The broadcast networks announce their 2017-18 schedules in two weeks. Before that, TV by the Numbers looks at one big question each network needs to answer as they plan for next season.
The CW is structured like a broadcast network, with affiliated stations across the country and a set weekly primetime schedule. It does not, however, operate very much like its fellow broadcasters.
Thanks to a very generous streaming deal with Netflix — which allows complete seasons of shows to stream just eight days after their on-air seasons end — the pressure to chase ratings and ad dollars is arguably lower at The CW than at other networks. The deal is reportedly worth up to $1 billion per year. By comparison, the network’s upfront ad sales last year totaled about $500 million.
That setup has allowed shows like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which will be the lowest-rated broadcast series for the second season in a row, and “Jane the Virgin” to survive way past the point where they’d be done in on other networks. That sort of faith should encourage writers who have out-of-the-box ideas to bring their scripts there.
Which is also why it’s disappointing that The CW, for all its talk of being a next-generation, hybrid network, has such a staid programming philosophy at its core. They may be targeted at younger viewers than shows on the Big 4, but The CW relies on the same mix of franchises, reboots and spinoffs its larger, older brethren do.
Trying to run 10 hours’ worth of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”-like shows each week would probably be suicidal, even with the Netflix safety net. An ad-supported network has to sell some ads, after all. But why not embrace the freedom the Netflix deal affords a little bit more?
That’s unlikely to happen next season. The CW has already renewed nine shows, with decisions pending on “The Originals” and “iZombie” (rookies “Frequency” and “No Tomorrow” are probably done). The two pilots considered closest to a lock for series pickups are another DC Comics show (“Black Lightning”) and a reboot of an old-school hit (“Dynasty”).
The CW also seems to have taken the wrong message from the acclaim for “Crazy Ex” and “Jane the Virgin,” boiling it down to “people want to see quirky female-led dramedies!” rather than “shows with singular voices are good.”
With the way its business is set up, it would seem The CW has a chance to take some bigger swings with its programming. The network’s #brand is superheroes right now, and it was teen dramas before that. But it doesn’t have to be.
It might do well to follow the lead of channels like FX, which has a well-established rep for supporting its show creators, or the similarly young adult-focused TBS, which has steered into offbeat comedy lately and found some success there.
It’s not likely to happen next season, based on available evidence. But it’s worth considering down the line.