Unlike the big four networks, The CW only airs 10 hours of original primetime programming each week, which means there’s far less time slots that needed to be filled. Hence the meager renewal and cancellation list below.
Still, The CW generally greenlights a handful of pilots every year and winds up renewing a little over half of them (53%) by the time May Sweeps rolls around.
Here’s the year-by-year breakdown – 2010-2011: 50%, 2011-2012: 33%, 2012-2013: 60%, 2013-2014: 60%.
Hart of Dixie
Beauty and the Beast
The Carrie Diaries
The Secret Circle
Emily Owens, M.D.
The Tomorrow People
Beyond it’s smaller primetime schedule, The CW is an interesting case in that it was only formed in 2006 so understanding what it wants to be is a bit easier because they’ve had to state it. According to the portfolio page on the CBS Corporation website, “The CW is America’s fifth broadcast network, targeting young adult viewers, specifically young women 18-34.”
That should probably be updated (more about that in a bit), but you can see how that initial target audience was, and still is, being catered to. Over the last four seasons, shows like Hart of Dixie, Hellcats, Ringer, Beauty & The Beast, The Carrie Diaries, and Reign have joined early CW-staples like 90210, Gossip Girl, and One Tree Hill.
And let’s not forget about their current hit – The Vampire Diaries or Tyra Banks and America’s Next Top Model, which is a holdover from the UPN days.
While catering to a niche audience may be helpful in program development and in reinforcing a network identity, it’s not so helpful in pulling in the ratings a broadcast network hopes for. Plus, The CW has had direct competition for the young female demo from cable networks like ABC Family and MTV who have had success with series like Pretty Little Liars, Switched at Birth, The Secret Life of an American Teenager, Teen Mom, Girl Code, Awkward, and more.
So it’s no surprise then that CW President Mark Pedowitz, who took over the job in 2011, has worked to broaden network’s overall appeal. At the 2013 Winter TCA Press Tour he addressed their audience issues and kind of laid out the general plan for future program development, which reiterated their focus on “high-concept, fantasy serialized dramas”. And even though The CW has CBS in its blood, he added that “the audience is not coming to us for the procedural dramas.” [Source]
He went on to clarify that the target audience would still skew young, “we are still predominantly a 18-34 [network]” and in a Los Angeles Times article from the same year, Pedowitz was quoted saying, “I thought we had become too niche… And, the thing is, you want everyone to participate.”
Of course having a plan and succeeding in it are two separate things. Any network, or any show that’s not Lost can tell you how hard it is go high-concept and serialized without becoming too convoluted or too alienating to too many viewers. And at the end of the day ratings still do matter.
Cult crashed and burned in the spring of 2013 and The Tomorrow People and Star-Crossed were cancelled last May. Serialized series are a gamble; on the plus side they typically attract extremely dedicated viewers, but on the flip side they also have a very high failure rate. I wouldn’t be surprised if The CW’s renewal rates for freshman series were to decline moving forward. Although when you only launch about four new shows a year, percentages may not be the best way to determine success.
Arrow, which debuted during the 2012-2013 TV season, continues to enjoy critical praise and ratings wins for The CW and probably helped to affirm Pedowitz’s course correction and certainly paved the way for fellow DC property The Flash to join the network this fall. It’s been paired with Supernatural and will air on Tuesday nights at 8pm.
Jane the Virgin, which is based on a Venezuelan telenovela, will also make a fall debut. Despite the far-fetched premise of a girl being accidently artificially inseminated, its still the most reality-based series of the 2014-2015 bunch. A few years ago the show would have been a no-brainer, but now it’s a bit of a black-sheep. However, if it can find a steady audience it’ll probably live for several seasons given that it probably has a more modest budget than shows with more action and CGI-sequences. It’ll be on Mondays at 9pm after The Originals.
The CW also has two series scheduled for a midseason debut, one of which is a new show from Rob Thomas called iZombie. It might not be more Veronica Mars or Party Down, but it still sounds pretty cool. The other series waiting in the wings is called The Messengers.
Click here for The CW’s night-by-night program schedule and more information about each of their new 2014-2015 TV series.