Supergirl producers and star Melissa Benoist reveal how their heroine stands apart

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Oct 25, 2015, 7:52 PM EDT (Updated)

Supergirl is ready to swoop onto TV screens on Monday, Oct. 26 (8:30 ET/PT), on CBS, with actress Melissa Benoist wearing the cape enthusiastically. That word alone -- enthusiastic -- is a departure from most of the existing superhero shows, in which angst and darkness are often the prevailing tone. Yet Supergirl is the antithesis of that model, with Benoist playing Kara Danvers as a Millennial-era woman ready to embrace her Kryptonian ancestry and powers after a decade of pretending to be a normal earthling.

In a recent call with journalists, executive producers Greg Berlanti, Ali Adler, Andrew Kreisberg and Melissa Benoist gathered to explain why Supergirl is forging its own path as the positive and hopeful alternative of the current slate of television superhero shows.

Supergirl is inherently a great role model character, but is maintaining that as important as making this series a good action show?

Melissa Benoist: I guess how I approach it every day is as long as Kara and Supergirl are enjoying themselves and finding the joy in being a hero and the joy in using her powers, finally, after so long, that everything stems from that. I always keep in mind her bravery, her hope, her positivity and her strength. I think it will be hard for girls not to look up to that.

Greg Berlanti: One thing that I would add that Melissa can't say about herself, is now having worked with her for a few months, for any little girls, we would want them all to grow up like Melissa. She's such a delight to work with from top to bottom. She exemplifies grace under pressure. In some ways, and I mean this seriously, as we've moved ahead writing Kara, we've just tried to capture what is special about Melissa. She personifies the qualities of the character.

In the pilot, Kara's publishing empire boss, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), has a very pointed speech about using the term "girl." How did that come into the narrative?

Berlanti: That speech was in the original pitch for the show. One thing I have found is sometimes the temptation is there by executives to alter things that are part of the DNA of what was so great about the comic book. We really wanted to be protective of the name of the show. We wanted to have a conversation with our characters that we believed our audience may be having and a few others might be having in terms of, she's an adult woman, why isn't she called Superwoman? That was the origin of it. It was pretty much always in existence.

Do you feel any burden keeping up the female empowerment elements of the character?

Benoist: I don't think of it as a burden, but an asset. I don't focus on it too much, because I just want people to have fun watching the show and enjoy Kara's journey as much as I do playing it. Truly, to me it doesn't matter that she's a girl, because she kicks some serious ass. In my day-to-day life, women are the majority, and we outnumber the men in my family by far. All of the women in my family are superheroes of mine. Growing up, Judy Garland was a hero, and Rosemary Clooney, as I watched a lot of old movies with my grandma.

Will there be a central villain to Season 1?

Andrew Kreisberg: We always have a traditional Big Bad for the season, a sort of über-villain setting the plans in motion. But just like the other shows, there will also be villains of the week. The pilot sets up the idea that there is an alien prison from Krypton that crash-landed on Earth, and all those prisoners escaped. We are going to be meeting some of those alien villains. There will also be some human villains. We have announced that the Toyman is going to be appearing on the show. Additionally, we have some major Kryptonians who are going to be the Big Bads for the season.

Since Kara is almost invincible, will Kryptonite be her main vulnerability and how to do keep that fresh?

Kreisberg:  I think it is a little bit of a collective mistake that kryptonite is the only thing that can hurt a Kryptonian. In the comic books and, especially, other adaptation, specifically the Superman animated series, we see that Superman, himself, can be hurt by a lot more than kryptonite. On this show, we've show that fighting certain aliens -- she fights Livewire, who has electrical powers and enough electricity to stop Supergirl's heart. There are other things on the show that are beyond just kryptonite. Again, on the old series, unless you had a rock of kryptonite, it was pretty much lights out for the bad guys. We certainly don't want that. We always want to feel as if our hero is in jeopardy.

Melissa, what Supergirl comics did you read in preparation for production?

Benoist: I read some of the New 52 but what I love about what [the writers] have created is that I truly feel we are making the modern, 2016 version of her so I wanted to know the world but I wanted  to separate myself from it to make her my own.

Will Supergirl have a lot of control of her powers in Season 1?

Berlanti: I think our collective gut is that she is at the beginning of her journey. Even the stuff that she thinks she knows will come into question. Not just about her powers, but her backstory and where she comes from. So, there is always a bit of mystery around that, her origins and just around what her capacities are.


Kara already has some strong support in her sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) and Metropolis transplant Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks). Will her allies eventually work together to form a team of sorts?

Ali Adler: I think something that separates Superman from Supergirl is that he is autonomous. He flies in Metropolis by himself. Something we are really proud of is that our episode two is titled, "Stronger Together." It really is maybe not just about a woman that is more readily able to accept help, but Kara really embracing that and getting that help from her sister, and Hank (David Harewood) and other forces at CatCo.

Kreisberg:  I think one of the fun things about the show in the beginning is she does have very differentiated parts of her world. She has the DEO [Department of Extranormal Operations]  led by Hank and where her sister works at, where she works as an unofficial agent of the DEO as Supergirl. But she also has Jimmy Olsen and Winn (Jeremy Jordan) and, whether she realizes it or not, Cat at  CatCo in her day life. Part of the fun of the show is she is keeping these things very separate. As the show moves forward, they start to bleed into one another and you get the fun complications of the people who consider themselves the professional alien hunters having to deal with what they consider to be the civilian amateur alien hunter. What is great about the show is everybody has something to contribute, everybody has value, and everyone is constantly learning from each other. Kara learns very different things from these worlds. With the DEO, her sister and Hank, she learns to hone her powers and become an even better superhero, but from her friends at Cat Co, she learns the importance of being Kara Danvers, being a woman and being a human being, and staying ground and tied to the people, she is sworn to protect.

Will you be adding other female characters for Kara to bond with?

Adler: Absolutely. We talk about her relationship with Cat Grant as a very important woman of power in her life. Ultimately, Cat Grant is a superhero too, as is her sister a superhero. But Cat in the pilot is the voice of wisdom, whether she says it in a kind way or not.  She is always inspiring Supergirl to achieve higher heights. That is an amazing female relationship as well.

Berlanti: She is also going to become friends with Lucy Wayne, played by Jenna Dewan Tatum, who comes to the show as a former love interest of Jimmy's to add some complications. Part of the fun of it is Kara being the nicest person in the world, Lucy really likes her. The two of them have some adventures together.

The pace of the pilot is incredibly fast and action-packed. Is that the goal for the entire season?

Kreisberg:  We are intending to keep up that pace. We don't know another way to do it. At any given moment there's a feature film on the Avengers or the Dark Knight or Man of Steel or Thor so you can get your kicks from this stuff anywhere. You really have to provide something special and singular every week to keep people entertained. We produce a Supergirl movie every week.

Adler: It's not  Relaxedgirl. It's Supergirl. (Laughs)

Do you think the hopeful nature of this show will resonate with viewers more accustomed to dark superhero stories like Arrow or Gotham?

Kreisberg:  Superman has always more than a hero but inspiration and a beacon of hope and something to aspire to. We're certainly guilty of putting a very dark hero on television in Arrow. But there is something about Supergirl that represents the light and hope and goodness in people. It's important for our times and our world and so tied into the character. There's a tendency to not embrace what things are and you do that at your peril, so we've embraced that and not only Melissa but the show itself can be an inspiration.

Supergirl moves to its regular time period (8/9 PM EST) on November 2.