How The CW Is Plotting a Return to Business as Usual During a Pandemic

Mark Pedowitz - Getty - H 2020
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Mark Pedowitz, broadcast's longest-tenured chief, has no regrets about delaying the start of The CW's fall season.

His network (like Fox), made the decision last summer to wait until the new year to bring back scripted originals like Riverdale and All American. The late start afforded productions more time to get used to filming during a pandemic, where episodes take longer (and cost more) to complete. It also.

While the January fall launch gives the network a backlog of originals to air without interruption (provided the pandemic doesn't have other plans), it also delayed decisions like the network's traditional mid-January slate of early renewals.

Now, as The CW prepares to formally launch its fall season on Sunday with the returns of Batwoman and All American, Pedowitz talks with The Hollywood Reporter about how the network is plotting a return to business as usual, including more straight to series orders, developing shows with heart and, yes, the future of all things DC.

Let's pretend we're at TCA: When will you bring Supernatural back?

If they boys want to come back, we're ready to have them. (Laughing.)

The CW traditionally hands out early renewals during this time of year. Where are you in those conversations, especially since your season doesn't formally start until Sunday with Batwoman.

I'm just getting into those discussions. I came from a studio background and understand the importance of early pickups — it allows for better preparation. We're a few weeks away but I need to finish up some internal discussions.

ABC, NBC and CBS all returned originals late last year. In hindsight, any regrets holding the season start to January

No. Once we said it, we felt it was the right thing to do. It would have been too patchworky. At this point, it gets longer and longer and you're waiting to get back into some form of what's your finished product going to look like? I have no regrets. I just wish it didn't take this long to happen.

How much has The CW's late start to the season — originals return next starting Sunday night — impacted the way you conduct business, both in terms of renewals and the negotiations for pilot orders, etc.?

We did this strategically and made choice in the summer because we were concerned with misleading affiliates, the consumer and the ad sales community that we were going to have a fall schedule in the fall and felt that wasn't the right thing. We found some successes with some of the acquisitions, like Stargirl, Coroner and World's Funniest Animals. Some of those are good linear, a lot of them were great on digital. Our digital presence was kept alive because of that. That said, our fall had Supernatural. And once that came back, we were doing [ratings] numbers we were doing pre-pandemic.

We are interested in seeing how people react. It's not just a covid issue right now; it's also the uncertainty in the country with news being as much of a viewing choice as anything else. We're going to have to see how it all plays. We're getting a little colder of a start than we would have if we rolled out of summer. On a digital basis, we're fine. On a linear basis, it's gotten harder.  On the development basis, nothing has really changed. I think straight to series [orders] will be done again this year — just for financial purposes so people can get going as quickly as possible — by the end of January. That could change because the surge could change. But there is a bit more flexibility to it. We're still on the same schedule: we have to talk to advertisers in some form in May about what things look like for the following fall. We're hoping that the following fall is closer to a normalized fall — like 2019 was. Do I think it will be completely that way? No. Do I think it will be much more that than not that? Yes.

So, you'll be focused largely on straight to series orders instead of pilot pickups this season?

We haven't seen a lot of development yet. Lost Boys and Maverick [ordered to pilot last year], because of what occurred, are back in contention as development, not because they got picked up to pilot last year. They're in the mix with many other things, including dramas from Ava DuVernay, Black Lightning spinoff Painkiller, Wonder Girl, PowerPuff Girls, The 4400. The scripts are coming in slowly. Right now, I've seen just a handful of scripts and I'm waiting for others to come in so I can make some decisions. They're in contention for how we pick up pilots or direct to series.

Last year, you went straight to series on Superman & Lois and Walker largely out of concerns that there could be a WGA strike. Why is this an attractive model for some development this year?

A lot of is dependent upon what we're dealing with in terms of production needs with ongoing series in a sense. The other is what's the economic impact. Bypassing pilots is short-term less money than going straight to series. We look at the economic impact and if we believe enough in these shows and that will determine the decision.

