So What Will The CW Now Stand For?

For all of the snarkiness and shade I threw on the Paramout Global folk earlier this week when they announced the confoundingly mashed-up rebranding of their streaming service to Paramount+SHOWTIME, I probably should have cut them a bit more slack than less informed observers did.   Given the legal and contractual commitments they have made to various shows, and IP, not to mention executives, there are likely some legal reasons the two brand names need to co-exist, if only for a transition period.  That circumstance was why the first company I worked for in California, Metromedia Producers Corporation, had to continue to exist as a shell brand and some of its employees (including me) needed to be pay from a budget labeled MPC Producers, Inc, months after the actual operation was effectively shut down after being acquired by 20th Century FOX.  For several months, even when I was publicly recognized as an executive with the more familiar studio, my pay stubs reflected a different truth.  With SHOWTIME technically a pay TV company, and Paramounr+ having an ad-supported component, even if Chris McCarthy does agree with the majority of America that the impending brand name change sucks eggs, his hands may very well be tied for the moment.

Which is why I don’t expect there to be an immediate rebranding of The CW despite the daunting news earlier this week that the network’s top two remaining scripted executives, along with many others in their once-prolific current programming department, are joining the ranks of the newly unemployed, as the always tuned-in Lesley Goldberg exclusively reported for her trade publication:

The CW, in its latest shift away from scripted originals, is dismantling its current programming department. 

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that exec vp current programming Michael Roberts and exec vp development Gaye Hirsch — two of The CW’s remaining most important scripted executives — are among those who were let go Thursday. An exact headcount was not immediately available, though sources say others were impacted by the layoffs.  

While losing the heads of current and development are a big blow to The CW’s efforts to continue making scripted originals, this is not a complete dismantling of its scripted executives as sources say some lower-level staffers — i.e., those with smaller salaries — are being retained.

Having had the exact same opportunity to keep my own job as described above, with the real reasons noted as well, it’s pretty clear that those still around are, in effect, there mostly to service the few remaining contractually committed shows, such as Warner Brothers TV’s ALL AMERICAN.  Goldberg later recounted a few other recent moves that speak volumes about the future of most scripted TV with the company from the network’s new brass:

Nexstar installed Dennis Miller as president of The CW. In turn, Miller tapped former Pop TV president Brad Schwartz to oversee entertainment at The CW. Under Nexstar, Schwartz is tasked with making The CW profitable by 2025. Schwartz is expected to keep what sources say could be as many as only three U.S. scripted originals on The CW. The network has already renewed All American as one of those few series expected to remain under Nexstar. Additionally, Schwartz this week brought in former NBCU exec Heather Olander as the newly created role of head of unscripted programming for The CW. Olander and Schwartz are expected to populate the network with low-cost reality programming and foreign scripted acquisitions. The latter costs considerably less than U.S. originals like Superman & Lois, which sources peg comes with a $5 million per episode price tag.

The timing of the departures comes in the middle of broadcast’s annual pilot season. The CW has not picked up a single pilot for development next season in what is clearly another sign of the network’s future under Nexstar.

Schwartz, to his credit, has strong experience in playing the cards he has been dealt.  As an executive with City TV in Toronto, a progressive channel that was the inspiration for many of the early FOX network series, he developed connections with talent in his native Canada that came to fruitition when he was able to secure U.S. rights to SCHITT’S CREEK for the network he took over in 2015 that was once called the TV Guide Channel and was rebranded POP TV under his aegis.  With the show mostly funded by Canadian TV, it was affordable enough for the struggling cable network to air and, thanks to so many discovering those episodes on Netflix, it reaped the benefits of creating an identity for POP, and even win a few Emmys in the process, while serving as a trumpet for a lineup of otherwise tepid and poorly-rated unscripted series and a handful of “buzzy” acquired series.  That recipe gave Schwartz the support to take a bigger swing with atempting to save the ONE DAY AT A TIME reboot I worked on with Sony after Netflix callously cited its “international underperformance” to end the series after just 39 brilliant episodes,fully intending to replace the sunsetting SCHITT with that and potentially other opportunistically funded scripted series.   Schwartz tenaciously worked the angles, as well as his new CBS partners, to negotiate availabiltiies of those episodes upon the end of Netflix’s window and ordered a fourth season of 13.  Alas, that damn virus shut production down midway, CBS decided not to give Schwartz further resources to built out his vision, and the POP/ODAAT connection lasted for only seven mostly unseen episodes,which only began airing after Schwartz and most of his team had already “moved on”.

