With Arrow and The Flash firing on all cylinders this season and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow coming in just a couple of months, it would have been easy enough for Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg to limit their scope to The CW.
Instead, they took on Supergirl, arguably the most ambitious project yet if only because it involves a number of touchy elements — including Superman. So far, it’s been a big hit, with one of the biggest premieres of the season and a two-week drop-off that’s comparable to the losses in the first week of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a big hit for rival ABC by any measure.
Kreisberg joined us to talk about the series, its challenges, and what they’re doing to make it different from both expectations…and their own, previous successes.
Supergirl airs tonight at 8 p.m., when Helen Slater and Brit Morgan will guest star in an episode titled “Livewire.”
You guys have had Superman onscreen. Even in the limited capacity that you can do that, that’s pretty huge. Who makes those calls? Is that Geoff, or Diane, or somebody else?
There really isn’t anything we’ve asked for that was not given to us, you know? The show’s call Supergirl and it’s about Supergirl. It’s not like we’ve been jonesing to have Superman on it.
We also didn’t want to…you know, if you’re going to cast Superman, you’ve got cast Superman right! Just like when yout hink about all the time and effort and energy that’s gone into finding the cinematic Superman over the last thirty years.
For us, Superman is more of an idea than it is a personification of the character, so we’re more than happy to have him backlit. We’re perfectly happy to have him swoop in, save Kara in Episode Three, becuase the real heart of the story is that she then kicks Reactron’s butt. She’s the one that takes him down, and that’s what much more important for us.
So it’s not like we’ve been asking for more Superman or can we do it like this or can we have him in this. For us, we’re perfectly happy with the amount of Superman that we’ve had because it’s the exact amount that we’ve asked for.
It’s interesting to look at who’s coming from where, because there are a fair number of Superman characters, but most of the really big roles are filled by Supergirl characters from the Gates and Igle run so far. Are there a few specific runs you’ve ben looking at for inspiration?
As always, we kind of look at the totality of the work. I mean, we read Supergirl comics from the ’50s and the ’60s where all she was is man crazy. There’s even bits we’ve cherry-picked from the movie. Just like with Arrow and just like The Flash, Arrow isn’t a direct adaptation of The Longbow Hunters and The Flash isn’t a direct adaptation of Rebirth. We sort of cherry pick parts from every era and throw them into the grinder with our own ideas, and what comes out is what you see.
Obviously Sterling’s run and his love for the character really shines through from us and there are certainly parts that came from there. But if you look, you’ll see there’s just as much Donner Superman in there as there is Sterling’s Supergirl run.
You know, when you mention that era, I have to ask: is there any temptation to try and take the villain from that or take some of the elements of that movie? Like it or not, that movie was probably seen by more people than any single Supergirl story before or since.
Right. Yeah, look, that’s partially why we had Helen on the show as Eliza Danvers. We’re always incredibly conscious of what’s come before us. Between Greg and I and now Ali, we consider ourselves blessed that we get to be the stewards for this leg of these characters’ journeys. We don’t feel a sense of proprietariness to these characters; we know we have them on loan. so having nods to the past — casting John Wesley Shipp on The Flash and having Amanda Pays on and really even having Matt Ryan on Arrow is always paying back what’s come before.
So having Helen Slater and having Dean Cain — because honestly that Supergirl movie obviously has its many flaws but when I was a kid, I didn’t realize those flaws as much and I used to watch it all the time. I watched Lois and Clark. Having a sense of history I think has been part of our success. I think it’s said to the fans out there that we are fans, and we really are. There’s a couple of shout-outs to the Supergirl movie coming up that I think the fans are going to be excited about.
My favorite Supergirl is the Matrix Supergirl, and Peter David’s run. Have you ever thought about how you might incorporate elements of that into the show?
We sort of have our own mythology. We have Astra and her plan for domination. I think that’s probably something we will hold off on. But as always, these things bleed in in different ways. The Linda Danvers identity is not part of our show; we’re keeping her Kara. You’re going to see emotional aspects of that run in our show, but it will be in a slightly different package.
I don’t know how much you pay attention to the fan theories online. The current thing is a lot of people thinking Hank Henshaw is Martian Manhunter. Have you heard of this?
