The new CW regime outlined their pitch to reinvent the network beyond its former roster of DC Comics-inspired superhero shows in an effort to make the now Nexstar-controlled broadcaster profitable by 2025.
Former Pop TV president Brad Schwartz, now entertainment president at The CW, and network president Dennis Miller (no, not that one) talked press through Nexstar’s first fall schedule for the former younger-skewing network Thursday, sharing details of how they plan to use foreign acquisitions, unscripted series and LIV golf to broaden the network to new, older and repeat viewers.
“We’re excited that The CW is now in the hands of Nexstar, a company with more free cash flow than Paramount, almost as much free cash flow as Fox,” Schwartz told reporters from a podium in New York, where assembled press (and those via Zoom) grilled the executive about the network’s drastic makeover. “The CW is now run by broadcasters whose only goal is to build a strong brand and cultivate emotional attachment to the largest audience possible. Broadcasting is their core business. Our goal is to do what’s best for viewers, for stations and for advertisers. No longer will The CW be built for the benefit of two content studios.”
The latter dig was directed at CBS Studios and Warner Bros. Television, the former co-owners of The CW, who now each retain a mere 12.5 percent stake in what remains of the network they built to profit from foreign and streaming sales of the originals that populated it.
Station group Nexstar took over full control of The CW late last year, ousting longtime CEO Mark Pedowitz and his senior executive team, and shifting to a model it hopes to make the network profitable by 2025.
As part of the changes, Miller and Schwartz have canceled all but two of The CW’s homegrown originals — All American (on the fall schedule) and Walker (midseason) — with three more — Superman & Lois, Gotham Knights and All American: Homecoming — awaiting decisions on their future. That came after a particularly brutal upfront season last year in which The CW canceled nearly half of the roster Pedowitz and company spent years cultivating for a network that was only designed to be profitable for its owners and not as a standalone broadcaster.
Asked specifically about the future of Superman & Lois — one of the two remaining DC Comics shows to remain on the bubble — Schwartz said the business model no longer worked for Nexstar’s vision for the network.
“They were the hallmarks of The CW for a long time. As we look forward and try to make this network bigger and profitable, frankly, as much as we all love those shows and they had their time, they’re not working on linear,” Schwartz said.
Instead, The CW has lined its fall schedule with shows that have already aired abroad, a canceled cable show (AMC’s 61st Street) and a rejected reality show (HBO Max’s FBoy Island). The model, Miller and Schwartz explained, was to make shows that maximize revenue for The CW. Decisions on Gotham Knights, Superman & Lois and Homecoming are expected to come “soon” as Schwartz said he speaks to producers Warner Bros. TV weekly about them. At the same time, all three are more expensive than most of the imported shows like Sullivan’s Crossing that Schwartz repeatedly touted during his hour-plus upfront-like presentation Thursday.
Under Pedowitz, The CW targeted viewers ages 18-34 with fare like Riverdale and Nancy Drew. Under Nexstar, Schwartz and Miller plan to focus on older viewers in the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic but vowed to not turn their back on the audience that made the broadcaster’s previous content appointment viewing.
“The young adult audience is not making an appointment with broadcast today,” Miller said, noting that it was a “great strategy” that has now evolved as the demo is now binging homegrown originals with higher price points like Euphoria, Stranger Things and Wednesday. “That audience has abandoned broadcast, hence the opportunity we have to broaden the audience.”
Asked by if they expect the lower-cost foreign acquisitions to rate after Pedowitz previously used them as fillers on the schedule, Miller argued that those programs starring the likes of Patrick Dempsey and Brendan Fraser were not marketed or priorities.
“For us, we’ve found acquisitions that could be huge shows,” said Schwartz, who as president of Pop TV brought Schitt’s Creek to U.S. audiences. “I don’t think ‘acquisition’ is a bad word. Sullivan’s Crossing cost as much as any other show to license. We think these are huge, hit shows. To me, it doesn’t matter who makes the show. The question is: will people watch?
“I don’t differentiate homegrown from acquisitions,” he continued. “We’ve picked shows we think have a chance to do well. Sullivan’s Crossing could be bigger than anything on The CW last year, FBoy Island could be bigger than anything on The CW last year. Fleabag is an acquisition, Bodyguard is an acquisition, Squid Game come from other parts of the world. Every single show we acquire, we make a deal to be creatively involved going forward. We want to be co-producers; we want our shows to be in the awards conversation.”
While The CW has rights to seasons that have already been produced, Schwartz opened the door to make additional seasons of them as co-producers with other studios. But first, the goal is to broaden the network beyond its current younger demo.
“We have to pick up shows if we think they can grow, be profitable, have great audience retention and that we can market other shows to,” he said when asked about the network’s current lack of superhero programming.
As the decisions on the two DC Comics shows hang in the balance, Schwartz called them “expensive” and noted that they weren’t profitable directly for The CW (though they are for Warners). “We don’t have the rights to prior seasons” of the three bubble shows, Schwartz said, noting Nexstar “spent millions” launching Superman & Lois and Gotham Knights. “It was frustrating for us because you can’t tell people to go catch up on Superman & Lois and it’s on HBO Max and it’s the 30th priority there,” he said. “It’s tough. If you want to be in business on a show and connect that show to audiences everywhere, you need to have the whole library.”
Looking ahead, Schwartz outlined a pipeline of unscripted acquisitions and originals as well as scripted fare like Sophie Turner in the co-production, Joan, German import The Swarm, and a spinoff of former TNT drama The Librarians, which he hoped could be the network’s next franchise. (Read more on Schwartz’s scripted strategy here.)
“We have to be entrepreneurial in the way we look at content,” he said. “We can’t write a per-episode $10 million check for a show with dragons. We have to build efficiently with co-productions and we’re finding acquisitions that we can turn into co-productions.”
Schwartz also vowed that The CW will not cut away from LIV golf the way the network did last weekend during a crucial playoff that aired following a two-hour rain delay, as he hoped the addition of sports brings in new viewers to the network.
“The CW brand has such a passionate connection to a certain small audience, and we’ll try to hold on to them. But we have to get bigger and broader,” he said, noting that the process starts by adding new viewers, getting them to stay tuned to the network longer and return to it more often. “As great as The CW always was, it didn’t have a lot of new people and only spoke to the same people over and over. LIV golf is bringing new people to The CW with a new audience, and we’re focused on the 18-49 demo and want to broaden to older than that.”
Disclaimer: Lesley Goldberg is married to Gotham Knights co-creator Natalie Abrams.