‘Supergirl’: Why a ‘Flash’ Crossover Is Exactly What It Needs
Of all the superhero shows on TV, none have seen quite the rollercoaster CBS’s Supergirl has. After the show’s pilot hauled in a staggering 12.49 million viewers, it’s seen a precipitous 29% week-to-week drop ever since. With shows like The Flash, Arrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Jessica Jones, it seems odd that any comic book series would struggle this way, and yet the numbers don’t lie: For better or worse, Supergirl has been on the ropes ratings-wise. Despite all this, it hasn’t managed to put a damper on CBS’s confidence, with the network picking up the series for a full 20 episodes (adding seven to the original order).
Why would a network add episodes on to a show that’s already hemorrhaging viewers on a weekly basis? The short answer: because they have an ace in the hole. The long answer involves a rumored and now officially confirmed crossover episode with CW’s The Flash, which, you guessed it, is only possible with a full 20-episode season. The crossover itself will take place during an episode airing March 28, made simple by CBS’s split ownership of the CW with Warner Bros. (and subsequently DC). More than that though, it’s everything Supergirl needs right now both in terms of its flagging ratings and its greater storyline.
[Update, 2/11/16: Added set photo shared by Grant Gustin (see below).]
There’s no doubt that the enormous success of crossover episodes for The Flash and Arrow is a driving factor behind Supergirl‘s strategy. Nothing helps a ratings dip like infusing one of the most popular shows on television into the latter half of your season, and CBS is well aware of this fact. But what a crossover episode does thematically is far more important to the future of the series. Whereas before Supergirl was hindered by being the only comic book show existing in its own self-contained universe, bringing in Barry Allen and the STAR Labs crew contextualizes it in a much larger narrative.
Comic book movies and TV shows survive on the strength of their shared universes. The MCU works because every individual film informs the others in the franchise. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. works because it informs those same films. The Flash and Arrow have survived past their initial run by combining forces to form their own shared world. Meanwhile, Marvel struck gold on Netflix by building out the early stages of The Defenders with Daredevil and Jessica Jones. It made it that much more peculiar when Supergirl debuted as a superhero show in a vacuum, shooting down early rumors of CW crossovers leading into its pilot.
CBS has of course changed its tune in the crossover department, opting to utilize The Flash as an entryway into DC’s TV universe. Now, instead of a world where there’s only Supergirl and her cousin over in Metropolis, the show exists in an environment with The Flash and its stable of metahumans in Central City, the occult mythology of Constantine, and Arrow‘s team of heroes over in Star City. With Legends of Tomorrow‘s entering into the equation in early 2016, Supergirl‘s world just got a whole lot bigger than the confines of National City.
All this is without even mentioning the fact that The Flash‘s multiverse opens up even more possibilities for Supergirl, making it so a crossover isn’t merely a shark-jump move to boost ratings. Beyond that, it’s a thematic device that plays to the strength of a comic book show in the way of a shared universe. Backed up by TV’s most successful and expansive stable of heroes and villains, Supergirl will punch its ticket to a long and successful future the second The Flash appears.
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