded out, Berlanti talked about the pressure of doing such an iconic character, especially a female lead. “Every time we challenge ourselves and every time we do something new, there’s always the pressure to remind people why it’s necessary. We don’t want to do things just to do things. It was very much that Supergirl was a different character for us,” Berlanti said. “I didn’t want to get any pressure to change the title. The comic is Supergirl. Networks always ask are they going to play too young because of the name. You wouldn’t rename Batman, so it was important to me to say that and important to justify in the text of the script why that title still works for this show.”

Supergirl premieres on CBS on October 26, 2015.

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