Following in the footsteps of “Backpackers” and “Significant Mother,” Yulin Kuang’s “I Ship It” was developed for digital platform CW Seed but, come August 19 after two seasons of streaming, will receive a linear run on the CW network proper.
“We have conversations early on with both the production companies and the creators about, ‘Your show has the potential to go to broadcast,'” Rick Haskins, executive vice president, marketing and digital programs, The CW, tells Variety. “And so what we try to do is set some parameters around it that would allow it to go to broadcast.”
Some of those parameters are content based, as Haskins shares that “comedies and musicals probably have a better chance than e-sports, because of the nature of those shows.” But they are also cognizant of making them “different enough [to CW shows] that they have their own identity and hopefully bring in their own audience,” he continues.
“We are buying differently. We do have an eye on the shows that are on the CW [and] how is it that we can use the power of our social media of the shows on CW to help launch these new shows?”
But once a show launches on CW Seed, how it performs, not only with streaming numbers but also reactions on social media, becomes essential in determining its chances for migration, in addition to renewal. “If we start seeing really great reactions, it really does say A) we’re happy that people are enjoying it, but B) we’re wondering if there is an opportunity to expand it to broadcast as well,” Haskins says.
In the case of “I Ship It,” which is centered on a fangirl (Ella, played by Helen Highfield), there are creative elements that should make it attractive to some of the CW’s series’ audiences.
As Haskins points out, the shipping element is something “all of our shows are doing constantly, whether it be ‘Arrow’ or ‘Riverdale,’ so it is familiar to our people.” And because the show also incorporates musical elements, there may be a “halo effect” from the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” audience “that we can take advantage of. We know of our current social media what resonated with that audience, so what we can do is still reach out to those audiences and say, ‘If you love ‘Crazy Ex,’ you’re going to love this as well,'” Haskins explains.
“I Ship It” first started as a short film, to which Kuang felt creatively tied for the first season of the digital series. That season followed Ella as she was obsessed with nerd rock and started a band. But Kuang she got the call that CW Seed wanted a second season, she said, “Yes, I would love to, but can we do it all over again?” Kuang recalls.
“In every iteration of it, it’s a fangirl story [but] I’m not a musician — it’s the great tragedy of my life that I have no musical talent. I didn’t know that world as well,” she continues. Instead, she wanted to draw on her own experiences of starting as a fan fiction writer to “provide a roadmap for my former self of how you go from being a fangirl to being a creator in your own right.”
Therefore, the second season opens on Ella writing fan fiction for her favorite television show, only to see her get a job on that show soon enough. The journey was not ripped from Kuang’s own life (she started as a NBC Page and made videos on the side), but she wanted to marry elements of the kind of personality one needs to have to succeed in this business with a bit of a heightened storyline.
“My personal origin story,” Kuang says, “is creating your own power structure when the existing ones fail you. But that would be a very different show. This is a fangirl fantasy, so I wanted to give her the fantasy version of what happens when you’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and fresh off the plane in L.A.”
Kuang created a much more detailed world for the second season of the show, including creating a show bible for the show-within-the-show and making sure that her room broke stories for that show so that when characters referenced storylines they would make sense. That world was inspired by the shows Kuang had grown up with, such as “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” with “nods to ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘Charmed,'” she says, but she also wanted to complicate Ella’s non-work life, as well.
“I love a good will-they-won’t-they. It’s always fun to bring people together and then rip them apart; I think that’s the fun part of shipping. And I remember when we first got in the room for Season 2, we were like, ‘It’s a show called “I Ship It” and it’s about fandom and all of those things, but there’s not really a way to ship if it’s just one person. Shipping implies a preference, which implies a choice.’ And so we expanded it to include another love interest,” she says.
While Kuang says that from the start of the first season “there was always hope” the show could move to the CW, it was never a guarantee, so creatively she and her writers’ room focused on satisfying the digital audience first, knowing it was definitely going to live there.
The second season of “I Ship It” launched first on CW Seed this spring and will return to that platform after the episodes air linearly on the CW. Both Kuang and Haskins say they are treating the linear run as a chance to bring a new audience to the show through the new platform. In order to do so, Haskins says it’s all about pushing content out on social media, as well as “doing a robust promotion on linear to let them know it’s there.”
This is not a foreign strategy to how the network promotes its new shows in general, but it has the added challenge of effectively having to create a second campaign, as the assets created for the CW Seed launch have already been in circulation and may not speak to the CW audience the same way.
“There is still an element of educating people about our show at this point,” Kuang says, adding that she does have full music videos for “I Ship It” that can be beneficial social assets to help entice an audience to tune in but that they didn’t create supplemental content such as an episode of the show-within-the-show. “My mission in going to broadcast is reaching that aspiring Hollywood fangirl audience.”
This launch strategy is also in-line with shows such as “Significant Mother” in 2015. But in those four short years, viewing patterns have changed and the original content landscape has increased dramatically. Haskins admits they can’t use a show such as “Significant Mother” as a benchmark of success. “You have to treat it as its own unique property,” he says of Seed-to-CW projects. “It may do a lower number [now], but if it brings in new viewers, I’m fine with that.”