As the COVID-19 crisis inches toward the grim yearlong milestone since the much of the country – including Hollywood – shut down last March, this pilot season is shaping up to bear another mark of the pandemic.
“I think you’ll see more direct-to-series than pilots being ordered across the board,” predicted CW chief Mark Pedowitz. Among linear networks, “you’ll see less orders than you have in the past, because a lot of stuff has been pushed into ’21.”
Pilot season is moving a bit slowly, he told Variety, though proceeding at the pace he would expect, as he waits for scripts to trickle in. Pedowitz is looking to order three to four series for the coming season.
“I’m hoping to be on the same timetable as years past, where we’re up there by the end of January, pretty much, picking shows,” he said. “The question of whether we go to pilot or direct to series is really dependent upon what’s going on with respect to the COVID surge. So it may make far more financial sense to go direct to series as opposed to pilot because: why waste the time?”
The CW picked up the pilots for “Maverick” and “Lost Boys” last year, before the pandemic hit pause on production. They are still in contention for the coming season, said Pedowitz, though those shows are now competing with other projects in development.
The forced production shutdown through last summer translated to a dearth of finished product ahead of the 2020-2021 TV season, sending networks scrambling to fill in the gaps with acquired shows from outside the U.S. The industry has spent much of the past year figuring out how to bring casts and crews back to set safely, though that has by no means eliminated the risk of contracting the virus while filming.
Adhering to local governmental and CDC health guidelines has meant stretching out shooting days to ensure safety on set. Like many others in the industry, Pedowitz is looking ahead beyond the current public health crisis.
“This is not going to last forever; hopefully this is a one-season situation. And hopefully, by the time, due to vaccines, that everyone goes into ’21-’22 sometime next summer, we can be back to a more normalized world.”
The CW chief alluded to utilizing acquisitions to bolster the network’s summer schedule, but is hopeful that the 2021-22 season will offer something of a return to normalcy in the lineup.
“I’m hoping to have a schedule that’s a little bit more reflective of the past than what we had this [past] fall,” he said. “Again, a lot of it will be dependent upon where COVID goes, in terms of acquisitions.”
For those watching from home, at least, the “Riverdale” and “The Flash” network should be able to offer its usual escapist fare, with just a few adjustments.
“What you’re not going to get, I don’t think, is the big action moments because of the difficulty of the choreography of that, but you will get greater character moments,” he said. “And for that, it’s well worth it. To the viewer, based on what I’ve seen, I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
With CW shows finding a streaming home on HBO Max and the end of its Netflix output deal, Pedowitz says one “great positive” is being able to stack current seasons of CW shows on its own AVOD service, “which has been enormously successful for us,” he said, referring to the rights to all current-season episodes.
He added: “We’ve seen great increases in ‘Batwoman’ and ‘Nancy Drew’ and ‘Stargirl’ in terms of what we would have done in a rolling five for Netflix.” (A “rolling five” refers to the most recent five episodes that have aired on TV. Pedowitz sees the ability to stack seven shows in the next year.)
And as Warner Bros. Television Group chairman Peter Roth wraps up his tenure, Pedowitz anticipates that Roth’s successor, ABC and Netflix alumna Channing Dungey, will continue the studio’s strong relationship with the CW.
“Peter and I had a fantastically great long-term relationship,” said Pedowitz. “I worked with Channing before when she worked at ABC Studios; I have a very good relationship with Channing. I know she is passionate about making sure that the CW, from the Warners point of view is vibrant, so I am not concerned one way or the other about it.”