How The CW Found Its Groove

Since its creation in 2006 (and before as The WB and UPN), The CW has been in a league apart from the “Big 4” networks. It has struggled to get ratings that would be considered terrible on any other broadcast network and for many years has been dismissed as a network for teen girls. It’s the network that aired my two least favorite seasons of the Gilmore Girls and while I’ve enjoyed many of it’s (mostly failed) shows in the past, they’ve been firmly in the “guilty pleasure” box of television.

When The Carrie Diaries ended last year, I thought my viewing relationship with The CW ended with it and honestly, I was a little relieved. I often got sucked in by their new shows only to have them fall just short of what I wanted them to be and I thought it would free up more time to watch “better” shows (more on that in a coming post). I had seen and loved the trailer for The Flash but my original intention was to watch Arrow at some point before starting its spin-off.

Then fall of 2014 came around and absolutely none of my plans involving The CW happened as anticipated. I couldn’t resist the buzz surrounding The Flash and not only fell in love with that show but started s1 of Arrow as well. I checked out Jane the Virgin after some enthusiastic recommendations and once again, fell in love with it. In the beginning of March, I started The 100 after I could no longer resist the allure of any show described as “Battlestar Galactica, Jr.” and not only has it become my latest tv obsession, I got my boyfriend hooked as well. I haven’t had time to start iZombie yet but it’s on my list for the summer after more enthusiastic recommendations and a cast I already love.

In just one season, I went from having nothing to watch on The CW to it potentially becoming my most watched network on all of television (depending on FOX’s cancellations in a couple weeks). That same year brought the network its first Golden Globe and Peabody Award win thanks to the charms of Jane the Virgin and its star Gina Rodriguez. So what happened? What took this network from the land of teen drama to an award contender with a broadening demographic?

Personally, I think their biggest strength in the past couple year has been their willingness to take risks. In many cases, their small size works in their favor. They take chances because they can afford to. In order to make a splash at CBS or even NBC, you can’t afford to create shows that are only watched by slightly over a million people and only crack a 1.0 18-49 ratings share on the best days. This lets them try shows that would never have a chance at another broadcast network because there is a very real chance that they couldn’t deliver the quantity of audience required to survive.

Sci-fi traditionally doesn’t do well on network television. Yet The CW aired 3 different sci-fi shows during the 2013-14 season. You could say that was just poor decision-making by network executives and you may not entirely be wrong. Two of the three shows failed to be renewed for second seasons. The third, however, has done decently for itself. The 100 has been renewed for a third season and is now some of the most enjoyable genre fare on television.

For the 2014-15 season, The CW did something even more daring – it greenlit a show based on a telenovela. As the network shifted toward more supernatural/superhero based programming, I guessed the days of shows like Gilmore Girls and Life Unexpected were over. I assumed that they had finally decided to move away from family dramas centered around young women in favor of shows that better fit their new targeted demographic while still appealing to the teenage girls around whom the network was built. Jane the Virgin has many things that set it apart from the rest of the network lineup – its origins as a Venezuelan telenovela, the regular use of subtitles to allow Alba to speak in Spanish, the multi-generational Latina leads, and the lack of anything supernatural. It has a name that lends itself to a lot of preconceptions about the content and tone of the show. It was a risky choice but it was the best one the network has ever made. Its ratings are probably not quite as high as they would like, but it’s the only one on the network that can be considered a legitimate contender during awards season and it’ll be the network that launched what I expect to be a long and full career for Gina Rodriguez.

Another strength, especially in the 2014-15 season is the fact that they also aren’t opposed to having fun with their shows. The infectious charms of Rogelio De La Vega and the Latin Lover Narrator on Jane the Virgin cannot be denied. It keeps the show feeling light even when it explores heavier material. Similarly, The Flash is a superhero show about a hero who loves to help people. It’s not a quest for vengeance or justice, Barry wants to make Central City a safer place for those he loves. He does want justice for the murder of his mother and the false imprisonment of his father, but that drive doesn’t make him bitter or brooding. It makes him try harder because he has a team to rely on that will help him achieve both of his missions. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing iZombie yet but I get the impression that it is also a lighter take on the genre.

With so many dark, heavy shows on television right now, sometimes you want a breather. You want a show that makes you happy to watch each week and spend time with its characters. You want to see good people trying hard to do their best under impossible circumstances and succeeding more than they fail. The network isn’t free of darker television (just look at The 100) but even on the darker shows, there are characters to inspire you and believe that people are capable of goodness.

Finally, its strength comes from its fanbase. People love to watch these shows and aren’t afraid to tell you so. The shows inspire passionate and excited fanbases that make others want to try out their shows. The best advertisement for a show will always be the enthusiasm of those who love it and The CW excels in creating shows that bring that sort of reaction. It was the enthusiasm of other fans that brought me back to the network and its my own enthusiasm that has inspired this post. As a TV fan and a CW fan, it’s a pleasure to watch and be apart of.

I nearly gave up on The CW as a network and my TV-viewing experience would be much poorer for it. I’m grateful for the shows they’ve taken a chance on, the shows that have made me smile, the shows that have given me a multitude of characters to love, and the shows I can’t stop talking about. It’s good TV that is pure fun to watch and I sincerely hope that is the niche the network chooses to stay in over the next few years and development cycles. If you’re still on the fence due to it’s previous reputation, come back and see what this network has to offer now. It’ll be well-worth your time.

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6 thoughts on “How The CW Found Its Groove

  1. This is such a fantastic post, Heather. I could read your thoughts on networks and ratings all day.

    This post has me even more excited to start Jane the Virgin this summer. And I might have to join you on the iZombie bandwagon because I’ve had three separate people recommend that show to me after I said I needed some lighter, more fun TV in my life. Plus, I think we all know I can’t resist the allure of David Anders for too long. 😉

  2. Great post! The shows on the CW remind me more of the WB back in the day. While Arrow is dark and gritty (a la Angel), the Flash is just good fun — well-made good fun. There should be a place for good, fun show– shows with heart . And yes, if you have the time get on the iZombie fun train. You will hurt yourself resisting David Anders. Rose McIver rocks as Liv. And the character of Ravi? Oh how I love Ravi.

  3. Props to the CW! I honestly cant thank them enough for giving us ‘The Flash’. As the other networks think they have to “gritty” and “dark” in order to make a comic book show someone will watch, the CW decided to just have fun with it. And I am here for the fun. It doesnt hurt that the casting is just spot on as well. I swoon over Gustin, I adore both Panabaker (Caitlin) and Valdez (Cisco), and my love of Jessie L. Martin knows no bounds. Its not flawless, but it doesnt matter, because its always entertaining. I cant wait to see where they go next season.

    I am definitely going to give izombie a try. And if I can every get over my animosity towards isaiah washington, I might get sucked into ‘The 100’ too.

    1. I’m so happy I have you to share my love of The Flash with! You’re exactly right, it’s not always flawless but it’s always entertaining and the cast is fabulous in so many combinations.

      I may be starting iZombie earlier than this summer, current shows may need to wait. I need more fun in my TV week right now.

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