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Mark Pedowitz leaves an impressive legacy at The CW after an 11-year run in which he championed diversity and worked tirelessly to transform the broadcast network into a home of year-round programming. The question now becomes if Pedowitz’s successor — former Nexstar board member Dennis Miller — will embrace or erase it.
Pedowitz was named president of The CW in April 2011, taking over the role from departing entertainment chief Dawn Ostroff. The former ABC Studios chief who oversaw a series of hits including Grey’s Anatomy, Lost and Desperate Housewives was charged with broadening out The CW’s viewership from a slate that, at the time, included the original Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, the 90210 update, Supernatural and Top Model.
In the decade-plus since, Pedowitz transformed the network with the arrival of the Greg Berlanti-produced Arrow-verse of DC Comics programming. With connected shows like The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, Pedowitz and Berlanti together laid the groundwork that Marvel would later follow with its connected film and TV universe.
The arrival of DC Comics dramas broadened out the network that had skewed heavily female. With DC came a larger slate of programming as Pedowitz slowly but surely expanded The CW’s schedule to seven nights a week with the addition of Sunday programming in 2018 and, in 2021, Saturday originals.
During Pedowitz’s first season at the helm of The CW, he oversaw a slate of 11 scripted originals. In the decade that followed, that number grew to a high of 19 in 2021 as the executive had become best known for renewing his entire slate of scripted originals and allowing long-running series to sign off with celebrated farewell seasons, while also allowing younger shows time to find an audience.
“There wasn’t a plot point in a season about a tertiary character he couldn’t tell you about. He understood the shows from a creative standpoint; he considered himself an audience of the network first and would approach things in that way,” Berlanti told THR. “You combine that with his business acumen and when everyone was canceling originals, Mark understood the connectivity and power of the brand and how he had to take a different path. You couldn’t expect things to be an overnight sensation. Riverdale and All American would have been canceled after their first year on another network. He brought over Black Lightning from Fox and Supergirl after it didn’t work on CBS. These are shows and pilots and series he kept alive.”
The increase in scripted came as part of a cash grab by The CW’s former corporate overlords CBS Studios and Warner Bros. Television. While Pedowitz wanted year-round programming to better position The CW amid the broadcast landscapes, both studios continued to see an opportunity to cash in on streaming deals and foreign sales. In 2011, CBS Studios and Warners (The C and W of The CW’s current name) signed a $1 billion output deal with Netflix that saw originals from both studios including The Vampire Diaries stream exclusively with Netflix. On top of the streaming pact, both studios were able to control foreign sales to their programming that delivered a secondary revenue stream. Both provided millions and millions of dollars to the studios over time.
“Go back and look at the early ratings for Riverdale. We premiered midseason and they weren’t great. It connected on Netflix. Others may have said that wasn’t our success because it hit elsewhere, but Mark cared that the show got a shot,” Berlanti said. “That success — however it came — was a success for all of us. He is still that guy and whatever shop he sets up next, I’ll be the first person to set something up with him.”
As Warners and CBS Studios made money hand over fist, Pedowitz reported to a board composed of execs from both conglomerates and oversaw growth for The CW’s streaming offerings. With the success of critical darlings like Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Pedowitz saw the increased need for in-season stacking rights to allow new viewers to come into both shows without having to wait for full seasons to arrive on Netflix. Pedowitz secured full in-season digital rights to all new CW programming via its CW app and CWTV.com.
Speaking of Jane the Virgin, the former Gina Rodriguez series — along with Rachel Bloom’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — brought awards recognition to The CW for the first time. Jane earned an AFI, prestigious Peabody Award and the network’s first-ever Golden Globe nominations (and a win) for Rodriguez. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend also won a Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award for Bloom’s leading role.
With telenovela adaption Jane, Pedowitz also championed diversity at a time when much of the industry had yet to make representing underserved audiences a top priority. Fueled in part by a breakout presentation by Rodriguez at the Television Critics Association’s press tour about her frustrations with stereotypical roles for Latinx talent, Pedowitz opened doors for a wide array of new voices both behind the camera and in front of it. In the recently concluded 2021-22 broadcast season, two-thirds of The CW’s showrunners, writers and directors working on its original scripted series were women and/or people of color. Of the onscreen talent on those shows, 57 percent were people of color. Watchdog group GLAAD also singled out The CW as the broadcast network with the highest percentage of LGBTQ series regulars for the fifth year in a row. This season, 63 percent of The CW’s showrunners, exec producers, writers and directors are women or people of color, while 47 percent of the network’s series regulars are women and 49 percent are people of color (up from 41 percent last season).
“He brought awards to the network and backed people, be it his executives or showrunners, and he made a real stable home for people in a time when there’s more change than ever,” Berlanti said. “There’s been a lot of change over the last decade and he just was, for me and many others, a real home base.”
Berlanti, along with a few select others from Pedowitz’s inner circle, got a call Sunday from the outgoing exec sharing the news. The superproducer, who has seven shows at The CW including final seasons of The Flash and Riverdale and rookie Gotham Knights, said he was surprised to hear the news.
