Tony Black on the future of Supergirl in the wake of a possible move to The CW…
The second season of CBS’ comic-book adaptation Supergirl has been on the bubble for quite some time now, long after the majority of other shows have been greenlit or cancelled. Fans have waited with a certain bated breath and this week it has come to light that, in a last ditch attempt to salvage the adventures of Kara Zor-El aka Kara Danvers, CBS boss Leslie Moonves is looking to The CW to help bring Greg Berlanti’s series back from the wire. Costing an eye-watering $3 million per episode for licensing fees from Warner Bros. alone, Supergirl has not been a cost-effective show for the network, nor has it quite been the massive hit they hoped for in a world where superheroes are the dominant form of entertainment on the big screen, and The CW have in recent years taken over the small screen with successes such as Arrow, The Flash and, er, Legends of Tomorrow (*looks away*). This begs the question as to precisely why Supergirl ended up on a completely different network in the first place, especially given it was spearheaded by the same producer who set up the DC television universe. It seemed a strange move at the time and now if Supergirl is to take her place alongside the other DC shows, retrospectively it may look even more so.
It was back in September 2014 that Warner Bros. reached out to Berlanti with a view to creating a Supergirl TV series, very much aware they had a property perfect for exploitation given the aforementioned TV and cinematic adaptations. Berlanti’s track record spoke for itself and along with co-writer/producer Ali Adler–and the help of DC comics legend Geoff Johns–they begin pitching the idea to networks. CBS very quickly won out. This is the first big conundrum – why didn’t Berlanti immediately take this to The CW? He had two shows, and a third in the pipeline, already working like a charm on a network known for investing in brands for a very long time (see Supernatural). Could it be that CBS were offering more money? Budget is likely why CBS won this battle in truth, regardless of what CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler said at the time about the acquisition:
“I think we’re watching an evolution with regard to the way that superhero characters are portrayed. There’s a humanity. They’re flawed. There’s a relatability. For our network right now, what we did respond to was the character’s humanity, the other characters in the show as well — the story trajectory and the character’s arc and growth. These are all things that made her just imminently relatable, and made the story exciting. We made a decision based on the pitch that we heard.”
While no doubt there is some truth to her words, CBS not only just saw how lucrative a Supergirl series could be–with its built-in awareness to even people beyond comic book fans, and links to Superman & his mythology–but that they could probably afford the Warner Bros licensing fees that set the very high budget for each episode. Storytelling most likely wasn’t the primary motivator for Berlanti taking the show to a different network. Could it be storytelling however that has contributed to the concerns about Supergirl’s return?
The press notices and reviews for the first season haven’t been terrible but they haven’t set the world alight either, averaging in as a good but unremarkable, procedural superhero show lacking the fun of The Flash but equally the drama of Arrow; plus it’s very telling that the highest-rated and most celebrated episode of Supergirl’s first season involved a crossover with The Flash in a relatively rare move – not just two shows coming together but two networks in CBS and The CW, as Supergirl travelled from her alternate Earth to encounter Barry Allen in the episode ‘World’s Finest’. Perhaps this was the writing on the wall. With high costs per episode and a solid viewership that wasn’t growing, Berlanti and CBS may simply have started asking – why exactly isn’t Supergirl sitting with the rest of the DC universe? In fairness Berlanti & Tassler had always gone out of their way to distance Supergirl from the other DC shows, using CBS as a barrier from the relentless calls for a crossover. Eventually though they relented, crafting a narrative explanation to have their cake and eat it, but the fact is – the fans love shared universes. They wanted Supergirl part of the DC TV universe from the beginning, loved it’s connection with The Flash, and are keen for more. While the show potentially moving to The CW may be primarily a fiscal decision from executives who believe in the show and the brand–i.e. they still see money in it–undoubtedly they know Supergirl tethering closer to the shared universe could solve several of their problems at once.
The consequences of Supergirl moving networks could indeed save it, but there is no doubt there’s a gamble involved. CBS have much more money than The CW so the show’s second season would certainly have a lower budget, which could affect casting and how the show looks from a visual standpoint, especially if it still plans to do 20 episodes a season. On the plus side, it could guarantee the show’s future far more than CBS ever could, ironically, and allow for even more narrative connection to The Flash and Arrow, further building out the DC universe. What first was a bold move by a network looking to dip their toe in the superhero market, could end up being a footnote in Supergirl’s long and successful journey.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.