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5 Takeaways From the CW’s Upfront

The CW wrapped the 2018 upfronts with its presentation on Thursday at New York City Center. Here are the five key takeaways:

1. Sunday nights aren’t just about Sunday nights.

The CW’s addition of a two-hour block of Sunday primetime programming, returning the network to a sixth night, had a significant impact on development and scheduling for 2018-19. The network picked up five new series, and as its president, Mark Pedowitz, said on Thursday during his upfront pitch, it will air more than 370 hours of original programming next season — with the number of ads increasing by roughly 20%, according to CW sales chief Rob Tuck.

The Sunday-night expansion received the go-ahead from the CW’s affiliates. But with CW once again emphasizing digital viewing (the network has for eight years sold its digital ads in the same package as linear) and the licensing deal between Netflix and the network’s corporate parents having been renewed in 2016, it’s clear that the new night is in large part a means to expand programming across platforms other than broadcast.

2. The rookies are under pressure.

The network announced Thursday that “Jane the Virgin,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” and “iZombie” would all end after 2018-19. “We will miss each of those shows in terms of what they’ve done,” Pedowitz told reporters before the upfront on Thursday morning. “They’ve helped the perception of the CW across the board.”

The decision to end the three shows didn’t come as a surprise. But with all three ending at the same time, the pressure is on this season’s crop of new shows to perform well and earn renewals. Otherwise the CW could find itself gambling on an especially high number of freshman series in 2019-20.

3. The CW is soaping up.

Pedowitz boasted at the upfront that “Riverdale” was the network’s most watched series in digital last season. The Archie Comics-inspired drama marked a new direction for the network, which under Pedowitz had for years prioritized bringing male viewers into the fold, back toward female-friendly serialized soaps.

Thursday’s presentation showed that the CW is continuing in that direction. “All American” is a high-school drama that Pedowitz billed as being in the same vein as exec producer Greg Berlanti’s soap opera “Everwood.” The trailer for sci-fi reboot “Roswell” emphasized the show’s romance elements. “‘Roswell’ is a love story, but it’s also the story of a small town that just happens to have aliens,” said star Jeanine Mason. Another reboot, “Charmed,” also promises soap-opera elements.

4. All universes are Berlanti-verses.

Berlanti will be exec producer on 14 television series next season, breaking the record for most on-air series for a producer. But nowhere is his presence more felt than the CW.

Berlanti produces all five of the network’s DC Entertainment superhero show, as well as “Riverdale” and “All American.” His versatility, able to deliver genre-action and soapy drama series that appeal to dedicated fanbases, make him to the CW what Shonda Rhimes was to ABC and Ryan Murphy was to Fox — before they left for Netflix. When asked this week by Variety whether he would ever consider leaving CW parent Warner Bros. for Netflix, Berlanti said, “I love making television, but I really love making television with them and I hope that that continues as long as I can see.”

5. Inclusion: now more included than ever.

New series “Charmed,” and “All American” feature people of color in leading roles. “In the Dark” boasts a blind protagonist. And Pedowitz announced at the upfront presentation that Batwoman — the first openly gay female superhero to have her own DC Comics title — will appear in the network’s annual superhero-series crossover next season.

The CW has in recent years become the broadcast network with the most onscreen inclusion. Pedowitz bragged several times at the upfront of his shows’ social relevance. “Black Lightning” star Cress Williams told advertisers, “It’s a gift for all of us to be on ‘Black Lightning,’ a show that talks about things that people need to talk about.” He echoed “All American” star Taye Diggs, who noted that he’s been at multiple upfronts in his career, but, “This is the first time that I’ve actually been proud.”

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