So I’m a bit more understanding of the task he has now, and why the unpopular moves he made earlier this week were necessary.  Regardless, The CW as it’s been known is, for all intents and purposes, gone.  Which then brings up that name.  Because the reason that name existed in the first place was largely due to similar legal commitments with its merging entities, UPN and the WB (the “C” coming from UPN’s CBS parent, since as any Seattle-based collegian can attest, UW was already spoken for.  The CW was a shotgun wedding name, and for all intents and purposes the UPN strategy of black-appeal situation comedies like EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS, and most of the executives who championed them, were gone once the more globally salable young-appeal hours of the WB were determined to be the sounder financial path.  It was those shows, including some like SUPERNATURAL that even predated The CW, that defined the network, certainly not the name.

But Schwartz’ hand is now clearly being doled out by a company called Nexstar, which has neither a C nor a W in its name.  And even the “C” company now has a corporate name that begins with a “P”.  And Nexstar has, correctly, determined that its 200-ish owned stations, the majority of which lean heavily on older-skewing local news and unscripted syndicated series for its existing profits, has little need for the kind of shows that Hirsch, Roberts and others were best capable of producing.  So bringing in Oleander was a necessary evil, and her track record suggests at least she has the chops to be up to the task, as her own LinkedIn biography strongly suggests:

Some may ask: What is an economics major from Cornell doing in the entertainment and media industry? In the case of Heather Olander, the answer is in the results. She is making a difference and creating value.

By skillfully blending her identities as a TV production creative voice and a pop culture junkie, Heather has been the driving force in ushering entertainment companies into new phases of original programming, talent acquisition, audience engagement, and market share growth.

One media professional describes her this way: “Intense. Exacting. Funny. Passionate. Tough…To think that any one descriptor tells the whole story would be to miss the point and the experience of really getting to know her. Your best bet when doing business with Heather is to approach her the way she approaches life. Come with your best stuff, be straight and give it your best shot.”

(Yeah, like you, I have a side bet on just who that media professional might be).

So, with that in mind, and the utmost respect for the task ahead for her and Schwartz, may I offer this aptly initialed advice:

Choose Wisely.

Schwartz would be best served not to go back to the playbook of unscripted originals he developed for Pop when he took that helm, including some of these forgotten gems from his 2015 upfront presentation:

Based on the popular Yahoo web series, this celebrity-hosted television series will capture sit-down interviews with stars as they recount their unforgettable and often hilarious real-life stories of losing their virginity. 

Elvis Duran, one of the most listened-to syndicated radio personalities in the U.S. and host of his own show on Z100 in New York (“Elvis Duran and the Morning Show”), is the subject of a docu-series that follows Elvis and his employees both at work and play.

A handful  of celebrities take the stage in WORST EVER to recount their hilarious, embarrassing and sometimes shocking “Worst Ever” scenarios such as a date, audition, break-up, fight, family dinner, sexual encounter or interview.  

And Heather, you sure don’t want to bring to this network the kind of folk you brought over to USA (which you migrated to the more apropos corporate cousins like Bravo and E! as your domain expanded) such as the principles behind one of your more impactful series, CHRISLEY KNOWS BEST.  Remember how that all wound up for them as you were leaving.  FOX certainly jumped on the chance to remind the world of that outcome:

Todd and Julie Chrisley, from the long-running reality show “Chrisley Knows Best,” were found guilty on all charges of bank fraud and tax evasion in an Atlanta, Georgia courtroom on Tuesday.

The couple was initially indicted in August 2019, and a new indictment was filed in February, where the couple faced 12 counts of bank and wire fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy over a nine-year period, all of which they denied.

The Chrisleys could each face up to 30 years in prison, and a sentencing hearing will take place on another date.

Chrisley attorney Bruce Morris told Fox News Digital: “Disappointed with the verdict. Appeal is planned.”

Yeah, I’d avoid them.  As well as that tone.

What I would humbly offer is to dig into what does drive viewership for news and less salacious unscripted shows like those that the Nexstar stations have at the moment.  Maybe carve out an identity of reality programming that is anti-Bravo, anti-TLC, and even anti-streaming.  Shows that feature redemption, reconnection, reward, renaissance, revival, resurrection–even reruns and reporting,  Hmmm, maybe there’s a two-letter name more apropos than The CW in that idea somewhere as well?  One that might be a better fit and worthwhile consideration down the road, once those damn contractual obligations have been met?

If any of that should spark an idea with snyone who does know Brad, Heather or the Nexstar brass, consider this my own attempt to live up to what that unnamed media professional suggested be the way to approach Oleander.  I’ve got a more detailed presentation, not to mention a few really sound program ideas, which I’d truly love to show someone in position to actually consider them.  Who knows, maybe my own story might qualify?  I’ll put my integrity side by side with the Chrisleys’, no matter what anyone may think to the contrary.

All I’m asking for is the chance to be considered.  Just like the new CW team will be asking of the audiences of 200 partner stations and those who will be looking to advertise with them.

Choose Wisely.  Consider this a subtle, humble but passionate reminder,  And request.

Until next time…


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