January 13, 2013 4:55pm PT by Tim Goodman
The CW: Still Doing Whatever It Is That It Does
My great fascination with The CW continues. Last summer I wrote about how it seemed inconceivable to still be alive, and I'm as astonished now as then. At that time, about the only show on the network that I liked was Nikita, but then I favorably reviewed Arrow because if felt right for the brand (and the show is doing pretty well, or by CW standards, extraordinarily well). This season I like The Carrie Diaries. It doesn't mean I'll watch all three of those regularly, but they're good shows for the brand (and so is The Vampire Diaries, which the CW is likely to spin off in hopes of branching out). Those are all good things.
But as a business entity, The CW is still a mystery. (See the linked stories for the crazy details). Most of its series flat-line. Those that work -- meaning they register with Nielsen and do just enough business to validate the CW's niche programming -- are "hits" that still rank below other network's "not quite hits."
The CW is still alive because -- well I don't really know why. But the working theory as presented by the CW is that it attracts a very young target audience, especially among women, even though the median age of the network is 41. (I joked today on Twitter that if you say that out loud, they send Arrow to kill you.) The CW has, for as long as I can remember, whined that the Nielsens don't adequately measure its 18-34 audience. I can't remember one TCA, where network presidents come here to tout their wares and also explain their failures (and successes), that the CW hasn't blamed faulty metrics for its barely beating pulse.
Now, you should know that everyone pretty much agrees that the Nielsen ratings are flawed in some way. Every broadcast network and cable channel has a gripe. But they are all playing within that system because to date there's not a better solution. If everyone is playing under the same guidelines -- including the CW -- then at some point one would have to surmise that the CW's continued game of crying foul would be just that: crying.
On Sunday, Mark Pedowitz, president of the CW, was the last such title-holder to come before us. As expected, he had some interesting comments. The network tried some summer programming for the first time and one of its series was called Breaking Pointe. "It did not receive the overnight ratings or the C3s that we hoped, but it had a very, very strong digital streaming presence," Pedowitz said. (C3s are basically a measurement of people who watched the show within 75 hours of its airing.) The CW believes it does extremely well with its shows being streamed -- and that may be true. There may come a time when the CW turns into Hulu. Who knows.
In explaining some failures (Emily Owens, High School Doctor) and some upcoming projects (the spin-off to Vampire Diaries, perhaps a Wonder Woman series, maybe some more DC Comics things etc. dream on, etc.), Pedowitz mentioned wanting L.A. Complex, a Canadian-financed series, to come back (it's a series that barely made a blip in the Nielsens and wasn't picked up by said Canadian bankrollers). Don't ask me why the CW wanted yet another series no one was watching (and by no one I don't mean the fraction of you who did, I mean the rest of the measurable country).
At one point Pedowitz was asked about whether Beauty and the Beast would be picked up for a second season. He gloated that it was a People's Choice fan favorite and big with some kind of E! Online measurement that means nothing. He said that in the fourth quarter, with total viewers, B&B was on pace with Secret Circle, a show that did so poorly the CW canceled it. When pressed about why he was bullish on B&B, Pedowitz said the show had growth potential. Listen, every show on the CW has growth potential. What they need to do, and fast, is reach that potential. And viewers.
I know that the CW thinks I pick on it. That I don't like its shows. But that's not true. I'm just completely fascinated about its magical thinking. I think that any network that comes before the TCA to to tout or defend itself, should do so with tangible evidence based on the metrics everybody else uses. All I've heard from the CW for years is -- what's the word? -- bullshit.
The CW believes that billions of people in the 18-34 audience are watching its shows via Hulu or video on demand or through CWTV.com -- all of these things that Nielsen isn't tracking, according to Pedowitz. So, in essence, the problem is with the Nielsen ratings not with the CW. The CW has, for years -- before Pedowitz -- believed this same line of thinking. Sometimes it that skewed logic was even more tenuous than untracked viewers watching on Hulu -- it was a certain feeling, something in the zeitgeist that told CW presidents people were watching.
Not much has changed. That's why I find it fascinating to hear the excuses. The level of self-delusion is off the charts. And by charts I mean charts in my mind that can't be tracked or used as any kind of reliable metric.