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

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.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • T.J. Dillashaw, right, kicks Cody Garbrandt

    Disney Plans UFC Broadcast for FX

    UFC matches will return to FX  – but not on a permanent basis. ESPN has been showing preliminary bouts to UFC pay-per-view events for the last while on ESPN and ESPN2, and then showing the main card on its ESPN+ subscription video service. In September, the early lineup will air on FX, which the UFC [...]

  • George RR Martin

    George R.R. Martin Says HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Ending Won't Influence Future Novels

    Geroge R.R. Martin is sticking to his original plan when it comes to the future of “Game of Thrones.” In an interview with The Observer, Martin claimed that HBO’s controversial ending for the series would have no affect on the endings of the last two novels. “No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t change anything at all,” [...]

  • Listen: 'Pennyworth' Producer Talks Delving into

    Listen: 'Pennyworth' Executive Producer Talks Delving into Alfred's Backstory

    Bruno Heller may have served as an executive producer on the Batman-inspired series “Gotham” for the past five years, but it’s actually real-life people (not superheroes) that intrigue the producer the most. It’s for that exact reason that Heller’s newest series finds him exploring the origin stories of Batman’s butler Alfred in the Epix drama [...]

  • "Trust Issues" - Dylan and Lizzie

    'Instinct' Canceled After Two Seasons

    CBS has canceled “Instinct” after two seasons. Series creator Michael Rauch announced the cancellation Friday on Twitter, writing, “I’m very sad to relay the news that @instinctcbs won’t be renewed for a 3rd season. We will double up this Sunday and our season/series finale will be Aug 25.” Rauch also thanked series stars Alan Cumming [...]

  • Maisel Day

    My Mostly OK Maisel Day (Column)

    When Amazon announced its first-ever Maisel Day, I was intrigued. For one day, Aug. 15, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” fans and Angelenos (fangelenos?) could hit up various restaurants, theaters and retailers throughout Los Angeles for special deals, all at 1959 prices. Among the gems: $2.50 makeovers, $0.99 pastrami sandwiches and $0.30 for a gallon of [...]

  • Nordisk Film & TV Fond Announces

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond Backs Joachim Trier, Ole Bornedal, Yellow Bird

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond has announced three features, two series and a documentary set to receive $1.4m in financing, as well as distribution, dubbing and cultural initiative support recipients. Doing so, it highlights some of the key titles moving forward in the Nordic region. Already backed by the Danish Film Institute’s largest ever grant [...]

  • TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley' Final

    TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley's' Final Season Sets October Premiere Date

    In today’s roundup, “Silicon Valley” returns to HBO on Oct. 27 and Quibi greenlights a new cooking competition show “Dismantled.” DATES The fifth season of Netflix‘s “Peaky Blinders” will premiere on the streamer Oct. 4. The newest season will continue to follow one gangster family in the lawless streets of Birmingham, UK during the midst [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content