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Creator / The CW

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The CW, owned jointly by ViacomCBS and AT&T's WarnerMedia through Warner Bros. (hence the initials, as the C is for Columbia and the W is for Warner), is the result of the 2006 merger of The WB and UPN. This is a network that is utterly about demographics. Specifically, that demographic which spends more time online than it does watching the tube. A pretty smooth move, since reaching young adults means giving them something to talk about on the Internet (hence their 2009–12 slogan "TV To Talk About", and their previous "TV Now" slogan, which is the network's admission they don't care if you watch on TV or online).

Nearly all of The WB's and UPN's best-known programs — Gilmore Girls, Smallville, Supernatural, America's Next Top Model, Everybody Hates Chris, One Tree Hill, Veronica Mars — were carried over from those networks. To fit all these shows – and add some newer ones – on the new lineup, The CW initially used The WB's scheduling model – six nights a week of primetime shows (five hours on Sundays, and two hours Monday through Friday), two hours in daytime on weekdays and five hours on Saturday mornings, the latter of which consisted of Kids' WB! lineup carried over from The WB – as UPN had no Sunday primetime, weekday daytime or children's programming at its end. The CW eventually turned over its Sunday night lineup (which languished in the ratings since the network's launch thanks in part to the success of NBC's Sunday Night Football the fall in which The CW launched) to its affiliates in 2009, following a disastrous time-lease deal with production company Media Rights Capital, and then abdicated one hour of its daytime lineup in 2010. It wasn't until the network started to become profitable that it decided to return to airing on Sundays in 2018, and even then it's only a two hour block like the weeknight lineup, with no network programming appearing in the 7 P.M. hour like the Big Four. In 2021, it was announced that The CW will begin airing on Saturday primetime for two hours starting with the 2021-22 season.


The network struggled during its first few years, to the point that the Tribune Company, owner of key affiliates like New York's WPIX and Los Angeles' KTLA, dropped CW branding on its CW stations; for example, WPIX (formerly branded CW11) has reverted to PIX 11 (a modernization of the the name it carried back when it was an independent station), while Denver's KWGN (formerly branded CW2) developed a Dork Age of calling itself "The Deuce" with a younger image for a couple years, including removing their older news personalities and attempting to make themselves hip (which made it worse. It's now branded as the comparably staid "Colorado's Own Channel 2"). On top of that, notable affiliate group Pappas Telecasting partly blamed The CW's crappy performance as a factor in its 2008 bankruptcy, which also forced the company to sell off quite a few stations (including some affiliated with other networks), with KCWK in Walla Walla, Washington even being shut down. Furthermore, an attempted expansion to Guam in 2009 ended with the affiliate (newborn low-power station KTKB) dead in less than two years, though it would ultimately return the following year.


Later, though, The CW finally found its footing, with original hits such as Gossip Girl, 90210 (a Sequel Series to the '90s Fox show), The Vampire Diaries and Nikita, in addition to a number of still-popular shows from the WB/UPN days (Supernatural, Top Model), and for a while, the network seemed to be more content aiming for the teen/young adult niche (which they do spectacularly well in) than going for broader appeal like the major networks.note  However, new CW president Mark Pedowitz has stated that he sees the network as a general 18-34 network, citing the success of Arrow with said demographic, followed by the early success of the revival of Whose Line Is It Anyway? (in the middle of the doldrums of summer, no less), and while it still trails far behind the Big Four (in 2020, it didn't even make it to the top 20 networks by viewership, trailing not only the Big Four but also Ion and Spanish-language Univision and Telemundo), The WB and UPN generally had much of the same ratings at their respective highs, and the network has been recovering from its torrid early years nicely. The network in fact doesn't really care about television ratings and has admitted as such, knowing many of their viewers catch their shows through the network's website, Hulu and Netflix, something that hurts reading the Nielsen chart (and as the general manager of a CW station), but is planning for the probable future reality of television.

On a less pleasant note, the launch of this network was the death knell for African-American-cast sitcoms on network television for several years, as it removed UPN, the only broadcast network that was still committed to running those types of programming. When UPN merged with the WB, the latter network's sensibilities wound up dominating, causing black-focused shows like Everybody Hates Chris and The Game to get lost in their new network home's identity. While The Game was lucky enough to make a Channel Hop to BET (and became that network's biggest show ever in the process), other shows of its ilk, such as Girlfriends and All of Us, saw themselves getting bumped off.

