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'Supergirl' pulls influence from Superman with steely dose of girl power

'Supergirl' pulls influence from Superman with steely dose of girl power
Melissa Benoist, left, Greg Berlanti, Calisa Flockhart, Andrew Kreisberg and Chyler Leigh participate in the "Supergirl" panel at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Aug. 10, 2015, in Beverly Hills. (Richard Shotwell /Invision / Associated Press)

Hey, Superman. There's a new Kryptonian wearing that iconic "S" in town and she's got her own problems to deal with.

CBS' "Supergirl," one of the network's five freshman series this fall, joins a schedule brimming with comic book adaptations -- two of which come from the same showrunners -- thrusting Kara Danvers, a.k.a. Supergirl, into the spotlight and pop culture shadow of her better-known cousin Superman. 

The action-adventure drama comes from the same minds behind the CW powerhouses "Arrow" and "The Flash": Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg serve as scribes and executive producers, along with executive producers Sarah Schechter and Ali Adler ("Chuck"). But they're less interested in the Man of Steel, shifting the focus onto his comic book sidekick who was sent to Earth to watch over him.

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"We're very excited that this series is really very much the adventures of Supergirl and as much as we respect the history of Superman, it's very much Kara's point of view," Adler said at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour in Beverly Hills on Monday.

Geoff Johns, DC Entertainment's chief creative officer, added that even though viewers won't see Superman too much on screen, the secondary character will definitely factor in her life and play a part in her evolution.

Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) escapes the destruction of Krypton at the same time as her more famous cousin, Kal-El (Kevin Caliber), and she shares the same speed, strength and stamina as him but with a lesser ability to control it. While she's blended in since her arrival on earth, for 12 years she's tried to live up to her star sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) and hidden her powers. Now at age 24, she works as bespectacled and unassuming assistant to another strong woman, media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), who coins the Supergirl moniker in the pilot with a girl-centric speech that empowers the female heroine.

"It's a real celebration of girl power," Flockhart said. "I was attracted to the show because I think it's a great show for moms and daughters to watch together. There's a real family aspect and I just think that Cat knows that already: I'm a girl and I'm awesome and I'm not gonna apologize for that."

Rounding out the cast are Mehcad Brooks as Superman's best friend James Olsen, David Harewood plays spy organization operative Hank Henshaw and Jeremy Jordan plays Kara's pal Winslow "Winn" Schott in the series. "Lois & Clark" alum Dean Cain, "Twilight" star Peter Facinelli, and Jenna Dewan Tarum have also been added to the cast. Cain plays Cara's adopted dad Jeremiah, Facinelli plays morally ambiguous Maxwell Lord. The showrunners also teased to additional DC Universe characters who will appear in the series, but none, as of yet, will be come from current DC shows.

"We'll also will introduce Lucy Lane [played by Jenna Dewan Tatum], Gen. Sam Lane is coming to town with an agenda, and Red Tornado and we'll also be introducing Non, a Kryptonian villain that was memorably played in Donner's 'Superman II.' But we'll have a new take on the character," Kreisberg said.

CBS Entertainment Chairwoman Nina Tassler said that there are no plans for character crossovers with Berlanti and Kreisberg's CW series, but the networks would be involved in crossover promotion.

"You really have to be respectful and mindful of what each universe says you can and can't do," she said. "Right now we're not doing it. We're open."

Supergirl made her debut appearance in 1959 Action Comics, and Berlanti and Kreisberg worked to maintain the DNA of the character while pulling the story-telling inspiration from Richard Donner's well-known "Superman" films that starred Christopher Reeve in 1978 and 1980.

"They had a charm and a believability and really epic [quality]," Berlanti said. "It had something that I think imprinted on our brains at that time in our lives. I associated that with what it is to tell a superhero story."

The team screened the pilot at Comic-Con in July to broadly positive reviews from avid comics fans and TV industry vets. The showrunner praised Benoist, saying that her performance has been "the most evocative since Christopher Reeve in terms of capturing that relatability."

"When Dick Donner sees this show, I think he'll be really proud that he inspired it," Johns said.

Benoist, a "Glee" alum who was the first actress to audition for the role of Kara, knew she had to live up to lofty predecessors.

"I just knew automatically that she's such a beacon of hope and I knew that her bravery and strength was intrinsic to who she is and I really needed to feel it myself in order to play her," Benoist said. "I really have to believe that I'm a superhero."

Follow me on Twitter @NardineSaad.

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