Mad About The CW Cancellations? Blame Streaming – The Hollywood Reporter

“It’s the Red Wedding at WBTV/CW today.”

That’s how Julie Plec, who co-created of one of Warner Bros. Television and The CW’s most valuable franchises in The Vampire Diaries, described the mood Thursday after the network — for the first time in a decade — canceled nearly half its roster.

The CW canceled more shows (10) than it renewed (eight) as its total volume of originals slid to its lowest level since 2012. (At press time, The CW has 11 total scripted originals, not including low-cost acquired content, with decisions on two shows still to come).

As Plec and scores of other writers and producers learned this week, the free lunches have come to an end at The CW as its corporate parents, Warner Bros. Television and CBS Studios, prepare to divest their stakes in the younger-skewing broadcast network they launched as a joint venture in 2006.

To understand what’s happening now at The CW, it’s best to look back to why the network was launched in the first place. Warners and CBS Studios saw the network as a cash cow: both studios would supply low-cost scripted series to the network and cash in with lucrative international rights. Then, in 2011, Warners and CBS Studios added revenue from a $1 billion Netflix streaming deal as shows like Plec’s The Vampire Diaries spinoffs The Originals and the unceremoniously canceled Legacies added a secondary revenue stream.

It didn’t matter that The CW was never profitable because both studios — then part of Viacom and Time Warner — made money hand over fist via foreign sales and the Netflix output deal. The business model was so lucrative that The CW expanded to original programming on Fridays and Sundays and largely stopped canceling much of anything. The CW canceled (or gave a proper farewell) to an average of only 3.2 shows during the past decade — a far cry from this season’s 10. In the same time frame, The CW renewed an average of 10.3 shows annually (vs. eight this year) while new show volume (three) is a bit below the norm (3.9).

So why, then, did The CW clean house this season? The blame isn’t squarely on network CEO Mark Pedowitz. Broadcast’s longest-tenured network topper reports to a board understood of execs from Warners and CBS Studios, who for years have played a vital role in programming decisions. For example: While dynasty has had the distinction of being broadcast’s lowest-rated scripted series for years, revenue from the reboot’s international sales and the Netflix deal kept it on the air for far longer than its linear numbers deserved. So after five seasons of living life on the bubble that included a wild history of casting changes, why did time run out on dynasty and so many other CW favorites?

Blame streaming. And mergers. And The CW’s impending sale.

Warners and CBS Studios — now overseen by newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global — ended the Netflix output deal in 2019 to help boost their respective streaming platforms, HBO Max and Paramount+. Foreign sales, too, have dried up as those rights need to stay in-house as both platforms continue their global expansion in a bid to compete with Netflix and company in the streaming wars. That’s a loss of billions of dollars in revenue, making shows like dynastyfor example, no longer profitable.

Without those two revenue streams, and amid new corporate ownership, the free lunches are officially over as both of The CW’s corporate parents are in active sale talks with station group Nexstar and other potential buyers. Some have weighted if the wave of cancellations odd The CW’s valuation because the network’s scripted cupboard is half empty. Not really.

Most of the originals that got the ax this season were shows that long outlived their welcome — sorry, dynasty — and would have been canceled at networks that weren’t governed by two studios who were making money on them. Should Nexstar — The CW’s largest station group owner — buy the network, it doesn’t matter if shows like dynasty make money for the studios because it doesn’t rate on linear. Put another way, why would Nexstar pay a licensing fee for a show that nobody watches? The CW didn’t commission 22 episodes a season because it helped to sell ads but rather because the show’s producer, CBS Studios, made millions on every episode.

While The CW is expected to look considerably different next season — expect more low-cost foreign acquisitions and unscripted programming — the network’s most-watched originals are all returning. The CW gave early renewals to seven of its eight returning shows, all of them among its highest rated. Sources say Pedowitz wanted to bring back the Greg Berlanti-produced DC Comics dramas batman and Legends of Tomorrow but Warners no longer wanted to pay the leases on the studio space, which expired May 1, and prompted April 29 cancellations. Plec’s Legacies was also said to be a financial decision made by the studio.

Legends and Legacies, along with Charmed, In the Dark and Roswell, New Mexico all were part of the Netflix production deal. Now, with the network’s three new series pickups in Gotham Knights, Walker: Independence and supernatural prequel The Winchesters, all but three of The CW’s 11 scripted shows (The Flash, All American, Riverdale) will be able to stream on The CW’s website and streaming app, CW Seed.

Sources say the network’s robust streaming platform has been of particular interest to The CW’s suitors, including Nexstar. Affiliates have complained for years about The CW’s increased digital presence as companies like Nexstar do not receive revenue from those platforms. However, should Nextar actually own The CW, that’s digital money in the bank. It also doesn’t hurt that The CW’s foreign acquisitions — featuring the likes of Patrick Dempsey, Brendan Fraser and Freddie Highmore — and unscripted fare (Whose Line Is it Anyway, among others) — also have stacking rights lined up at CW Seed. In short, it’s all part of Warners and CBS Studios cutting bait in an effort to make The CW more appealing to would-be buyers.

And before anyone can start a petition for the unfortunate shows that met their early demise this week, keep in mind that HBO Max and Paramount+ can’t save those lucky shows that were able to stay on the air as long as they did because they were part of the Netflix deal. Sorry, Legacies, Legends, Dynasty, Charmed, In the Dark and Roswellas Plec said“Today we die.”

The CW’s Scripted History*

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Canceled/ended 2 5 4 2 2 4 3 3 4 3
New series 5 5 4 3 3 3 5 3 4 4
Renewed 6 7 8 10 12 11 12 14 14 15
Total scripted 11 12 12 13 15 14 17 17 18 19

*Does not include acquisitions

The CW in 2022
Cancelled/ended: 10
New series: 3
Renewed: 8
Total scripted: 11 (Tally does not account for bubbles Tom Swift and star girl)

Source: THR research

Other Facts and Figures

  • The CW has canceled/ended an average of 3.2 shows annually over the past decade (10 in 2022)
  • The CW has renewed an average of 10.3 shows annually for the past decade (8 in 2022)
  • The CW has ordered an average of 3.9 new shows annually over the past decade (3 in 2022)
  • The CW’s average volume of scripted originals is 14.8 shows over the past decade (11 in 2022)

Keep track of all of the broadcast pilots, castings and series orders with THR‘s handy scorecard. And follow along as all the bubble shows await word on their futures with our renewal guide.

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