The CW’s Dream Team: Top Producers on Their Hit Series

CW TV Producers Talk Hits
Snyder Urman: David Buchan/Variety/Shutterstock; Savage, Schwartz: Todd Williamson/Invision/AP; Plec: Broadimage/Shutterstock

The CW achieved early success by cleverly using the seductive wealth of “Gossip Girl” to court young female viewers. Since then, it has broadened its appeal with a mixture of superhero shows and rom-coms.

Here, five of the network’s top producers reflect on why their hit series were the right fit for the emerging network. They all credit network president Mark Pedowitz for being closely involved, while fostering a creative atmosphere.

Greg Berlanti should probably wear his own superhero cape considering his five shows on The CW this fall: “Arrow,” “Supergirl,” “The Flash,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” and “Riverdale.” He worked at ABC with Pedowitz, who lured him to the new network by telling him he could make the shows he wanted at The CW.

“Arrow” was fresh in that it was a new era of comic-book TV. A lot of the people, leading with someone like David Nutter, gave it a cinematic look and showed how shows could live up to the films and be very exciting. We always saw “Arrow” as an adventure serial.

Critical to all those shows’ success, independently, is the casting. Stephen Amell was a real star waiting to happen and everyone saw that and the network smartly exploited it. It helped us build everything else. We didn’t have a grand plan of doing this many DC shows. It was brick by brick and it really started with “Arrow.”

There are echoes back to the old WB. People do associate certain kinds of television with certain kinds of networks — hopefully really heartfelt, smart genre. Going back to “Smallville” and “Supernatural” — they had been on both networks (WB, then The CW) — they set a standard and an appetite for the audience. “Buffy” (UPN, then The CW) maybe have had a young entry point, but still could be for everyone.

One thing helpful is everyone involved in these shows treats them like character shows, not superhero shows. They are character journeys and that is a large part as to why the characters are so relatable. Good storytelling is really for everybody.”

Jennie Snyder Urman has been with The CW from the start, as a writer for the final season of “Gilmore Girls,” then with “90210.” Before executive producing “Jane the Virgin,” the network’s first series to earn a Golden Globe and Peabody, she created “Emily Owens, M.D.”

They liked [“Emily Owens”] and tried to support it. It wasn’t hitting the mark. When people were looking for straightforward procedural, that isn’t what they were looking for.

When I started at The CW, it was a lot more high-school shows and they wanted to age it up and have a broader base of appeal. And the shows started to change and not high-school dramas as much as a little more adult and a little more whimsical. Even the superheroes.

[“Jane the Virgin”] is different, and it is different than other things that were on TV. And the cast is particularly effervescent and dynamic and spoke to the audience they were trying to reach. They liked the light comic fairytale world and it had a bigger concept than a straightforward procedural. It had that little magical extra, something that makes it not just a slice of life but a slice of life with fairy dust on it.”

My ideal “Jane” audience is like a 16-year-old daughter and a 40-year-old mom watching together, and I always wanted mothers and daughters watching together.

Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz have worked together since “The OC.” For The CW, they produced “Hart of Dixie” and “The Carrie Diaries,” but their megahit was “Gossip Girl,” the nascent network’s flagship show.

Savage: The way it was conveyed to us was that Dawn Ostroff had a very clear vision of what she wanted the network to be — women 18 to 34, a demo very appealing to advertisers. She was looking for: What is that show that will be crack to this audience?”

Schwartz: “When you were watching it in N.Y., it still said WPIX, [The CW] was that new. The show premiered to a number that was fine, good. Then we heard people talking about the show in a way that felt bigger than the number. There was an article on how people watched TV was changing because kids were watching on laptops and watching in a new way. And then the writers’ strike happened and because The CW didn’t have that much programming during the strike they reran the episodes over and over again and put new episodes on in February and March when the strike was over. And no one on the major networks was doing new shows.

Savage: From a younger adult looking up: I wish I could live like that. The adults were: I wish I could live with the carefreeness of being a kid.

Schwartz: The CW started as one thing and evolved. It has grown up. I don’t know if there are any kids in high school [watching], that part aged out. It has gotten older and more male and more genre. If you had told us when we started this would become the home of “Arrow” and “The Flash” that would be impossible to imagine, but now it seems like a perfectly natural evolution for the network.

Julie Plec was with “Vampire Diaries” from the beginning and is executive producer of its spinoff, “The Originals.” She also was the executive producer on “Containment” and “The Tomorrow People.” She describes working for the network as being allowed to play in a sandbox filled with toys and few limitations.

They had the wisdom to put “The Vampire Diaries” into development, without writers attached, and subjective wisdom to hire us. The beauty of what the WB did back in the day and the mantle that The CW took over is young adult programming doesn’t have to be just for teenagers and coming-of-age stories. You don’t have to talk down to a youth audience; it can be a global audience.

After talking with the writers this year and planning the benchmarks of this season [for “Vampire Diaries”], I knew with certainty this season could be spectacular if we were heading to an endpoint. And I could not say with any certainty that next season could be anything extraordinary if we didn’t know where it would end. No one likes to be the old great-grandpa who is still doddering around in the attic.

Mark Pedowitz was the first one to say, “As characters explode on the screen keep in mind how to expand the franchise.” The network was very excited about the possibility of creating additional content within this world.

I will not name names, but something someone told me beautifully crystalized that network: “They have no idea why things work. They just do.