Television audiences are about to meet a whole new type of hero, one that hopes to inspire future generations while fighting super villains and saving the day -- actions she accomplishes with a smile on her face and optimism in her heart. "Supergirl" flies into homes on tonight on CBS, the final major network to try its hand at the comic book adaptation game. Starring Melissa Benoist in the title role, "Supergirl" has placed its superhero in numerous advertisements and promo spots -- and she's even inspired a few Girl Scouts before her small screen debut.
At New York Comic Con, executive producer Ali Adler and "Supergirl" cast members Mehcad Brooks (James Olsen) and Peter Facinelli (Maxwell Lord) spoke with reporters about the new series, and how it differentiates itself from its superheroic competition.
The most notable difference is that the lead character is a woman, a fact that's still rare considering that a woman hasn't lead a superhero movie in over a decade. "She probably has the same responsibility as any superhero, but because she's got a skirt, maybe there's an additional responsibility to say, 'Yes, of course we're equal,'" Adler said. "And then we can put that discussion behind us, because who cares, at the end of the day? This is a superhero fighting a super-world and facing super-problems, but I guess there is -- we just have to address it to move on from it."
"It's about time," Brooks said when asked about starring on a show led by Benoist. "I love how our country talks about women as a minority group, but they're half of the world. That's half the human population. My mom, to me, is a superhero. She did things that I could not possibly do. I look back at how I was raised, and I think about how she was a single mom for a portion of my childhood, and I go, 'I could not have done that.' It's incredible. I feel like there have been real life women superheroes for a long time. and there's been comic book ones for a long time, but I think our society is just now getting ready for that in primetime. Change takes a long time, sadly, but I'm glad that we're kicking down the door and I'm proud to be a part of that. It's long overdue."
A world with Supergirl also has Superman, the character that serves as Kara Zor-El's inspiration. Aside from a sun-drenched, face-washed-out cameo, the iconic superhero has so far been missing from all of "Supergirl's" promotional material, a development Adler assures potential viewers will be addressed sooner rather than later.
"We absolutely have to address that there is another Super soul living on this planet," the executive producer stated. "I think it is addressed pretty quickly in the series, and hopefully in a satisfying way... Very quickly, I won't say which episode, we dispense with the notion of why Superman isn't coming in to save the day."
Of course, Superman's influence will be felt on the show in more ways than just Supergirl's costume. Brooks talked about the effect that being Superman's best friend has had on James -- not "Jimmy" -- Olsen. "When you hang out with Superman long enough, you go through almost like a confidence boot camp," Brooks said. "Maybe you start working out, maybe you change your clothes a little bit, and he's now won a Pulitzer Prize for shooting Superman. He's now art director in National City; Superman's asked him to leave Metropolis and go to National City to help Supergirl become who she's supposed to be. So he's kind of this liaison in between her hidden identity and who she's supposed to be."
Supergirl will need Olsen's expertise if she's going to get through the wringer Adler and fellow EPs Greg Berlanti ("Arrow") and Andrew Kreisberg ("The Flash") have in store for her. "Maxwell Lord is a green tech billionaire who is trying to save humanity through green technologies," Facinelli said, explaining his character, who has been portrayed as both a hero and a villain in the comics. "I think the problem lies in that his perspective is a little different from other people's perspective. Other people look at Supergirl and superheroes as ways to help save the planet, and in his mind, we shouldn't get help from outside sources, we should be helping humanity ourselves. He has a very distinct perspective of how we should fix our problems. He looks at it like, our planet is dying and we're destroying our planet, and everybody's fascinated by the superheroes fighting in the sky. But those are distractions. We need to get to the matters at hand and come together as the human race and fix it."
While the threat posed by Lord may simmer in the background across the season (Facinelli has a recurring role on the show, after all), Adler said Supergirl will have new, fresh threats to face most episodes.
"We definitely have a force every week that has to be matching her huge superhero skills, so we need to give her an equal but opposite reaction," explained Adler. "We have, definitely -- I won't say necessarily a supervillain of the week, but we do have a threat or force every episode. And then, we have a challenge that she faces that we hopefully are arcing out and serializing." Among those villains will be Non (Chris Vance), Red Tornado (Iddo Goldberg), Livewire (Brit Morgan), Reactron (Chris Browning).
Adler added that Kara Zor-El will act as an entryway to explore other facets of Kryptonian life. "We also have something that's unique for us in that Superman left [Krypton] when he was an infant," Adler said. "[He] became Superman on Earth, but he doesn't have the body of memory that Kara Zor-El does. She has 12 years where she was on her planet, so we get to learn more about Krypton, which is real exciting. We get to do that through flashbacks and these incredible sets that we're erecting. It's really fun to see a call sheet that says, 'EXT. Krypton.'"
The show will also have the required amount of sexual tension -- although maybe not where you'd expect it. Facinelli revealed that Maxwell Lord will have a history with Calista Flockhart's Cat Grant. "Cat Grant and him have kind of a 'Dangerous Liaisons' kind of adversarial relationship, where there's a sexual tension there and there's a history, but it's very playful in a sense where they're not mean to each other -- in front of each other, anyway. But there are little digs in the way they interact. That's a fun relationship to watch."
"This is 'Supergirl,'" Adler emphasized of the show's true focus. "It's not, like, 'Tiny Girl,' or 'Lame Girl' -- this is a giant, huge production. We're making a feature film every week, and I've never seen a crew work harder, I've never seen actors or writers or directors [work harder]; it's just a spectacular production."
"To me, honestly, it's the best thing I've ever seen on TV," Brooks said frankly. "I know I'm supposed to say that, but I really, actually believe it. I really do. It has a ['Superman' director Richard] Donner-esque quality to it, that romantic sorta comedy aspirational tone, but there's also a dark side to it, too. We don't delve into the darkness so much you can't watch it with your kids, but we don't also make a show for kids. The adults are gonna love it, too."
"Supergirl" debuts tonight, October 26, on CBS.