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MBPT Spotlight: Can ‘Supergirl’ Succeed on CBS?

Much has been written that Supergirl, the new one-hour CBS drama scheduled for Monday nights at 8 beginning this November, is a much better fit for The CW network (of which CBS owns 50%) and its younger-skewing audience.

Some media agency executives agree with that and don’t think it is going to have a long run on the network. One exec went so far as to say if Supergirl were to premiere in September rather than November, it might be the first freshman show cancelled this season.

At the other end of the spectrum are a media buyers who agree with CBS entertainment brass that Supergirl is a series that will not only appeal to existing CBS viewers, but will also bring in a large number of millennial viewers who are not regularly watching or watching the network at all.

The arguments against Supergirl succeeding are mostly based on the determination that CBS’ median age audience of 59 is not going to be interested in it because it is not a “typical CBS show.”

One agency exec, however, warns against that type of thinking. “Last season I thought Scorpion would never work on CBS and it was their second most-watched new series and one of the most-watched on broadcast television,” he says. “So I don’t think you can assume that because many of CBS’ shows skew older, that a younger audience, or even some older viewers, are not going to watch SuperGirl.”

Kelly Kahl, senior executive VP, CBS Primetime, says SuperGirl “has a broader storyline than you would think. It is more multi-generational, not just a millennial skew. It is not strictly a comic book genre show. It combines some of the comic book elements with characters and a style that you can see on many of the more traditional CBS shows.”

And Kahl says press reports that CBS network put SuperGirl on the schedule because CBS Corp. did not want to subsidize a pickup of the series by The CW are wrong. “This was a series CBS wanted from the outset. It meets our goal of appealing to audiences of all ages. This show can be watched by young, old, male and female audiences.”

CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler says SuperGirl “is a story about a young woman coming of age. She’s the girl next door with super powers.”

One media buyer who gives the series a chance for success agrees that SuperGirl is a show the entire family can watch together. “Most superhero shows are dark and very violent. SuperGirl has sort of a 1970s sensibility. It is much lighter than most superhero shows. It is also more female friendly. It could work on CBS.”

Dave Poltrack, chief research officer at CBS Corp., says when the network did audience testing of Supergirl it found it to be as popular as Fox’s comic book-based Gotham, but it had much more appeal to women.

“Our testing found that people who identify themselves as fans of comic book genre type shows loved it and a broad range of other viewers loved it as well,” Poltrak says. “It was also somewhat nostalgic for older viewers who grew up with Superman.”

Supergirl is based on the DC Comics character Kara Zor-El, who is the cousin of Superman (Kal-El) and who is also sent to earth by her parents to escape the doomed plant Krypton.

“We did audience testing for both CW comic book genre series Arrow and Flash and those two series, like Supergirl, each had a broader reach than just comic book fans,” Poltrack says.

And CBS is planning to promote SuperGirl extensively on its most watched comedy, The Big Bang Theory (15 million viewers and a median age audience of 55) from primetime premiere week in late September until Supergirl gets on the schedule in November. CBS will again open the season with Big Bang airing on Monday nights until Thursday Night Football ends and then will move to Thursday. Meanwhile Supergirl will open on Monday nights at 8.

As for going head-to-head with Fox’s Gotham at 8 p.m. on Monday, Kahl says, “There’s no reason why two shows that each have the same sensibilities can't both succeed.”