Quick Take: Tim Goodman on The CW
The Network of Magical Thinking returns for another year of Facebook likes, Twitter mentions, Vine squeals and other things it hopes will detract from the fact its shows draw a small audience.
I will say this (yay!) for the last time: The obligatory disclaimer: As a TV critic, I’m not going to comment definitively on any of CW’s trailers. Because that’s all they are – trailers. It’s hard enough to judge a series based on a pilot episode, much less a cut-down trailer.
At best, whatever I say is a shrug. And don’t hold me to that.
Also, to understand how I feel about the upfront dog-and-pony show and the inability of networks to learn from the mistakes of the current industry model, you might want to read this.
The Vampire Diaries has done good business for the kind of business that The CW does, and the kinda-sorta network successfully launched the on-target and fun Arrow last season. It makes sense then that The CW would keep those two in place, shuffle everything around and launch a TVD spinoff series called The Originals. Staying hyper-focused on what works, the kinda-sorta network is also going to premiere a costume drama in Reign and another fantasy drama, The Tomorrow People. I may have huge doubts about the CW, but so long as it takes baby steps and doesn’t veer too far from the limited model of what works, you can’t fault the strategy.
Ah, here we go. The Network of Magical Thinking never ceases to amaze me as it spins a fantastical web of financial viability and relevance that exists outside of metrics everyone else uses. That is, The CW spins its ratings failure as irrelevant because it’s on a playing field by itself, judging its success by itself (in a funhouse mirror of often hilariously created distortions). The brilliance of the argument is that some people swallow it sans proof, where they wouldn’t dare swallow it from anyone else in the TV industry, which is what The CW is in, regardless of what it pretends. I’ve maintained before that everyone in The CW publicity department should get massive raises each year. That stands.
What’s especially intriguing this year is that ABC -- you might recall it as a Big Four network -- tried to come out at these very upfronts and also spin its fourth-place finish for the second year in a row as irrelevant, because it was a powerhouse in some other, dubious platforms and measurements. (That’s ballsy, given that the networks are presenting their goods to advertisers, who are still very much faithful to Nielsen ratings when it comes to doling out their cash.) Anyway, the reaction that ABC got from CBS -- the dominant No. 1 network -- was this, from CBS major-domo Les Moonves: “Anybody who spends 20 minutes talking about multiplatform at their upfront doesn’t have much else to sell.”
Now that’s interesting, because you may know CBS as the CW relation that actually matters. So having CW head Mark Pedowitz continue to say ethereal things about social media, brand awareness, unicorns -- including calling The Vampire Diaries “the No. 1 social scripted program on broadcast TV” -- means that in the very same corporate family you have two executives at polar opposites on the value of bulls--t.
It’s a fascinating snapshot of reality, and one reason I hope The CW keeps the lights on -- though I can’t tell whether reporters just aren’t listening to Pedowitz in the same way they listen to Moonves, or if they, too, can’t figure out what the hell he’s saying and just want the Network of Magical Thinking to exist because everyone on it is so pretty.
The shows (you can watch them here):
The Originals and Reign are, nothing negative here, exactly the kind of programming The CW should be making for its audience and there’s no reason to think they won’t work (though asking The Originals to kick off Tuesdays on its own might be asking a lot – perhaps a bunch of Facebook “likes” will offset the ratings hit). The Tomorrow People looks quite intriguing and putting it behind Arrow creates a nice two-hour block of fun escapism, which partly cuts the pain of losing Nikita (which will close out its series run with a final six episodes).