The CW is Growing Up

New executives are aging up The CW to, you know, make money

Once known for young adult dramas and DC superheroes, The CW is going through a transformation. We’ll look at how and why this is happening — and maybe throw a little shade on the strategy.

In this issue:

  • The CW’s origin story

  • Who likes breakups?

  • Becoming a network for grown-ups

  • Is déjà vu a strategy?

The CW’s origin story

Until last year, The CW was a struggling broadcast network created by the merger of two failed broadcast networks. Back in the 1990s, Warner and Paramount thought they could repeat Fox’s success a decade earlier to become major national networks. But ten years makes a difference. With cable available in most households, The WB and UPN never got any traction.

The two networks merged in 2006, but what to call it? Warner owned The WB and, at that point, CBS owned UPN.

Hmm. “The WB” still had a youth-y, edgy feel to it. Warner begins with a W, and CBS starts with a C. Fortunately, somebody nixed The WC, so say hello to The CW!

Over the past fifteen years, The CW’s focus on the 18-34 youth demographic resulted in a production schedule that focused on young adult dramas and DC superhero shows—which, let’s face it, were young adult superhero dramas.

Who likes breakups?

This strategy was great for Gen-Z and late Millennials but not so great for owners of The CW’s local affiliate stations, which couldn’t maximize their primetime advertising sales on a fraction of the population.

One of those station owners was a company called Nexstar which, over a thirty-year acquisition spree, had become the largest owner of local TV stations in the United States — including many members of The CW network.

When The CW’s parent companies, Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount, decided to go their separate ways, Nexstar jumped in to take a 75% ownership stake in the network.

Becoming a network for grown-ups

With the acquisition complete and new executives in place, The CW has taken a chainsaw to its programming lineup. All but four of the scripted TV series developed in the previous regime are gone. Why?

Aging the demographic

The CW’s viewers are too young — and there aren’t enough of them.

Under new management, The CW wants to age up its viewership to target the 18-49 demographics that advertisers like the best.

Making money

Another reason for the changes: the old shows made money for Warner and Paramount, but not for The CW.

For the studios, The CW was just one of many distribution channels. The Arrowverse may not have drawn enough advertisers to make money, but Warner could cycle the shows through media sales, foreign sales, and streaming. The CW didn’t get a cut of those after-market profits.

Shifting the script

So, superheroes and young adult dramas are out.

In the short term, Riverdale and other legacy shows will run their final seasons in 2023. Taking the place of canceled shows are several productions from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

In the long term, The CW is producing new scripted shows that will appeal to older viewers. Sophie Turner from X-Men and Game of Thrones will star in a crime drama, and The Librarian-verse will get a new spinoff.

Adding more “reality”

Unscripted TV series are cost-efficient ways to drive viewership, so it’s no surprise that The CW is adding more reality shows to the lineup, starting with FBoy Island — which used to be on Max.

Three new reality shows in production for 2024 will feature bakery makeovers, police ride-alongs, and match-making.

Unscripted but more real, The CW will get news content from NewsNation and slowly build its sports programming. In early 2023, it signed a deal with LIV Golf that gave The CW exclusive broadcast and streaming rights. The network also picked up Inside the NFL after Paramount+ dropped the show.


On the streaming front, Nexstar isn’t trying to compete with the media giants. The CW and NewsNation have their own apps which provide free, ad-supported content. A nice bonus for cord-cutters is the apps don’t require a pay TV subscription.

So far, Nexstar has avoided strident confrontations with the live TV streaming services. The company inked a multi-year deal to keep The CW in YouTube TV’s lineup.

The company is also taking a more station-friendly approach to negotiating rebroadcast rights. Rather than forcing all The CW affiliate stations to accept its deal with streamers, Nexstar allows station owners to arrange their own deals.

Our takeaway: The CW is a flash from the past

I think Nexstar’s strategy takes TV nostalgia a little too far. Fox managed to become a major alternative to the traditional Big Three networks back in the 1980s. UPN and The WB tried to repeat that success a decade later, but cable made broadcast less relevant. Their failure is the reason The CW even exists.

The thing is, today’s internet-driven media market puts broadcast even further behind. Social media and streaming make local TV less valuable. Stand-alone content distributors can’t deliver the eyeballs advertisers want from streaming services.

Broadcast advertising is the whole point of The CW. Maybe that’s enough to keep the lights on, but déjà vu isn’t a strategy that will keep Nexstar’s Wall Street investors happy.

The Watchlist

Henry Cavill returns for his final outing as The Witcher, the first half of its third season available to stream on Netflix now.

Want to keep your energy levels up during these hot summer months? Try Verb Energy Bars! These green tea-infused snacks contain all the caffeine boost you’ll need to enjoy your days all summer long. Use code STACK and get 30% off your order.

The long-awaited newest season of action-drama Warrior is out on Max now.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan continues his domination on Amazon Prime, the show’s 4th season releasing Friday, June 30th.

A shapeshifter teams up with the disgraced knight sent to kill her in the new animated film, Nimona, coming to Netflix on Friday, June 30th.

A new iteration of the horror classic, Children of the Corn, scares its way onto Shudder, Friday, June 30th.

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