After some initial skepticism from select comic book fans, Supergirl is quickly becoming one of fall 2015’s most anticipated series. A girl-powered teaser trailer made some industry insiders question whether CBS was merely trying to replicate the success of CW’s DC shows with a female hero on a different network but early reactions to the Supergirl pilot episode have been mostly favorable. In the months since CBS pre-released the premiere, ahead of its network debut on October 26, 2015, the cast and crew have helped iron out a few lingering PR wrinkles – especially worries that Supergirl would rely on melodrama, rather than layered characters, to woo casual TV viewers.
In numerous interviews the producers, actors, and crew behind the series have stressed that Supergirl isn’t about a female heroine, as a counterbalance to the many male heroes on TV; instead, the show charts the rise of a hero. Man of Steel-like super suit designs and modern visual effects might lead viewers to believe that Supergirl is taking cues from DC’s movie universe; however, despite increasing fervor for Henry Cavill’s return in Batman V Superman, Supergirl was primarily inspired by Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies.
Prior interviews have suggested as much – with producer Sarah Schechter outright telling Screen Rant that behind-the-scenes she, Andrew Kreisberg, Ali Adler, and Greg Berlanti all felt the lighthearted and hopeful tone of 1978’s Superman film was more appropriate for this Supergirl: [Donner’s movies] are really deeply implanted on our psyches.” Now, in our interview at New York Comic-Con, we’re hearing that original film series also informed at least one actor in front of the camera as well.
Discussing where he drew inspiration from, in bringing “James” Olsen to Supergirl, True Blood actor Mehcad Brooks revealed that Marc McClure’s take on the iconic Daily Planet photographer was especially influential:
“I grew up on the Richard Donner movies, so Marc McClure was my first introduction to Jimmy. I thought he was great.”
In a follow-up question, we asked Brooks if his love for Donner’s Superman movies meant it was Christopher Reeve (rather than current Man of Steel Henry Cavill) that he pictured behind Supergirl‘s silhouetted Kal-El:
“Christopher Reeves, since he was the Superman for me, will always be my Superman first of all. Probably so.”
These days, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands with two or three films each year (along with several TV programs) and DC beginning to experiment with their own network and film shared universes (that remain separate across mediums for now), it’s easy to assume that CBS would try to ride on the coattails of Warner Bros.’ Man of Steel success – or attempt to copy the tone in CW’s Flash or Arrow. Instead, based on everything we’re actually hearing, this Supergirl show appears to be a spiritual successor to Donner’s Superman – where Melissa Benoist’s Kara Zor-El is, thematically, the cousin of Christopher Reeve’s Kal-El.
No doubt, production on the show is taking certain design cues from Man of Steel, especially when it comes to Kara’s supersuit design; yet, if viewers really look at the tone, themes, and overall character arcs depicted in the pilot episode, there’s no question that Donner’s work is, as Brooks says, apparent in the DNA of the Supergirl series.
In our SDCC interview from earlier this year, Schechter indicated that, instead of “dark” and “gritty,” the producers were aiming for “fun” and “real”:
“The tone of those movies was just really fun, you know? And it doesn’t mean the stakes don’t feel real, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t danger. It doesn’t mean that characters won’t die, but the hopefulness of that world, the fun of that world for us was just, it was irresistible. And look, people have hard lives, people have to work at jobs they don’t like, they have to struggle to feed their families. There’s enough darkness in the world that to give people an hour of hope and excitement and possibility, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s a really good thing. “
After the initial excitement of a Superman cameo in Supergirl, and what that could mean if the CBS TV series joined the film universe, it’s became increasingly clear that, compared to eager fans, TV showrunners haven’t spent much time discussing the possibility of cross-medium tales. Instead, especially in the case of Supergirl, Schechter, Kreisberg, Adler, and Berlanti are actually putting thoughtful effort into what elements make for the best Kara Zor-El story experience on TV.
No doubt, some fans remain hopeful, regardless of ramifications on DC’s film universe, that Henry Cavill will eventually cameo in the series (much like Brandon Routh’s supersuit cameoed on Smallville); nevertheless, for viewers who have seen the Supergirl premiere, it makes sense to think that Reeve is the man behind the silhouette.
After all, Supergirl depicts Superman as an established and beloved hero – wise enough to let Kara find her own path, instead of drawing her into the superhero spotlight. Not to mention, a silhouetted Superman passing the torch of responsibility to his fresh-faced cousin is a fitting analogy for the impact that Reeve had on the DC franchise and its fans – not just the Supergirl show itself.
Where exactly the cast and crew of Supergirl will take the series in the coming months (and, likely, years) remains to be seen. Will the series remain a spiritual successor to Donner’s Superman movies or begin to shift toward the darker world of competing live-action comic book adaptations as the seasons roll on? Time will tell. Either way, for this moment in time, it’s exciting to be a DC superhero fan – since viewers can dabble in the nostalgic vision of Supergirl for awhile before jumping into the harrowing world depicted in Batman V Superman.
Supergirl premieres on CBS at 8:30pm EST on October 26th, 2015. It will air at 8pm EST on Mondays thereafter.