The CW (a subsidiary of CBS (NYSE:CBS)) is staying in the comic book business.
After seeing massive success playing in Superman's universe with Smallville and repeating that success with Arrow, the network is doubling down with two new comic-themed projects this fall. Also on the slate is an American adaptation of a Venezuelan soap and a new sci-fi series aimed at teens. As The CW prepares to reveal its new schedule next week, here's how its latest moves have positioned it with advertisers and investors ahead of the upfronts.
Across the five big broadcasters The Flash was the one pilot all critics and analysts had penciled in as a guarantee. Arrow is one of the network's buzziest series, so a spin-off was always expected. Like Green Arrow, The Flash is a known superhero in the DC Universe, but certainly not among the big thee (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman). That will work in the network's favor. Audiences are familiar with the Scarlet Speedster, but not so much that producers must meet a certain set of audience expectations.
Still, Flash will need to pay tribute to its comic canon to appease fans of the comic book. It will be a fine line but the Arrow producers, who will oversee Flash, have proven to be up to the task, which has both sides excited.
Flash isn't the only comic project on the network's rookie slate this year. The CW also picked up iZombie. Similarly based on a DC Comic, the show centers on a med student turned zombie who joins the coroner's office to help feed her cravings for human brains ... stay with me, it gets more interesting. The hook is that in addition to keeping her humanity in check, her habit leads to her inheriting the memories of the corpse, which she in turns uses to help solve crimes in the city.
You can see why this one's not as much of a sure thing as Flash, but it's reportedly been just as well received by those who have seen it. A large part of this series' success will be reliant on where the network slots it (which we'll know on Thursday). But Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas is shepherding the series, and CW fans always welcome him with open arms.
The network's other two pickups were made to balance out the influx of comic blood. Jane the Virgin and The Messengers play more into The CW's usual younger demographics and will be more familiar to viewers. Virgin follows as young Latina woman who is accidentally artificially inseminated, and Messengers is a sci-fi series about a seemingly unconnected group of strangers who find they might be the key to holding off the upcoming apocalypse.
Virgin has already seen success internationally and Messengers could fit right into the same demographic that has latched onto (now) network sibling The 100. Again scheduling is going to be key as the network only airs two shows a night and chemistry is vital to their success.
The CW's core business has always been teen dramas. The network made its mark with series like Gossip Girl, 90210, and Everwood, but as the business of entertainment has changed so too have the projects ordered. Almost the entire slate of new shows incorporates some sort of mystical twist.
Last year the network picked up five shows and split them over the broadcast year -- three launched in the fall, two in the spring. This year executives ordered only six pilots, passing on two. The task now becomes mixing and matching the four newbies with the network's eight returning dramas.
This year will be the end of the road for The Tomorrow People, Star-Crossed, and The Carrie Diaries. In addition the network gave the greenlight to its final remaining bubble series, including The 100, Hart of Dixie, and for reasons I still don't understand, Beauty and the Beast (but I'm not in the network's core demo).
Beast aside, 100 and Dixie both made sense. 100 started off strong and then faded, but lately has seen a ratings resurgence, and Dixie is a mainstay with a bankable lead in Rachel Bilson and just one season away from syndication, a financial boon that was too hard to pass up.
The trio joins Arrow, Reign, Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries and its spinoff, The Originals, as the network's choices to support its rookie offerings.
We'll learn more about the network's business strategy on Thursday at the same time executives unveil its new fall schedule to advertisers, but from its moves this week a few things are clear. Comic books are still big business and the network knows it has to rely on the genre to maintain its buzz.
But executives also learned that just because a show is a hit doesn't mean it will spawn one. The decision to pass on Supernatural spin-off Bloodlines wasn't hard given the fan reaction to the back-door pilot, but when the potential project was announced it was considered a lock. Funny how things change in Hollywood.
Yet, Supernatural is now the network's longest-running show and the drama keeps finding a way to deliver. You'd think producers would have been able work some magic with a companion show.
Overall the CW's message has changed a little over the years with marketing slogans ranging from "TV To Talk/Text/Tweet About" to the current "TV Now," which may or may not change this year. Regardless it's still seen as a younger-person network. And this year, it boasted episodes that topped programs on rival network Fox, which shows the channel is making strides. The CW has become the little network that could and with this crop of shows its taking steps to expand that perception to advertisers and the media.
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Brett Gold owns shares of CBS. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.