Back at year’s end time when I was feeling particularly isolated and snarky, I actually went out on a limb for a change and offered up a series of predictions for the media landscape for 2022. One of my somewhat ballsier prognostications was this:
The CW will take a significant step toward ceasing to exist as a broadcast network. Both ViacomCBS and WarnerDiscovery are committed to and struggling with cable and streaming priorities. The Tribune station group that was the backbone of (and a minority partner) of the CW no longer exists. Nexstar, which owns many of the major-market stations that were part of Tribune, is committed to local news, which has a reciprocal audience to the young adult base that the CW targets. And that audience is heavily skewed away from watching any broadcast TV. We’ve already seen franchises such as GOSSIP GIRL that grew this network at the beginning of this century shift to HBO Max. The majority of the audience its current tentpoles garner come from time-shifted and non-linear viewership. Incredibly, it actually added a night of oeiginal programming back this fall. On many nights, those shows don’t even attract a million live viewers nor a a statistically significant A 18-49 rating. I’predict that either Bob Bakish and/or David Zaslav may have a better idea for this outdated entity.
As you likely know by now, this week the CW took some pretty dramatic steps in that direction. As the brilliant Lesley Goldberg reported in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER (link below) more original shows were cancelled (10) than renewed (8) and only three new ones were ordered. All three newly ordered series were franchise extensions, minimizing the heavier lifting for promotion, and unlike the majority of the series biting the dust they will have the ability to be viewed and monetized online via the CW Seed. Goldberg’s article is about as detailed and spot-on as possible, enumerating the myriad business and ownership reasons that led to these decisions. As VAMPIRE DIARIES showrunner Julie Plec lamented to her impassioned and heartbroken fan base, “it’s the Red Wedding at WBTV/CW”. The reference was to the GAME OF THRONES plot point where half the guests at a wedding were slaughtered, and none of them saw it coming.
Well, Julie may have been a tad melodramatic. No one actually died, and she likely has more than enough savings where she’ll be OK for a while. But a lot of other rank and file people who worked for her aren’t, and in a bitter rwist of irony, the success of HBO may very well have played a role in the CW series’ demises.
Warner Discovery’s choices here are in line with those that motivated the bloodbath at the Turner networks earlier this week. It’s apparent that their strategy is to populate and prioritize a single streaming destination as optimally as possible and minimize the amount of internal distraction and potential self-cannibalization, all the more necessary given how cutthroat the battle between competing monoliths’ streamers is. HBO/HBO Max has by far the strongest track record and brand potential of all of their scripted television resources, with a GAME OF THRONES prequel and other brand extensions poised to help drive subscriber and AVOD adoption later this year. Paramount Global is adopting a similar strategy with its assets, no longer seeing either the opportunity or the need to export their content internationally, which makes franchises like DYNASTY no longer viable domestically. When U.S. linear ratings barely break through the Blutarsky threshold (zero point zero), that’s of minimal interest to a company like Nexstar, which appears to be in the leadership position to potentially taking CW over.
Nexstar has inherited the Tribune stations that served as the network’s launching pad in top markets, and they are even more committed to growing local news and the older/broader audience they tend to attract than Tribune, and certainly Warner and Paramount, were. Shows about vampires, superheroes and “dinnah-stees”, as the British-born sales executives I used to deal with sneeringly pronounced it, simply don’t attract a lot of linear viewers, and those that they do were definitely not news viewers.
Intriguingly, among the shows whose fates have not yet been announced by the CW include their reboots of WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY? and the 90s Nickelodeon game show LEGENDS OF THE HIDDEN TEMPLE, as well as a recently added TO TELL THE TRUTH knockoff, WOULD I LIE TO YOU? While these have been relegated to Saturday nights, their modest audiences are no better or worse than many of the lower-rated dramas the CW cancelled, and they’re a helluva lot cheaper. Wouldn’t be surprising to see a few more unscripted series in the CW’s future.
If you’re looking for a potential playbook beyond unscripted going forward, it’s likely they will continue to pursue acquisitions and co-productions from international sources; three such projects featuring the auspices of Patrick Dempsey and Freddie Highmore, among others, are already in the works, as Goldberg reported. It’s a similar strategy that Nexstar employed when it took over WGN America, which had pursued expensive, creatively lauded originals of their own under the Tribune watch yet failed to attract large enough audiences to warrant continuing. Well, since that network is now NewsNation, you can see how much potential that particular game plan has.
Might we offer that it wouldn’t be the dumbest idea to take a page from Turner and look to the likes of procedural dramas with some degree of quality and said broader audience? Certainly, there’s a lot of projects lying around the offices of Brett Weitz and his lieutenants who, along with the CW show staffers, will be cleaning them out just as they were beginning to head back to them.
If nothing else, at least for the moment the CW does not appear to be taking the lead of My Network TV, which years ago disintegrated into a receptacle for off-network hours to add a few eyeballs to their barter spots with series that air on cable networks and traditional syndication as well. Thank goodness for that.
But, grudgingly, I predict that at some point Nexstar, or whomever does take over the CW, might actually consider that template. I really don’t want to be right again. We don’t need any more Red Wedding days.
Until next time…