CW Network chief Mark Pedowitz opens up about the benefits of Netflix, the plan for profitability and what happened when his wife crossed paths with a young Matt Weiner.
When Mark Pedowitz was selected to run The CW a year ago, he seemed a nontraditional choice. After all, at 59, Pedowitz, who is married with no children, falls far outside the perennially ratings-challenged network's core 18-to-34 female demographic. And the gig came after Pedowitz made his name first as a Hollywood attorney and business affairs executive and then as the head of ABC Studios, where he championed such broad, all-ages hits as Lost and Grey's Anatomy. But 12 months in, the Brooklyn native already has used his deal-making savvy to monetize CW content, closing a billion-dollar pact with Netflix (for streaming rights to previous seasons of CW shows) and a five-year licensing deal with Hulu. He's ordering summer original series, one of several initiatives to lift The CW's viewership, which has fallen 14 percent in the ratings among its target audience, and prepping his first fall schedule, which is likely to include a Sex and the City prequel (The Carrie Diaries) and a superhero drama (Greg Berlanti's Arrow). The La Canada-area resident, who has three dogs -- two bloodhounds and a basset hound -- pictured prominently around his spacious Burbank office, sat down in late April to discuss ratings frustrations, provocative programming and the surprising instruction he gave his writers.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: If you could rewind a year, what's the one thing that you'd tell yourself about this job?
Mark Pedowitz: I would have spent the first six months not looking at ratings. I would have saved myself a lot of aggravation. I had an epiphany in December, when I started looking at the social-media grids like Get Glue, where our shows constantly are in the top 10. Or look at live-plus seven numbers, which we don't get paid for, and we're tripling our women 18-to-34 ratings. You start to realize that these shows are working, but the key -- and part of our development slate this year is going to be an attempt to do this -- is to find a way to get them to come back to view the shows live.
THR: If I'm a creator in town, what's your pitch for why I should take my show to The CW?
Pedowitz: I had a pretty good reputation at ABC Studios of being very writer-friendly, and I'm still that way. So my pitch is, you bring me material you believe in, and we will back the play. We're not overly intrusive in this world, and we're open to ideas. I asked Thom [Sherman, head of development] and his team, "What didn't get made but should get made?" They handed me the script for Cult [a drama from Gossip Girl's Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage], I read it, and I talked to everyone we needed to talk to, and we got the green light to do it.
THR: What don't you get pitched enough of?
Pedowitz: We don't have the luxury of cable, so we can't push the boundaries the way that you'd like to with some topics. I instructed Thom and his team to have our writers write these pilots as if they were writing for the pay medium. It's easier to pull back than it is to add, so I said, "Write it the way you would if you were going to take it to HBO, and we'll deal with the language issues and everything else to make it work for our air." Some embraced it; some didn't believe us. Hopefully now they'll believe us.
THR: Your latest series, The L.A. Complex, certainly pushes those boundaries with tons of sex, drugs and homosexuality …
Pedowitz: Whether it works ratings-wise or not at first, it has a cultural connectivity to it. It's heightened, but it feels much closer to reality. It's smartly provocative, and even though that was an acquired show from Canada, that's where we want to take this network.
THR: The network had abandoned comedy for a few years. How is that changing?
Pedowitz: We developed eight comedy scripts, and we're big on two of them. We didn't order any of them because we felt it was more important to stabilize the schedule, which required us to focus on the hour format. But as I said last summer before any of these shows came on, 2 Broke Girls, New Girl and Don't Trust the B---- in Apt 23 would easily work as CW comedies. Look, we'll continue to service women 18-to-34, but the goal is to broaden it to an 18-to-34 adult audience. There are 64 million-plus people in that range, and we should be able to get more than we get.
THR: You've struggled with reality shows. Do you look at Jersey Shore and wish you had that?
Pedowitz: We've had trouble. But if you don't try a number of things, you're never going to change anything at all, so we have four new shows coming on this summer. You look at Jersey Shore, and you say, "Is there a variation on that?"
