Superhero series are tricky. If the fans aren't behind a project, it may well as not air.
The CW (a subsidiary of CBS (NYSE:CBS)) has been very careful with its Flash pilot and has been following the model set by current success story Arrow, but at the same time diverging from the formula in small but interesting ways.
Arrow's success has been a shot in the arm for The CW and executives are thrilled with the prospect of introducing The Flash onto its schedule this fall. In fact the buzz behind The Flash has hit a fever pitch over the last few weeks as the network has slowly been rolling out new assets, including shots of lead Grant Gustin as the Scarlet Speedster. First there was just a head shot, but then executives debuted the full-length costume and saw an equally solid response.
Releasing the costume was a smart move. With the pilot episode actually in production, it was very likely a fan or paparazzi picture would have leaked before the big reveal. More importantly The CW appears to be embracing and engaging its fans, who always react better when they feel they are part of the creative process.
NBC learned that lesson in 2011 when it tried to launch a Wonder Woman series and saw the entire thing implode. The comic book culture disliked everything about the would-be drama, from the costume to the casting, and the pilot was buried.
The network slyly slipped another fun piece of information out there recently beyond the show's costume designs, which has been getting fan's attention. The original plan was to introduce Gustin into the Arrow universe over the course of three episodes (two in the fall, one in the spring), but that shifted when viewers and executives responded enthusiastically to the first two episodes and the network decided the show would benefit more from its own stand-alone pilot.
Since Gustin had already been introduced, The CW will get the best of both worlds -- a backdoor pilot and a traditional one. And now the network is doubling down. The CW recently revealed Flash co-stars Danielle Panabaker (Shark, Justified) and Carlos Valdes (Once) will appear in that spring episode once eyed for Gustin's encore. With executives holding Flash's official on-screen bow for the fall, this will maintain momentum in an organic and interesting way.
Panabaker and Valdes are of interest to fans -- while producers haven't come out and confirmed anything, their characters' names and bios are strikingly similar to other members of DC's comic mythology. Panabaker plays Caitlin Snow, a bioengineering expert who lost her fiancé during the same accident that ultimately gives Gustin's Barry Allen his powers. Valdes plays Cisco Ramon, S.T.A.R. Labs' resident young genius.
In the comics Caitlin Snow eventually becomes Killer Frost and Cisco Ramon (named Paco in the comics) morphs into Vibe. By introducing these characters (in addition to Allen), the network builds exposure for the series and teaches audiences about Flash's world.
Impact on network
Simply put, Arrow works. In the comic genre there's always a sub-section of fans who don't like something, but here the pros have been outweighing the cons. The trick is capturing that success and transferring it to Flash. So far ,The CW has done everything right and has taken all the necessary precautions to ensure this doesn't become another Wonder Woman.
Flash is very likely to make the fall schedule and it has to be very enticing to the network to pair the two superhero dramas on the same night. Executives also could choose to utilize Flash's buzz to help boost another of its fall priorities, which also makes sense. The point is this is a new weapon for the network and it is one that has high upside and potential.
The CW's ratings are nowhere near that of its rivals, but the company has taken steps to really amp up its viewership. Shows like Flash are the right way to do it and with a strong pilot slate that also includes Supernatural spinoff Bloodlines, the network has the chance to be a significant player this upfront season.
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.