The CW 2023 Upfront Takeaways: Superheroes (Mostly) Fly Away While Acquisitions Rule — For Now
The CW held its first upfront week meeting with the press since the Nexstar acquisition closed last year, presenting a schedule heavy on foreign acquisitions and unscripted fare.
Brad Schwartz, president of entertainment for The CW, took questions after the presentation alongside network president Dennis Miller. They laid out their plans for the network going into its new era, how the acquisitions play into their overall strategy, and the future of scripted development at the network.
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Read on for Variety‘s takeaways from the event.
Superheroes Flying Off into the Sunset?
The CW fall schedule made no mention of the network’s remaining superhero shows “Gotham Knights” and “Superman & Lois” (or the spinoff series “All American: Homecoming,” for that matter).
It’s quite the turnaround for the network, which built up an impressive roster of Greg Berlanti-produced DC shows like “The Flash,” “Arrow,” “Legends of Tomorrow” and many more. Schwartz said that a decision on the remaining shows would be coming soon, but later added that “Superman & Lois” specifically was “expensive” and “doesn’t make any money for us,” particularly given the fact the network can’t stream past seasons on its app as it doesn’t have the rights.
And yet, in an opening sizzle reel showed before Schwartz spoke, “Superman & Lois” was the only one of the three pending shows to be featured, alongside the network’s new and returning series. Perhaps there is some room for the Man of Steel to continue at the network, but the shifting TV landscape and the state of DC itself may prove to be kryptonite.
Don’t Hate on Their Acquisitions
Every broadcaster has taken a different approach to making their fall slate strike-proof, with the CW network leaning on several Canadian comedy and drama acquisitions. Schwartz said that’s not the long term plan for stocking the CW lineup, with new original content in development and production. But he isn’t afraid of the “a” word (“acquisitions”) either.
“Prior regimes may have tried to pick up cheap programming to help average out the price of the more expensive stuff,” the former Pop TV exec said. “They were not marketed, they were not priorities, etc. But us, we think we’ve found acquisitions that could be absolute huge shows. I don’t think ‘acquisition’ is a bad word. So many people say, ‘Oh, cheap acquisitions’ – these aren’t cheap acquisitions. ‘Sullivan’s Crossing’ costs as much as any other CW show made by us. ‘FBoy Island,’ that we’re doing ourselves, costs as much as any other CW shows. We’re very proud of these shows.”
Schwartz also pointed to the success streamers have seen from acquiring content: “’’Fleabag’ is an acquisition, ‘The Bodyguard’ is an acquisition, shows like ‘Squid Game’ come from other parts of the world to Netflix.”
Scripted Development Remains a Priority
While this fall on The CW will largely feature scripted shows acquired from Canada, Schwartz made it clear that The CW is still in the business of developing originals.
To that end, the network unveiled a number of new series it has in the works for 2024. Those include the drama “Joan,” starring “Game of Thrones” alum Sophie Turner, as well as the spinoff “The Librarians: The Next Chapter,” which will serve as a followup to the TNT series “The Librarians.”
Schwartz also said that there are a a number of other such projects in the works that he was not at liberty to discuss at this time. He also reiterated that The CW will no longer be focusing on a young adult audience, but rather aim for broad shows that target a wider audience going forward.
Much of The CW’s new lineup is family-friendly, including sitcoms like “Run the Burbs” and “Children Ruin Everything.” So why is the network programming the scandalously titled “FBoy Island” this fall?
The CW previously announced that it had not only acquired the first two seasons of the unscripted series after being canceled by HBO Max, but that they had commissioned a new season and a spinoff series as well. “FBoy Island” will be a major part of the network’s fall schedule, with two episodes airing each Thursday night.
Schwartz jokingly referred to the shows as the “F-Verse,” going on to say that he viewed “FBoy Island” as the “biggest unscripted show on HBO just sitting there” following its cancellation.
“It’s got this big, loud title…and honestly, the title is far more wild than the show itself,” Schwartz said. “The show is ‘The Bachelor,’ it’s ‘Love Island,’ it’s ‘Temptation Island.’ It’s a little bolder, it’s a little edgier, it’s a great big title, but we know there’s an audience for it.”
Rebranding Without Renaming
The CW is looking for new advertisers and new audiences – but not a new name, despite the fact its current moniker is associated with the network’s former dual owners.
The broadcaster got its name when it was created from the now-defunct The WB and UPN networks – with the “C” coming from the CBS Corp. side (now a part of Paramount) that operated UPN and the “W” from Warner Bros., which ran The WB.
“I don’t think there’s any plans to change the name,” Schwartz said. “We love ‘The CW’ and when it has spent 20 years being really important to one audience, I don’t think we’re going to run away from the audience that has spent 20 years cultivating it. That’s why you see ‘All American’ renewed, that’s why you see ‘Walker’ renewed, that’s why I think ‘The Librarians’ is a genre show the CW audience is going to love.”
And while CW president Dennis Miller notes “the young-adult audience is not making an appointment with broadcast television today,” Schwartz says the CW is not abandoning young-adult content – it’s just going to be “one of give things we do,” rather than the entire focus.
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