THR: You've struck deals with Netflix and Hulu as other networks are holding back content. Where do such streaming services fit into the content ecosystem?
Pedowitz: The board was heading in that direction, and then I came in and believed in it. We can hide behind the fact that our viewers should be watching on their TVs, but the reality is, many have cut the cord. The Netflix and Hulu deals have paid off for the board, the partners and the network. And it should allow greater exposure and marketing opportunities for the shows.
THR: By encouraging online viewership, your affiliates, which depend on live viewership, are poised to suffer. How have they responded?
Pedowitz: Remember, the affiliates have had to deal with all of this change as well. We're giving them a 30-second ad unit in the streaming version, and eventually, if we're able to do it technology-wise, we'll allow it to recur at the app level.
THR: How do your advertisers tell you they feel about your digital push considering 18 percent of the total audience for CW shows come from online?
Pedowitz: We did our road tour, and the advertisers were very welcoming. What they want is a lot of what we've done this year, which is put on 50 more original hours, make eight more pilots and try things. We have a summer schedule for the first time. From the advertisers and affiliates, there's a general appreciation for trying.
THR: You report to a board. Who is the day-to-day boss?
Pedowitz: The day-to-day boss managing The CW is me, and the board is there to assist me. I'd say I speak to Bruce Rosenblum, Nancy Tellem and Leslie Moonves at least once or twice a week, just to give them updates and to get their thoughts. We don't always agree, but it's a great discourse. Hopefully, I'll fulfill their goals.
THR: What is their goal?
Pedowitz: To make this a profitable operation and a vibrant operation. I think we'll get there over time. It's profitable for everyone involved, but as a stand-alone operation, it has a way to go.
THR: As a middle-aged man without children, how do you stay on top of what your demo wants?
I talk to my 27-year-old niece and my nephews and my friends' children. I also use Flipboard as a way to stay current. It's a great aggregator, and I'm a big fan of sending articles that I see on there. I just forwarded one called "My Grandma Was My Wing Woman."
THR: How do you unwind?
Pedowitz: If I can, my wife, Carolyn, and I will walk the Rose Bowl once or twice a week. And I read a lot of books, mostly sci-fi/fantasy. It's the space opera-type sci-fi that wouldn't work for the CW audience. Women tend not to want to come.
THR: What do you watch?
Pedowitz: I still watch every show that I started at ABC Studios. I've seen every episode of Grey's Anatomy, Lost, Criminal Minds, Army Wives. I'm completely hooked on Vampire Diaries and Supernatural, and my wife and I watch Dexter and Nurse Jackie together.
THR: Was your wife ever in the business?
Pedowitz: No, but it's a funny story. [Mad Men creator] Matt Weiner, [ICM's] Chris Silbermann and Eddy Yablans all learned sex education from my wife at the Harvard school [now L.A.'s Harvard-Westlake]; she was a science teacher there.
THR: Wow. Has that come up with them?
Pedowitz: Oh yes. Chris and his wife, Julia, had a dinner party years ago, and we were talking. When he told me which years he was there, I asked who he had for science and sex education. He said, "Miss Martin." I said, "Chris, here's Miss Martin," pointing to my wife. He shot straight up and said, "Miss Martin?" Carolyn, to her credit, said to him, "Obviously by having the children you learned something from my class."
PEDOWITZ'S PROJECTS: A look at a few summertime offerings The CW chief has greenlighted for the network.
- The L.A. Complex: The provocative Canadian import, which premiered to all-time lows in late April, is set in a Melrose Place-esque apartment complex filled with aspiring twentysomethings.
- The Star Next Door: A music-competition series from Queen Latifah that will feature pop diva Gloria Estefan and country star John Rich as mentors.
- Oh Sit!: A game show being described as "musical chairs for adults," with contestants racing through obstacle course-type eliminations as they compete to claim a chair.
- Breaking Pointe: An unfiltered look at the world of ballet, set at Salt Lake City's Ballet West, one of the most competitive dance companies in the country.