As the ways in which people watch TV continue to shift, the broadcast network that understands this best is the reliably quirky CW. That’s because it’s not just a linear TV network; it’s a multitude of platforms, all of which are devoted to bringing viewers its unique brand of series.
“We realized that the linear portion, the broadcast portion, was just one of the components,” CW president Mark Pedowitz told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour. “Because it’s a launch point, coupled with delayed viewing and now digital. Now, when you put it all together, this year alone, despite the linear shortfall in ratings that you see, we’re up year to year by three to five percent in the amount of impressions we serve for the advertisers when you go across all of those platforms.”
This includes CWTV.com, where new episodes of CW series premiere, but perhaps more importantly Netflix, where shows like “Supernatural” and “Legends of Tomorrow” are streamed as “Netflix Originals” for its international audiences.
The CW’s distribution deal with Netflix has been an important one for the network. When it was announced in 2016, Pedowitz said “it gave the chance for the CW to breathe. If you go back in history, you’ll see that The CW was a little rocky when I first joined, so it gave it an opportunity to put our a strategy in place and move it forward.”
The Netflix deal, Pedowitz said in 2017, was a factor in why low-rated but critically beloved shows like “Jane the Virgin” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” remained valuable to the network and were renewed until reaching their natural endpoints this year. Today, he still feels that making the CW’s shows available on the streaming service has continued to help them penetrate the zeitgeist, such as with “Riverdale.”
“We came back so strong that second season, because of the binging that was going on the first,” he said. “It also shows the value of the CW product. Beyond the economics, it gives the viewer the opportunity to see material that they missed during the season, so it has great value to that. The key for us, when that happens, is to try to bring them back into the in-season, and remembering that it’s a CW show, and that they’re more than welcome and they can watch all the original episodes throughout the year.”
That reasoning applies to shows like freshman series “All-American.” While the football drama has yet to receive a second series order (unlike 10 other series which the CW renewed on Thursday), Pedowitz said that when the first season goes to Netflix, the network will pay close attention to the reaction it gets. “We’re going to be curious to see how it does out-of-season streaming at that point. And that will help give us some more determination.”
Jesse Giddings/The CW
However, when IndieWire spoke to Pedowitz Thursday, he wouldn’t say how much longer the Netflix deal would continue. When it was officially announced, it was set up as a “multi-year deal” with no specific end date, and Pedowitz declined to comment because “it’s a contractual situation where I can’t describe the end date, but the partners — the owners — are dealing with it as we speak.”
And that’s “not necessarily” a guarantee that deal will continue, he said. “I don’t know what the new world will bring yet. I have no idea what the new world will bring, but one thing I can say is the CW will fly through it.”
Like many networks, especially those associated with CBS to some degree, the CW has dealt with its share of #MeToo stories, some of which have resulted in personnel changes (like the firing of Arrowverse producer Andrew Kreisberg) and some of which have not (like “Black Lightning” showrunner Salim Akil, who was considered cleared of potential charges following an investigation by the studio).
Addressing critics, Pedowitz said “they did investigations, I’m told, on both sets. There is no world where that was not a safe place. There were no wrongdoings found. [Akil] has a personal issue. This has nothing to do with the show. The show, as far as we’re concerned, Salim, the other producers, the cast, the crew, they deserve to work.”
Pedowitz is currently the longest-serving broadcast TV president, having been in charge of the network since 2011, and he’s been responsible for greenlighting a lot of television that wouldn’t normally make it to the screen anywhere else. That comes with a twist: Since Pedowitz began running things, every year at least one freshman series has been canceled — because he’s tried to take chances on what CW greenlights.
“We’re open. We’ve been a great place for people to take shots,” he said. “And, if you don’t take a shot, you don’t know. That’s one of the things you learn, and if you operate out of fear in this business, you’re never going to succeed. So that’s the other thing that happens.”
By taking those chances, Pedowitz has learned what doesn’t work for the network — like a “Supernatural” spinoff, despite multiple attempts, simply won’t work because, he feels, the core of the show is brothers Sam and Dean (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles).
Format-wise, he also noted, “hospital procedurals generally don’t work for us. Criminal procedurals really don’t work for us — not because we don’t want them to work for us, they just don’t work for us. People can go elsewhere to find those things. They believe the CW will deliver, whether it’s comedy or drama, serialized programs.”
But while he’s sure about what the CW audience doesn’t want, he remains interested in taking chances on new shows. One upcoming series he felt reflected something very different for the network is “In the Dark,” a drama about a blind woman investigating the potential murder of a friend, while also being a bit of a hot mess.
“It’s different. She’s a completely flawed character, disabled just beyond physical disability,” he said. “She is unique, at times quite unlikable. She will make people uncomfortable. I think it’s not quite been done for broadcast before.”
It’s the sort of show that wouldn’t necessarily make it to any other network, but is the sort of show that Pedowitz is excited to take a chance on. Because in general, “when you get to a certain time in your career, if you haven’t done it, you haven’t done it. Then it happens, and you’ve got to deal with it. But I’ve been very lucky.”