“On network TV, who has had the track record he’s had in the past decade who was still in the seat?” Berlanti said of Pedowitz, who had been broadcast’s longest-tenured network topper. “All the different kinds of stories he brought to The CW and being at the forefront of The CW app and changing the economics of that place and always navigating the intense fans and two boards and scrutiny of TCA and supporting young first voices across the years and always being himself … yes, I was surprised.”
Jared Padalecki was also among those who heard from Pedowitz over the weekend and the Supernatural grad and Walker star and exec producer stepped out from a Harry Styles concert with his family in Texas to praise his longtime friend. “I’m 100 percent certain if it weren’t for Mark Pedowitz that Supernatural wouldn’t have had the run it had and [spinoff] Walker: Independence wouldn’t have seen the light of day. There aren’t words to express how crucial and critical he’s been in my career and believing in me,” Padalecki told THR. “Knowing someone had our back like that … if I’m not going to be working with him in the near future, it’s like a ship without a sail.”
With the arrival of HBO Max and Paramount+, Warners and CBS Studios exited the Netflix output deal in 2019 as their streaming counterparts would be the new home for content from The CW. The need to control foreign rights as well as domestic also meant revenue from international sales dried up as both studios needed to provide content to their streaming siblings. The changing business model effectively zapped profits for both studios from CW programming, prompting a sale to station group Nexstar. With the sale all but official, Pedowitz was tasked in May with canceling a large number of originals whose business models no longer made sense for CBS Studios and Warners. This year, The CW canceled or ended a whopping 10 series, marking the first time the network lowered the ax on more shows than it renewed (eight). Its total scripted volume also reverted back to the volume The CW had in 2012 when Pedowitz took over the network (11), dropping from a record 19 in 2021.
To fill the voids on his fall schedule, Pedowitz picked up a number of low-cost foreign originals featuring the likes of Patrick Dempesy, Brendan Fraser and Freddie Highmore as new owners Nexstar have signaled an intent to make The CW profitable for the first time by 2025.
Leading that charge will be Dennis Miller, the newly appointed president of The CW who most recently served as chairman of independent production group Industrial Media ahead of its sale to Sony. Miller, a member of the family that founded clothing chain Miller’s Outpost, is also a former investor who spent years as a general partner at Bear Stearns’ Constellation Ventures. He started his career in the entertainment and tax department at law firm Manatt Phelps. His TV roles have included senior positions at Sony, Lionsgate TV and TNT. In short, he is relatively unknown to creative folks including Berlanti.
While Padalecki has said execs from Nexstar had reached out to him to schedule a meeting, Berlanti said he had yet to hear from anyone at The CW’s new owners. “No one has reached out,” Berlanti told THR late Sunday. “I hope they take some real lessons from the kind of network head Mark was: somebody who supported and believed in his storytellers and gave them backing and support that’s so rare. The network flourished because of that.”
While neither Berlanti nor Padalecki had insight into what The CW’s future will look like under Nexstar, both expressed hope that scripted originals like Walker and All American would be part of it.
“Our job more than ever is to find ways to be economical about things,” Berlanti said. “I can list 10 shows that The CW made that had more of a cultural impact than 100 shows that were made for tens of millions of dollars more. It’s always been the little engine that could and my hope is they know what allows a place to be super successful is a combination of having some resources you need and content that’s driven by passion and talent. When you’re lucky enough as we’ve been to find young talent, you have to support them. It’s not always economics that you have to support them with, but it’s a home to do their work. That’s the way that place will continue to flourish and Mark was an expert in every way of that.”
Despite the increased reliance on foreign series and unscripted, Pedowitz had remained committed to scripted and DC Comics shows during what turned out to be his last upfronts call with reporters in May. “Shifting ownership doesn’t change our goals for our company for 2022-23,” he said, stressing that “content was never a factor” in his cancellation decisions. At the same time, Pedowitz hoped Nexstar would help The CW expand into half-hour scripted originals and programs from studios beyond Warners and CBS. (The CW’s former model called for half its programming to come from each of its corporate parents.)
“The world is moving at a pace that’s faster than I could have imagined,” Pedowitz noted at the time when asked how he envisions the network’s schedule in two to three years. “I hope you’ll see a decent amount of scripted, even as we begin this transition to more alternative and more acquired programming. I do hope that we will enter the world of half-hour sitcoms being produced for the network. And I do hope, after there is a sale, that it will open up the avenues of other producers and studios to come to us beyond Warner Bros. and CBS, which means more opportunity.”
In the meantime, it’s unclear what direction Miller will chart for The CW under Nexstar. The station group’s defining deal previously was its acquisition of Tribune Media in 2019 that included cable network WGN America. Once a home to critically praised originals like Underground, Nexstar immediately exited the pricey genre of programming and rebranded WGN America as cable news channel NewsNation. If WGN America is an indicator of what to expect post-acquisition, pricey scripted originals would be traded in for low-cost syndicated repeats and Canadian imports, which The CW has used to fill out its schedule.
“Together, we have accomplished so much,” Pedowitz wrote in his exit memo to staff early Monday. “This upstart network with its unique blend of programming brought The CW into the forefront of pop culture and social media. We made water cooler TV in a multi-platform world. We embraced what the audience wanted and gave it to them.”
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