Ali Adler, the out EP bringing “Supergirl” to primetime TV

Ali Adler has been working in network television for close to two decades, but she’s about to have her biggest debut yet with Supergirl. As the executive producer of the new CBS series based on the beloved DC Comics character, Ali has been instrumental in getting the story to air, working with Greg Berlanti (Dawson’s Creek, Arrow, The Flash) to develop a primetime drama following a female superhero, played by the enigmatic Melissa Benoist.

Ali (far right) with the cast of SupergirlSiriusXM's Entertainment Weekly Radio Channel Broadcasts From Comic-Con 2015

But there’s all kinds of humor in Supergirl, too, as Ali does not stray too far from the dark humor of her past work on Chuck, Glee and The New Normal, the gay-themed NBC show she co-created with Ryan Murphy. This past year, she also published a book, How to Fuck a Woman, a hilarious and smart guide for men, written by an out lesbian, and got engaged to her partner, Nurse Jackie co-creator Liz Brixius

We spoke with Ali during TCA this past summer about what queer women will appreciate Supergirl and when she’ll make the time for her next big project: her wedding. Do you have any plans for LGBT storylines on Supergirl?

Ali Adler: I don’t know that we’ve done that yet. We’re certainly always talking about equality for all, so, I think it’d be funny if we didn’t have that at some point. But no plans yet.


AE: Is the lesbian joke in the pilot yours? When Winn thinks Kara’s coming out to him about being a lesbian, but it’s really that she’s Supergirl?

AA: It is.


AE: I figured! So a lot of your book is inspired by your working in the writers’ room with men. Is it fair to say that even if you aren’t talking about lesbian characters or themes that sexuality still factors into how you fit into the fold?

AA: I think that what I found in talking about the book and the show is that I like to talk about powerful women. And I think the book empowers men, too. So I think that that’s a theme for sure.


AE: You wrote the book before you were in the Supergirl writers’ room. Is it a similar situation for you?

AA: What’s really awesome about the Supergirl writers’ room, which I think is partially me and partially [producer] Sara Schecter and partially [producer] Andrew [Kreisberg] and partially Greg Berlanti, but I’ve never been in such a diverse, gender diverse room. It’s 50/50 and I’ve never had that in my life.

Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh as Kara’s sister, Alex Danvers

AE: And with a superhero who is a woman at the center of the show, how does that change how you are writing for her, and how the men are writing for her, also?

AA: It’s funny because you come in and you think this is about the world’s most powerful woman and it’s saying, like [former CBS Entertainment Chairman] Nina Tassler is a very powerful person, but you don’t see her immediately as female—you just think “She’s a bad ass,” which I think is true of Supergirl. She comes out using fists, she’s not mincing her words, and you just see true strength.


AE: So when you’re writing for her, you are never thinking “What would she be doing as a woman?”

AA: I think that what happens in story resolutions, like in the climax moments, we go, “What would Supergirl do?” Like, it’s different than Superman. There’s certainly a female quality that is problem solving that we use to our advantage, and it ends up twisting the stories a little bit. But in terms of strength and power, they’re the same and she doesn’t pull any punches.


AE: She seems like a feminist. Like even though her boss is kind of a bitch to her.

AA: I think her boss is the biggest truth-teller in the world. You might not like how it’s delivered—it’s got a few needles and points in it—but everything Kat Grant says is truthful and I really respect that in a boss and in a woman. I think that Alex, her sister, is very strong in a way that’s unapologetic and also she’s had to hide who she is to Kara for a long time. I think there’s no shortage of really bad ass females in this show. 

Calista Flockhart as Kat Grantkat

AE: We only see Laura Benanti as Supergirl’s mom, Alura In-Ze, at the very end of the pilot. How much more will we be seeing of her?

AA: I don’t know how much I can tell you. She has a dual role so she plays Alura—see, I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say this. But let’s talk about Laura Benanti. Laura Benanti is amazing. The most fun on any set. She’s the best. We literally have the most musical cast ever. 


AE: You have to use it some how!

AA: We definitely will. We talk about that.


AE: How different is this show for you from the others you’ve come from?

AA: I haven’t done genre—I did Chuck for three years which was action adventure, but the genre component is real interesting. I grew up reading comic books, but more the Casper the Friendly Ghost kind or Archie’s—”girl comics.” But it’s really amazing. I would sneak Batman and Superman, Aquaman, Green Lantern from my brother’s comic book collection  and really enjoyed them. So it’s been really fun and that works really well with Alex and Greg and myself. It’s a Venn diagram of the most successful pieces of our writing souls so it’s been a nice partnership.


AE: There are a lot of fans who are rabidly obsessed with these comics and know every single interaction that these characters have had, so are you prepared for that inevitable reaction of “That never happened”?

AA: Well I think our narrative is what our narrative is. What we do is we borrow from the canon, the pieces and parts that we like and we reinvent so it’s not just an adaptation of what people have previously read in all their comic books. It really is that we get to sew together all our favorites. And this is a new 2015 Supergirl.


AE: How painstaking was it to get the costume to come together?

AA: Oh my god, Colleen Atwood, Academy Award-winning costume designer who did, like, Edward Scissorhands, just the most brilliant, inspired, breathtaking costumes—she designed Flash, too. But she designed Supergirl and upon meeting her, I was just starstruck. She’s amazing. Just her thoughtfulness and the history behind each stitch—really what her choices are and the costume is very grounded and very practical in the way that Wonder Woman would have to hold her top while running—like, there’s none of those. It kicks ass. It’s very strong.


AE: Have you had time to work on anything else or is this your baby right now?

AA: This is my baby right now. Some day soon I’d like to plan my own wedding, but right now, one production at the time.


AE: Anything else you’d like AfterEllen readers to know?

AA: I’m just really so excited to show, not just women and girls, but men and boys that this girl can fly and it teaches you that life has no limitations others than the one you set. I’m just so excited about how positive this piece is. I’ve worked on Family Guy and Glee and New Normal and it’s all stuff I couldn’t share with my kids and I’m really excited this show and this character in particular is so joyous and light that I can’t wait for that contagion to occur.

AE: Have they seen any of it yet?

AA: Yes, they saw the pilot and they loved it. It’s very exciting. “Oh, Mommy finally did something good!” They come to the set and my daughter, who just turned eight, she knows Melissa only as Supergirl. Sometimes we Facetime and she says, “Hey, Supergirl, what’s up?”


Supergirl premieres tonight at 8:30/7:30c on CBS.