The network's weekday "daytime" block, where Kids' WB used to be, was never really that. Over the years, it's been home to an ever declining quantity of talk shows, starting with Tyra Banks, then down to Dr. Drew, then a show with radio host Bill Cunningham that may as well have been Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos without the fighting. That show departed the airwaves in September 2016 to make way for a show of the same ilk by Restaurant: Impossible host Robert Irvine. The Robert Irvine Show suffered from Invisible Advertising, and was ultimately canned in 2018 after two seasons of abysmal ratings, to be replaced by Springer repeats, of all things (an option existed for Jerry to make new episodes for the CW for the right price; he chose instead for his personal sanity to do a less draining court show). The daytime slot was programmed by Tribune as an artifact of their former ownership interest in The WB and its importance in owning the largest CW affiliates. Tribune was bought out by Nexstar Media Group in 2019 after a failed attempt by Sinclair Broadcasting, and in 2021, the remaining hour was returned to the affiliates in exchange for the Saturday night time slot, ending a block that had been around since 1995 on The WB.

Finally, The CW is also notable for boasting Saban Brands' Vortexx, the last Saturday Morning Cartoon block to air new shows. In May 2014, they announced its airtime was being sold to Litton Entertainment for yet another one of their Edutainment Show blocks, similar to the blocks they've programmed for ABC and sister network CBS. That block premiered in October 2014, marking the End of an Era.

After Smallville ended, more live-action shows based on Warner Bros.' DC Comics properties have found a home on The CW. These shows have established a live-action DC Shared Universe for the first time ever — notably, around the same time Warner Bros. is doing the same for DC movies, but The CW got theirs out first. Fans have nicknamed this universe the "Arrowverse" after Arrow, the series that started it all. It got even larger in May 2016, when Supergirl, which did OK but not life-changing ratings for CBS, was given over to the CW based on the momentum of a successful Supergirl/The Flash crossover.

At the 2016 upfronts, Tribune and the CW came to a new agreement to renew their stations for five more years, though both parties agreed to let Tribune flagship WGN in Chicago disaffiliate from the network due to voluminous sports conflicts and a news and programming schedule that can easily beat Fox affiliate WFLD, even without the CW (WGN's news audience is more traditional and broad, which caused havoc for programming flow from primetime; ironically WGN lost its sports rights to cable at the end of 2019). WPWR, the MyNetworkTV affiliate in that market, took over the CW rights in Chicago for three years, with WCIU then taking over the affiliation in the fall of 2019. The Hulu arrangement ended the same month to make way for a much-improved app experience, along with a renewal of the Netflix agreement that will see the full seasons of series hit that service a mere couple weeks after the end of their latest seasons. Beginning with the Fall 2019 broadcast season, new shows on the network will have their past-season streaming rights sold individually.

Being a newer network, The CW has a few bugs to work out with carriage in some markets, albeit not to the extent of MyNetworkTV and Ion. Several smaller markets go for a national feed called The CW Plus, which mixes syndicated shows with network programming (and is the basic successor to The WB 100+ Station Group, the small-market feed of co-predecessor The WB). HD tends to depend on the market (some have HD, some don't), and many stations are cable-exclusive. It also has a substantial amount of stations that lie on digital subchannels, which again may or may not be HD, and most are CW Plus affiliates. Unlike MyNetworkTV though, airing its shows in primetime (except for sports and news situations) is compulsory, meaning seeing The Flash as 3 a.m. filler is a virtual impossibility.

The network also owns CW Seed, a streaming platform that hosts both acquired and first-run content focusing mainly on animation, comedy, and game shows. Originally part of the main CW website, it was spun-off into its own app in 2013.

The CW original programming

Bold denotes ongoing or upcoming series.

Other shows with first-run broadcast rights on The CW (include domestic and foreign shows)

  • 18 to Life (2010) note 
  • Burden Of Truth (2018-present) note 
  • Coroner (2020-present) note 
  • Dates (2015) note 
  • The L.A. Complex (2012) note 
  • Seed (2014) note 
  • Swamp Thing (2020) note 
  • Taskmaster (2020) note 
  • Tell Me a Story (2020) note 
  • Trickster (2021) note 
  • Wellington Paranormal (2021) note 
  • Would I Lie to You? (TBA) note 

CW Seed original programming


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