Upfronts 2012: CW Peddles Bold Programing, Fan Favorites and the Power of Netflix (Analysis)
The CW kicked off its annual upfront presentation Thursday at New York's City Center with a lively performance by Flo Rida and a clear message to its Madison Avenue audience: This is a new network.
"It's a transformative year for the CW," said CW president Mark Pedowitz, who spent much of the 45-minute dog-and-pony show peddling the 6-year-old network's new series. He directed the ad-buying audience to the room's larger screens to outline his progress since taking over for Dawn Ostroff -- who was in attendance as a spectator -- a year ago.
He reminded the audience that he said he'd do more shows, which he has done by adding 50 hours of original programming. He said he'd develop more pilots, which he did, with five receiving series orders late last week. (The passed-over Hunger Games-style pilot The Selection is being redeveloped for midseason potential). And he said he'd have a summer schedule for the first time, which he will with new unscripted entries Oh, Sit, The Catalina and The Star Next Door.
In introducing the younger-skewing network's offerings, many of which have close-ended procedural elements, Pedowitz was forced to do a delicate dance between praising the network's digital ingenuity and touting the value of traditional media -- and the rich advertising revenue that comes with it. "The world is changing, and the industry is innovating with it," he said, stressing that the 18- to 34-year-old broadcast audience was still the core of the fully converged network's focus.
Still, he noted that the CW app has been downloaded more than 1 million times since it debuted in March. What's more, he waxed on about digital deals with Hulu and Netflix, which have increased the network's marketing footprint, as well as about putting content on CWTV.com the day after they air on TV, down from three days after. The latter more has added 12 percent more online viewership. (Whether piracy is down, they won't know for a few months.)
When it came to new series, Arrow, a modern retelling of the legendary DC Comics character Green Arrow from Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim, got top billing, with Pedowitz rolling a clip at the top of the hour to demonstrate the new -- and decidedly bolder and broader -- direction for the network. He also appeared particularly high on Emily Owens, M.D. (formerly First Cut). The hospital drama played like a younger-skewing Grey's Anatomy, which Pedowitz developed during his tenure at the helm of ABC Studios. Of particular note is its star Mamie Gummer, whose casting he likens to "lightning in a bottle." Following the presentation, he explained the title was changed to focus more on her character.
With all the talk of what's to come, Pedowitz was careful to acknowledge returning and departing fare, including the farewell season of Gossip Girl. "It put the CW on the map, and we're forever grateful," he says of what he calls "OMFG storytelling." Later, Pedowitz confirmed that co-creator Stephanie Savage and Sara Goodman will co-showrun the series' abbreviated final season, which will run largely uninterrupted this fall. As for the other returnees, he says Hart of Dixie is coming back for a variety of reasons, including both its repeatability and its digital popularity -- the Rachel Bilson vehicle rivals The Vampire Diaries as The CW's most popular show on Hulu.
Pedowitz suggested he had to let go of Ringer, though, because viewers failed to stick with the heavily serialized and somewhat older-skewing series when returned after its winter hiatus. In a moment of reflection, Pedowitz told a handful of reporters that he would have done a few things differently if he had it to do all over again: He would have paired it with Hart of Dixie on Mondays, and encouraged more a satisfying conclusion during episodes eight, nine and 10. Still, he insists that star -- and, if his inbox is any indication, fan favorite -- Sarah Michelle Gellar will be back on his network, either as a producer or a star.
Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com; Twitter: @LaceyVRose