Why 'Sabrina' Bailed on 'Riverdale' to Launch on Netflix

Based on the graphic novel 'The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,' the new series landed a two-season, 20-episode order at the streaming giant.
Courtesy of WBTV
'The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Cover'

Warner Brothers Television was looking to expand its breakout hit Riverdale, the Archie Comics drama that has become The CW's second-most-watched series. But instead of staying with the network, the studio sold the offshoot to Netflix. Based on the graphic novel The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the new series landed a two-season, 20-episode order at the streaming giant, where Riverdale has found success as part of a lucrative SVOD deal. Fueled by a summer Netflix run, Riverdale returned in October and saw its second-season opener surge an unprecedented 60 percent.

The Sabrina spinoff originally was developed at The CW, a co-venture between Warner Bros. and CBS, but the network is said to have been higher on another witchy drama in the pipeline: Charmed. The latter, a reboot from Jane the Virgin's Jennie Snyder Urman, is being redeveloped after missing a pilot pickup this past season. (Charmed will remain 100 percent owned by CBS Studios if it ultimately moves to series.)

The move to Netflix is widely considered a win within the halls of Warner Bros., as the platform switch — which was discussed first with The CW's board along with execs from both of its parent studios — allows Warners to retain 100 percent ownership of the series from WB-based producer Greg Berlanti. Had the Sabrina project remained at The CW, Warner Bros. would have had to share ownership — and, more importantly, profits — with corporate cousin CBS, as part of The CW's business model. (Riverdale is a co-production between the two.)

"Warner Bros. is looking for any way that it can own 100 percent of their shows, and that drives a lot of decision-making there," notes one top agent. And though it was able to achieve that in this case, the Peter Roth-led TV studio has become more flexible when it comes to co-productions — a necessity in an era where vertical integration is the preferred way to do business. Other Riverdale spinoffs could still land at The CW, as the Sabrina project is just one of a suite of potential offshoots being eyed by Riverdale showrunner and Archie Comics chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.

There are plenty of Netflix viewers who won't bat an eye at a Riverdale spinoff on the platform. As The CW's executive vp marketing and digital Rick Haskins said this fall, "Probably more people watched [Riverdale] on Netflix thinking it was a Netflix show."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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