Upfronts 2022: The CW Downsizes As It Faces Transitional Year Amid Ownership Change & Business Strategy Shift

When the dust settled after a frantic day today, the CW was left with 11 original scripted series — new and returning — on tap for next season. That is down from from 19 (including Stargirl whose future is unclear) picked up for the 2021-22 season last year.

While there is contraction across the board on linear networks, the drop at the CW is significant and follows years of expansion that resulted in the network adding two extra nights of original programing on Sundays and Saturdays and also years of the CW rubber-stamping its scripted portfolio with the vast majority of series automatically returning regardless of their ratings performance.

That all came to an end this year, ahead of the CW’s pending sale to Nexstar. Only the strongest ratings performers made the cut, and there were a slew of cancellations, including same painful ones like veteran DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Vampire Diaries offshoot Legacies and freshman Naomi.

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In the biggest transformation in the history of the CW since Mark Pedowitz took the reins 11 years ago and turned the fledgling female-focused CW into a gender-balanced network with a thriving superhero franchise, the net is fundamentally changing the way it operates and makes decisions.

Having functioned as an extension of its parent companies’ studios, Warner Bros. TV and CBS TV Studios, the CW’s role had been to help launch series which the two studios can exploit in streaming and international. A number of renewals over the years were dictated by the shows’ value to the studios, not the network, which explained why the low-rated Dynasty ran for five seasons on the CW. The show, which was canceled today, was the subject of a rich deal between CBS Studios and Netflix and making money for the studio regardless of its performance on the CW.

After the CW’s sale, while Warner Bros. and Paramount are expected to retain minority stakes and continue to supply programming for it, their interests will no longer be above those of the network.

The 2019 end of WBTV and CBS Studios’ Netflix output deal for the CW programming also played a role in some of the cancellations as newer series go to HBO Max/Paramount+ and do not bring in external streaming revenue, putting more pressure on them to deliver for the studios. (The end of the Netflix pact has been beneficial for the CW, which can now monetize its shows with a full-season stack for all of but The Flash, Riverdale and All American.)

Financial considerations by studios led to the cancellation of several series, which Pedowitz probably would’ve kept on the air longer, including Legends of Tomorrow, which deserved a proper sendoff after seven seasons, Legacies, which has a devoted fan following, and In the Dark, which has been among the CW’s highest quality series. I hear the CW was willing to renew those shows but the studios behind them were not for business reasons as they try keep their slates profitable.

While the CW’s original scripted series volume is going down significantly, the network has beefed up its slate of acquired scripted programming, including Family Law, Professionals and Leonardo, on tap for next season, as well as alternative fare.

In light of the cancellations, we may no longer see marquee CW original scripted series such as Riverdale and Nancy Drew on Fridays or Sundays as was the case this season; they may be concentrated on Monday-Thursday (or possibly Sunday-Thursday). More acquired and alternative programming will likely find its way to the lower-trafficked nights and the summer where the CW had been consistently airing a few original scripted shows over the last couple of years.

There are a lot of rumors and speculation what the CW would look like under its new owners, with speculation about a potential push for more wholesome programming that appeals to middle America and questions about its future commitment to LGBT representation.

While time will tell what the CW would evolve into, for now, under Pedowitz, the network remains committed to diverse and inclusive storytelling that could push boundaries.

Heading into the CW’s new era, Pedowitz next Thursday will take the stage for the only traditional broadcast presentation this upfront as we bid farewell to the unicorn that the CW was, a broadcast net with two equal owners and a unique business model that survived way longer than anyone would’ve predicted.



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