I think we’re borrowing a page out of our own playbook with the way we treated Tom Cavanagh’s character. We had somebody where you weren’t sure who they were and people started to speculate. There were early fan theories that Tom was actually Barry from the future. I think it’s fun for people to try to guess at some of these surprises. Obviously we don’t want to give spoilers away but I think speculating on that stuff is part of the fun of being a fan. Certainly none of us here are interested in taking that away from people.
As a fan, do you still get to read? Supergirl premiered right at the same time Superman: Lois and Clark was reintroducing Hank Henshaw.
Yeah. I mean, actually it’s really tough. Obviously I get access to all the DC Comics. It’s this weird Catch-22 where I have more comics than I know what to do with, but I also have more work than I know what to do with. So it’s hard for me to really sit down and catch up on things.
Geoff being such a good friend of mine, I always try to sit down and read anything that he wrote, and I was really digging on his Superman run that he did with John Romita, Jr., who’s one of my favorite illustrators. So I really loved the whole Man of Tomorrow run. I thought that was a great storyline and there’s a little shout-out in an upcoming episode to one of the themes in that run.
I read Arkham Manor, which I really liked. It was so clever and different, and the artist, Shawn Crystal, did a really nice job. But that’s really where I am right now. It’s hard for me to keep up with the weeklies.
Are you guys conscious of how your characters — Reverse Flash, Henshaw, stuff like that — are being used in the books?
We don’t get involved. No one has ever told us to do or not do something. In the past, DC has asked us if we had an opportunity to use a certain character, they would love to see them on the shows because they were trying to raise their profile. If we found a story for them, we were all happy to oblige.
The truth of the matter is, I think that people would love to believe there’s this antagonism between us and DC but the fact is, they’ve opened up their playbook to us in ways that we’d never imagined and certainly never thought of when we were starting Arrow and it was just Oliver Queen. Now there’s this universe with four different shows and a bunch of different characters and we really are excited with all of the ones we get to do.
We certainly check out the comics — especially Green Arrow and The Flash, but it’s more like, is there a cool idea in there? Is there a cool name? Do they introduce some businessman that we can introduce on the show? Again, we always try to introduce this crazy melange of including something from The Longbow Hunters or from Kevin Smith’s run, or including something from a more recent run. We want it to feel like it belongs to the entirety of Green Arrow, and the entirety of The Flash. Now we’re getting the opportunity to draw from the entirety of Supergirl’s comic book adventures. There’s always one little bit that somebody loves from some era.
With Supergirl in particular, is the plan to take your time before introducing any other potential other heroes, or did The Flash embolden you to go a little crazy?
I think the one thing that The Flash taught us, that we were certainly a little more cautious of in the beginning with Arrow is to really embrace what this thing is. The Flash is The Flash. As Geoff Johns said to me once, “This is the most DC DC thing that there’s ever been.” It’s got time travel and the Reverse Flash and Grodd and Captain Cold. It is the comic book come to life, and we didn’t learn that lesson as early on on Arrow. Once we had Deathstroke on in the second season, we started to embrace that. With Supergirl, once we had the success that we’ve had on The Flash, we just kind of have done the same thing. That’s why we’ve had the Hellgrammite and we’ve had Reactron and we’ve had Maxwell Lord and we have Red Tornado coming up. It’s as much the world of Supergirl come to life as there possibly could be. I think that’s more what’s been servicing us.
I think as far as having other heroes on the show, we have plans for stuff like that and people will have to sort of see how that stuff unfolds, but we’re packing Supergirl with the same level of fealty and alchemy that we did The Flash.
With your previous shows, there was a lot of mystery and build-up for the antagonist. What went into the decision to not only reveal Astra right away but to reveal her to Kara right away?
Part of it was to do something different. Part of it too was that as we were developing this series we were also working on Arrow and having Neal McDonogh’s character — he plays Damien Darhk — just sort of come out of the gate and go to town was very exciting for us and so we brought that over. We’re trying to be conscious of not doing the same thing over and over again and it’s always been the way that we go that we kind of hear glimpses of the bad guy and they’re kind of out there, but they don’t have their first encounter until the midseason finale. We just wanted to have something different.
It just made the show, for us, in the second episode instead of just having villain of the week, having villain of the week working for the big bad and bringing that to the forefront in a big way. We just thought that was exciting.