The CW set a network record this pilot season with nine new projects in the works for the 2018-19 broadcast season and now the rationale for the extra orders is coming into focus.
Beginning next season, Mark Pedowitz's younger-skewing broadcast network will expand originals to six nights a week when it launches scripted (or unscripted) fare on Sundays. The new schedule will launch in October when The CW unveils its 2018-19 lineup.
The CW last programmed on Sundays from 7-10 p.m. when it first formed as a joint venture between CBS Television Studios and Warner Bros. Television in 2006. The Sunday fare ran until 2009 when it reverted to affiliate programming in the fall of that year. (L.A. affiliate KTLA, for example, currently airs repeats of The Goldbergs and Two and a Half Men on the night.)
CW exec vp network distribution Chris Brooks and senior vp and general counsel Ann Miyagi worked closely with key affiliate partners to secure clearances across the country — including Sinclair Broadcast Group, Tribune Broadcast, CBS Television Stations and Nexstar Media Group.
For Pedowitz — who recently inked a contract extension — the decision to expand comes as the network is brimming with scripted and unscripted originals. Since Pedowitz boarded in 2011, the network has upped its midseason offerings to five scripted shows, compared with only two in the exec's first year. Additionally, Pedowitz has beefed up The CW's summer schedule with three or four unscripted shows as he pushes the network to a more competitive year-round slate of originals.
With the extra night, The CW's programming slate will grow from 10 to 12 hours starting in the fall as the network looks to build upon recent viewership gains. Season to date, The CW is up 3 percent in total viewers (though it's flat year-over-year among adults 18-34 and 18-49) with seven days of delayed viewing. That doesn't count digital viewership — where the network is particularly strong.
The expansion arrives as The CW has yet to renew any of its 15 scripted originals, though most are considered likely to return — especially factoring in the additional two hours to program.
This season, Pedowitz continued to stick with nearly all of The CW's scripted originals, handing out abbreviated episode counts to shows including Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Legends of Tomorrow, The 100, The Originals andiZombie, among others.
"By expanding to six nights, The CW is now able to give our fans even more of the series they’re so passionate about," Pedowitz said. "Broadcasting remains the foundation of our multiplatform approach to bringing our programming to viewers. Over the past seven years, The CW has added more than 80 hours of original scripted programming to its schedule — now that number can continue to climb, as we grow our broadcast lineup, and continue to add content on every platform. I’d like to thank Chris and Ann for being instrumental in making this happen, and to thank all of our station groups for being such terrific partners as we add Sundays to our primetime schedule this fall on all our affiliates across the country."
Below, Pedowitz talks with THR about the strategy behind the expansion, what this means for the future of low-rated critical darlings like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin and more.
How much did the lucrative SVOD deals have to do with the expansion and having more product to sell to SVOD and international buyers?
The expansion was the right time for us because of the belief in broadcasting and belief in The CW and its business model. Having those deals in place actually makes a difference. But at the end of the day, it's also about how do you go and redefine The CW and broaden it out. These discussions started internally in July and we were then given the go-ahead by CBS and Warners to go forward. This is about believing in The CW and broadcast. … You look at all the factors — not just SVOD — that go into all this. But yes, the SVOD was a factor to it but it wasn't the only factor. The business model stays the same. The model is working; we have a very defined brand.
Netflix is increasingly working with networks during the development stage to help co-finance expensive shows — like Syfy with Nightflyers, for example …
That's not what's driving this. This is about that we believe in broadcast. We believe there's an opportunity in broadcast. We have believed there was an opportunity before this in broadcast to expand the model. The SVOD deals that are in place with our parent companies for the product coming off the network have always been a factor to this. We just believed it was the right time. Our arrangement with our parent companies — they are the producers of our shows and delivering our shows in the in-season model. Under the deals we presently have, nothing has changed for us.
Last pilot season was your toughest yet, where sources noted you could have picked up all six based on the strength of the creative, with Insatiable ultimately going to Netflix. Given the limited scheduling space you had in the past, when did you start to feel that you had too much content and no place to put it all?
Over the past six or seven years — it's hard to believe I get to say that since I've been here! — we have looked to become a year-round programmer. This summer, a lot of our original shows that are in-season will go into June, July and August. The thought process is we believed that we could do more. We believed that another night would help us in terms of growth, ad revenue sales, for digital, for our affiliates. We believed that this is the right time to do something like this. Over the last six, seven years, we've increased our hours by 80 or 90 and we're going to keep that proportion on an annualized basis so that we'll keep the repeats as limited as we can. That's one of the things that people no longer talk about with The CW, that we repeat too many times. We've kept it fresh and will keep that strategy in place.
Given the extra night of programming, is it safe to say there won't be many cancellations this year?
We are looking at the moment to what's returning and what's not. We believe in our shows and will keep them on. There's a world where a lot of these shows come back and some don't.
How much have you thought about what programming will air on Sundays?
We have these conversations internally and with our affiliates. We haven't made an official decision. But we have promised them that we are going to be putting scripted shows on, some can be returning, some can be new; it can be a variety of things. But it will be scripted programming that is consistent with our Monday through Friday offerings.
Have you thought about if this will be your critical night and possibly giving awards darlings Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin a bigger platform?
It depends what time in the evening you ask me that question and what's running in my head before I go to sleep! (Laughs.)
With the expansion, any regrets about letting Sabrina go to Netflix?
I understood rationale behind it and business purpose of it. I wish everyone well with it. You never like to lose something but I understood why. It can only help us because it helps our brand. We are thrilled to have the programming we have. We have Riverdale, which is the mothership. And we're looking forward to the development of Charmed and other things we're developing along those lines.
Any thoughts about the early backlash to Charmed from the original stars?
Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
The DC Digital platform is developing a lot of interesting content. Are there any discussions about doing linear broadcasts of any of that?
Not at this point. It's too soon.