With two veteran shows — Supergirl and Black Lightning — ending, how much more room on the schedule do you anticipate you'll have? You're making straight to series decisions based on a slate that will have just gotten under way.

We'll have space for three or four shows for next season, 2021-22. We're sorry to see Supergirl and Black Lightning go, but we're happy to have Naomi, Wonder Girl and Painkiller in the hopper right now. From The CW-DC/Arrow-verse — whatever we're calling it these days! — I think we'll be OK for the next generation. The Flash is new leader with Arrow gone and we're hoping Superman & Lois and Batwoman step up there for a new grouping of shows.

How much more life is left in veterans like Flash and Legends as you develop the next wave of the Arrow-verse? Especially when you have Greg Berlanti doing a big-budget Green Lantern and DC world at HBO Max and J.J. Abrams doing Justice League Dark for the streamer?

And they have Matt Reeves' Gotham PD there, too. It always makes me feel good when we're copied. (Laughing.) There's a lot of life left. Greg and I speak quite frequently. I'm not that concerned.   You recently passed on Green Arrow and the Canaries. Why? Timing. We couldn't quite figure out a model similar to Stargirl and couldn't quite get there. We were hoping to have it start at HBO Max and take a second run on The CW, but we couldn't figure out how to do it and couldn't make it all work.   Last year's pilots Lost Boys and Maverick are back in the development stage. What's the status of The 100 prequel?The 100 prequel is still in discussions at the studio level. I'd like to see it happen. I'm comfortable with where the prequel spinoff episode we did this past season. It's not a pilot; the earliest that would happen would be probably summer 2022, if that happens. We may end up deciding that we can't put the pieces together and it won't happen.

Speaking of the studio level, Warner Bros. is in the midst of a massive change as Channing Dungey is replacing Peter Roth. How does the changeover at Warners — which co-owns The CW alongside CBS Studios — impact the network? What kind of conversations have you had with Channing about their content pipeline since Warners is your main supplier?

Peter and I had remarkable partnership and relationship, and that will be missed. Channing worked with me when I ran ABC Studios and we've known each other for a long time. She's very supportive of The CW and the shows that go on The CW. There are shows she'd like to keep there and get on the air there. Obviously, her priorities may be a little different than Peter's. We are all working toward the same goal.

How has the pandemic and our current state of the world changed the types of programs you're looking to make? Can you do a show like Maverick, set on a college campus, during a pandemic? Do you still make dystopian stuff, especially if it's expensive?

Maverick is still in contention. I just had this conversation with our development team. I've come to the point right now about hope. About safe havens and a place where you can just ease your tension a little bit. One of the nice things about Superman & Lois, Walker and Kung Fu is at the end of the day — despite all the superhero/genre and Texas Ranger stuff — all three shows are about family, which is an important aspect going forward. You'll see Superman in a way you've never seen him before. And you'll see Jared Padalecki in a way you've never seen before. After watching all eight of Wentworth, I switched to Bridgerton because I wanted something light and fluffy. And I found Ted Lasso a worthy successor to Schitt's Creek — it gave me a hug and made me feel good. It made me remember that the human condition is not always bleak. That's where my head's at these days and I'm hoping development is more hopeful than it is dark and dismal.

Have you considered keeping production on your scripted shows going through the summer given the current covid surge that's happening this winter and the uncertainty in terms of vaccinations and new, more contagious strains? 

We work with the studios on episodic orders and when the shows would end, when they can revert back to a normalized schedule — some can do more easily than others — so we could be there for next October with a more normal schedule. We've sat with the studios and our production partners and have figured this out. Barring catastrophe, we think we're in good shape.

The CW is a joint venture between Warner Bros. and CBS Studios. Since both studios have prioritized their own studios, how much longer does it make sense for them to operate a linear network?

That's a question for them. for the moment, both parent companies are happy with how this is set up. They recognize the value of The CW brand for selling their shows in digital aftermarket.

Interview edited for length and clarity.