Greg Berlanti on ‘Supergirl’ and ‘Blindspot’s’ Girl Power

Two new shows, two ratings hits. That’s an enviable track record in a broadcast season that’s been mixed at best. But megaproducer Greg Berlanti, the man behind “Supergirl” and “Blindspot,” isn’t resting on his laurels quite yet. “Honestly, we’re all really excited that people are interested in the shows,” he tells Variety. “We feel really lucky that people showed. Now it’s our job to keep making the best episodes we can.”

What was your reaction when you saw the “Supergirl” ratings?

I think you breathe about a minute’s worth of a sigh of relief, and then you start worrying about whatever your other problems are that day and next week’s episode. I found in the past, it’s isn’t until the season is almost done that you get a sense of what happened exactly. You’re in the climate of where there’s so much for people to watch, and we felt so supported by the networks. They really got behind the shows. They know how to sell their audiences, each of them.

You went two for two with two very different shows. What’s your secret?

(Laughs.) Honestly, it’s working with great people — everyone we worked with on both the shows, from the writers to the directors to the actors and the casting people and the crews. We just had one of those years. Both of the shows were the right shows for the network and that time slot to at least get us started. We are determined to keep making great episodes. You can start really well, but it’s where we are in May that matters.

Do you think “Supergirl’s” late October launch helped?

I think CBS’ whole plan for it (worked), from top to bottom — to reach out to people who like comics, people who don’t like comics, men, women. Their entire launch — where they placed it on the schedule, behind an episode of “Big Bang” — all of it was masterful. And all of it was why they’re so good at doing what they do. They were always, from the beginning, very precise at how they wanted to introduce her to the world. They did exactly what they told us in the very first marketing meeting. We walked out of it in awe, all of us, when they laid out exactly what they were going to do.

And audiences really wanted a female superhero.

The initial success of both shows should get more people who work in the business realizing that there should be more female-led action movies. With both “Supergirl” and “Blindspot,” both men and women equally were interested in seeing a female-led action piece. Tonally, obviously they’re very different. But I think people are more interested in the idea and the quality of the content.

How are you going to keep the momentum going?

Our recipe is to keep making episodes and telling stories that we would be interested in seeing. The job is a lot of hours and really challenging and we have to tell stories we’re passionate about. We all check our guts. I’m certain we’ll make mistakes along the way. You can learn from them really quickly in TV. Early episodes of TV I compare to out-of-town plays. You can make them better. You don’t have all the time in the world, but you have time to make them better and improve them as you go along.

So what’s in store for “Supergirl”?

It’s very much a hero’s journey for her in this first bunch of episodes. She’s kept her skills dormant. She’s learning about that. You’ll learn more about the Big Bad, which I think is really cool. We’re beginning to build what her team is going to be and how she’s figuring out what kind of hero she’s going to be. What’s always great is the audience starts to learn as much about the supporting characters as we already know in our heads. It takes time and real estate for the audience to get to know those characters. You’ll learn more about her sister, Hank, and her connection to James.

What about the budget? Will we see as many effects going forward?

We reserved a lot of money. We planned the visual effects sequences in episodes 2 through 5, 6 and 7. Hopefully we’ve proven this with “Flash,” which has large scale sequences as well. We know it’s our responsibility to deliver on the promise of the pilot. There are all sorts of different kinds of effects, and sometimes the more intimate ones are the ones that are more powerful for people emotionally. But there’s a lot of spectacle, too. There’s a fight sequence in episode 2 that’s maybe one of the biggest fight sequences we’ve ever done in any of the shows. It’s certainly bigger than the final fight in the pilot.

How far ahead are you in production?

We’re shooting 10 and prepping 11, and drafting episode 13 right now, so obviously we’re excited to get another episode on air so we get to know if we’re going to get make more of these things.

When do you think you’ll hear about a full-season pickup?

I have no idea. That’s another thing I can never predict. There was a read-through when the ratings came in. We all hung out and toasted, and (Warner Bros TV chief) Peter Roth came by. It was a special moment. Shows this size, it’s double the financial stakes for everybody. They are large things to pull off. You want them to work for everybody. It means years of livelihood for everyone. It was nice to get a nice start. It’s that great boost to get in the arm to keep going. That was the one challenging thing about premiering later.

It also doesn’t allow you to react if audiences respond to a given character.  

We’re going through that on “Legends of Tomorrow.” We’re crafting episode 8 and the show’s not on the air. All of them will be shot by the time it airs, so we’re having to make a lot of choices. The benefit on a show like that is that there are lot of characters that have spun off other shows. So we know a lot what we think works about them. We like the audience response, be it or negative or positive. That dialogue with the audience is instrumental about how we talk about story in the room.

I know Nina Tassler was a champion of the show. How has the transition to new president Glenn Geller been? 

Glenn’s been incredible, because as the head of current, he was right there from the beginning, crafting all the episodes with us — rolling up his sleeves, being a real cheerleader from day one. That transition has been seamless. I went back and read Nina’s note to me after she heard the pitch for sentimental reasons. And everything she said, and what she responded to about the pitch, is exactly what the audience seems to be saying about the show when they saw it. It was a testament to her and to all the execs we’ve worked with who’ve been supportive about the show. That’s why it is the show that it is.

It’s now development season, and you have several pitches out. Are people taking your call more quickly?

(Laughs.) I don’t want anyone making anything that they’re not passionate about. They have to back us financially, and you need their support at every level throughout — selling it, casting it. I still have to fight things for I want. I really enjoy that part of the process. It’s a natural vetting process that makes everything better. I’m sure we’ll be just as challenged on all of our opinions this year as we have been every other year. I think that’s how it should be. Zero percent has changed.

Have you hit your limit yet of the number of shows you can run?

If everything was a disaster, I couldn’t even do one of these shows. But because we work with all of these talented showrunners, it allows us to help them. I get to at times be intimately involved with the show and sometimes just go show to show and give my thoughts as a studio or network exec who also has a lot on their plate. I’m sure there’s a finite number. But I’m able to do it because there are so many people who are actually doing it.

Anything you still want to do?

I would love to sooner rather later do a straight character piece again that came from the emotional core of me, like “Everwood” and “Political Animals.” I have to create the time to do that.  Every four or five years, I try to write a deeply personal script, and I’m sure I’ll be doing that in the next year or so.

What about a reboot? That seems to be the trend du jour.

There are a few reboots I’d love to see that I’d love to have nothing to do with! I’d love to watch just as a viewer. “Quantum Leap” — someone should bring that back. I’d love to see another “Star Trek” show on the air. I loved “Buck Rogers,” someone should do that. But I don’t want the responsibility of doing any of those things.

And “Dawson’s Creek”?

If Kevin (Williamson) called and asked me to do anything, I’d do it. I’d be there in a heartbeat.



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