The CW closed out this week’s parade of upfront presentations on Thursday morning with an event that put the emphasis on the strength of the network’s brand as a filter of young adult-focused dramas.
“Our digital strength speaks for itself,” CW chairman Mark Pedowitz declared from the stage at New York City Center. In a sign of the times, CW’s presentation included a tour of its newly enhanced app.
Pedowitz also made an oblique reference to the deal that is deep in negotiations for station group giant Nexstar to acquire a majority stake in the network that has been jointly owned by Warner Bros. and CBS Corp. (now Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global) since 2006. Nexstar and its predecessors have been the core affiliate station group for CW and its predecessor, the WB Network, since the WB’s debut in 1995.
CW last week canceled a slew of low-rated series that had been produced by Warner Bros. TV and CBS Studios, who profited from post-CW sales of rerun rights. That move was seen as a big sign of changes to come with a new owner that is not invested in selling content around the world.
“You may have heard that CW is undergoing a bit of transition of its own,” Pedowitz said, citing the broader industry changes that have up-ended television in recent years. “We’ve become more than just a network, more than just a media company. We are a brand that has had a major impact in a very short time,” adding that CW resonates as a “powerful, upstart brand.”
Pedowitz pointed to the network’s track record with shows like “Gossip Girl,’ “The Vampire Diaries” and “Riverdale” as examples of titles that helped the network “define the OMFG drama for a new generation.”
Nexstar CEO Perry Sook took in the presentation but declined to comment to Variety on the sale process.
CW’s hourlong session as usual focused on promoting its new shows and youthful stars. The showcase gave big plugs to “Walker Independence” and “The Winchesters,” two new prequels coming in the fall. That also allowed CW to once again bring the three stars of “Supernatural” back out as Jared Padalecki is an executive producer of “Walker Independence” while Jensen Ackles narrates “The Winchesters” and Misha Collins has joined the cast of another new drama, the DC Comics-themed “Gotham Knights.”
“We are still very much in the superhero business,” Pedowitz said. “It doesn’t get any bigger than Batman.”
Another new drama that took the spotlight was “Tom Swift,” which premieres May 31. The series revolves around a wealthy inventor searching for his father who mysteriously disappeared. Pedowitz pointed to the show as an example of weaving diversity into storylines in an organic way. Series star Tian Richards told the upfront crowd, “I’m happy to be playing a strong leading man who happens to be both Black and gay.”
Pedowitz and CW ad sales chief Rob Tuck played to the crowd of media buyers by emphasizing that CW content is widely available for streaming via the free CW app that is entirely ad-supported.
CW, like other networks, presented itself as reaching a very specific audience on many different platforms. But old habits die hard. In the final moments, Pedowitz did unveil a linear fall schedule graphic and briefly talked through the logic behind the programming decisions. “And there you have a fall schedule,” Pedowitz said with a grin.
Stevie Wonder opened the presentation with a high-energy performance that included “Superstition” — with a quick lyric revise of the chorus as “C-W is the way.”