The Quiet Titan: How The CW tapped into our hero complex to become a true programming juggernaut
How did a network with a humble beginning go on to become one of the major competitors in the market today? The answer is the question — The CW saw what its competitors didn't see
Once known as the 'Gossip Girl' network, The CW (the 'C' standing for CBS and the 'W' for Warner Bros) has definitely come a long way. A network known for renewing shows for several seasons irrespective of its ratings, it is often overlooked in the number game especially when compared to other networks like NBC, Showtime and Fox as well as streaming giants like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.
However, if you look at the show roster for the network, you'd realize that The CW is actually the only TV biggie which has the pulse of the teens and tweens. So how did a network with a humble beginning go on to become one of the major competitors in the market today? The simple answer lies in the question — Did The CW see what its competitors couldn't see?
The CW Television Network was actually formed out of a merger between WB and UPN, both of which launched within one week of each other in 1995, around the same time that Fox was launched. Both networks had a remarkable run with successes like 'Dawson's Creek', 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', 'Smallville' and 'America's Next Top Model'.
Unfortunately, their content was no match for the TV market of the time. Their mistake? While aiming to capture a more mature audience with their shows in their initial 10 years, both the networks missed out on the opportunity to grasp the attention of the younger audience - something which the already established Big Three (ABC, NBC, CBS) had been doing.
In fact, they missed out so miserably on getting audience share for its show that it couldn't even match up to Fox's success in the area. Soon, the two networks had collectively lost a massive $2 billion.
In 2005, discussions to merge the two networks started. It seemed like a good idea for the parent companies, CBS and Time Warner, to let the two become one rather than jeopardizing both their futures.
What made the merger even more fruitful was the fact that they had similar station portfolios. In 2006, The CW Television Network was born, named after the first letter of CBS and Warner Bros.
For their first year, the network decided to bring back some foolproof hits. A combination of 13 shows was announced for their fall schedule. WB's '7th Heaven', 'Beauty and the Geek', 'Gilmore Girls', 'One Tree Hill', 'Reba', 'Smallville' and 'Supernatural' were slated along with UPN's 'America's Next Top Model', 'Veronica Mars', 'Everybody Hates Chris', 'Girlfriends', 'All of Us' and 'WWE SmackDown'. The next couple of years spelled moderate success for the network.
When 'America's Next Top Model' made its network premiere on September 2006, The CW scored a 3.4 rating and 5 shares in the Nielsen household ratings. Its success with the 18-49 demographic, which is now their majority share, was 2.6.
It tried to up its Sunday lease with a production company Media Rights Capital (MRC) in hopes of increasing its weekend viewership. However, this didn't work out and the network only ended up averaging 1.04 million viewers. Then came the better days.
The CW's fortunes skyrocketed in the 2008–09 and 2009–10 period. The network saw a boom in female audiences in the demographic 18-34 with shows like 'Gossip Girl', '90210' and 'The Vampire Diaries'. In fact, 'The Vampire Diaries' subsequently went on to give birth to a spin-off, 'The Originals' which was also one of its most successful shows.
After getting a grip on female audiences, The CW was now planning to lure in more viewers and it started with Mark Pedowitz's appointment as president of the network in 2011.
Once completely scrapped from the network's slate, Pedowitz brought comedy back onto the scene. He also added more episodes to original series and decided not to run repeats. In July 2012, Pedowitz no longer referred to the target demographic of The CW as women of 18-34 years, but rather that it would now be as an 18-34 adult network. It did what its competitors at the time didn't think about — to woo the other half of the population, and brought in the superhero shows.
From 2012 to 2013, The CW introduced a TV adaptation of DC comics' 'Green Arrow', named just 'Arrow' which became a hit as soon as it premiered. It gained the highest viewership in the history of the network, landing The CW 4.14 million views. It later slipped to third place with the success of 'The Vampire Diaries' and 'The Flash', both of which premiered with 4.91 million and 4.83 million respectively.
These shows gave the network much needed male audiences and added with the success of 'The Originals' and the stability of 'Supernatural', it catapulted it into mainstream success. Then came shows like 'The One', the revival of 'Whose line is it Anyway?', 'Jane the Virgin' and, 'iZombie'.
'Jane the Virgin' also landed critical acclaim and was nominated for Best Television Series — Musical or Comedy — at the 2015 Golden Globes. It also got the Peabody Award, and Gina Rodriguez, the lead won the Golden Globe award for Best Actress – Television Series, Musical or Comedy.
It was also named a TV Program of the Year by the American Film Institute. By the end of 2015, the network had seen a 12 percent increase consistently year after year. It also increased its share in the male demographic by 0.8.
Soon after came 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' and the 'Arrow/Flash' spin-off of DC's 'Legends of Tomorrow', in 2016. Both were massive hits for the network.
Once again, 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' went on to be nominated for a Golden Globe. Then came some of its best-rated shows — 'Riverdale' and 'Black Lightning' and 'Legacies', another 'The Vampire Diaries/The Originals' spin-off.
Today, The CW has a variety of shows that cater to a wide range of audiences that only continue to grow, its crux still being the younger crowd.
The network's 2019 roster includes shows like 'Roswell New Mexico' and Perry Mattfeld starrer 'In The Dark'. In development are shows like 'Batwoman', written and produced by Caroline Dries, starring Ruby Rose. CW is introducing her in next week's DC superhero crossover. There's also an untitled 'Jane the Virgin' spin-off from Valentina Garza, Jennie Urman and Gina Rodriguez, along with 'Strong Girl' from Melissa Scrivner, Rhonda Rousey and Ben Silverman; 'Lean on Me' from Wendy Calhoun, LeBron James and John Legend and 'City of Ghosts' from 'Pretty Little Liar's' I Marlene King, and writers Karen Wyscarver and Sanford Golden. The network also has a 'Dorian Gray' comedy spin-off from Marisa Coughlin and Len Goldstein in the works.
In spite of it all, the network still doesn't do too well with Nielsen household ratings but clearly, that hasn't stopped its growth. Ratings and TV domination is just a matter of time.