That record of 9 pilots ordered by the CW this year starts to make a lot of sense.
Nine years after the CW network reduced the nights it programs, returning Sunday to its affiliates, the network is taking it back. Starting next fall, the CW’s schedule again will span six nights a week, Sunday-Friday (8 PM – 10 PM) for 12 hours of programming. The network’s affiliate stations are on board with the expansion — the CW has secured the same clearances on all six nights via an agreement with its key affiliate partners, including the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Tribune Broadcasting, CBS Television Stations, and Nexstar Media Group.
“Broadcasting remains the foundation of our multi-platform approach to bringing our programming to viewers,” the CW president Mark Pedowitz said. “Over the past seven years, The CW has added more than 80 hours of original scripted programming to its schedule – now that number can continue to climb, as we grow our broadcast lineup, and continue to add content on every platform.”
The CW’s pullout from Sundays had started virtually from the 2006 launch of the network as a result of merging UPN and the WB. The final season of 7th Heaven aired on the night during the CW’s inaugural season, followed by the short-lived fall 2007 drama Life Is Wild, which became the last original homegrown CW program to air on Sunday. The CW’s experiment to outsource Sunday night to MRC for the 2008-09 season failed miserably, with the network swiftly dropping the block for a lineup of Jericho reruns and MGM library movies until giving the the night back to the stations in spring of 2009.
Over the last few years, the CW has been in expansion mode under president Mark Pedowitz, who joined in 2011, broadening out its appeal with a slate of tentpole DC series and balancing its female gender skew to a roughly 50-50 mix. The network has steadily increased the number of midseason series to 5 scripted shows this year and has been airing 3-4 reality shows during the summer.
Pedowitz said that reclaiming Sunday night for the CW had been an on-and-off conversation for the seven years he has been at the network. Finally, in discussing the subject with the CW owners, CBS and Warner Bros., last July, the sides concluded that “this might be the right time to do it,” Pedwoitz said. That was long before the first rumors started about Disney trying to acquire key assets of 21st Century Fox, including 20th Century Fox TV, leaving the future of Fox Broadcasting Co., which also programs two hours a night, in limbo.
The decision to proceed with the CW expansion was made this past December, and at the beginning of January, Chris Brooks, The CW’s EVP Network Distribution, and Ann Miyagi, SVP and General Counsel, started the effort of reaching out to the affiliates to secure clearances across the country. Such a proposition is not always an easy sell as the stations may not be willing to forgo 16 minutes an hour of ad inventory in exchange for 3.5 minutes an hour they get from the network. In this case, the response was quick and positive, with clearances wrapped up within 5-6 weeks.
“As one of the largest CW affiliate groups, we are excited to see The CW Network reaffirm its commitment to broadcasting by expanding its schedule to Sunday night,” said Chris Ripley, President and CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Added, Peter Dunn, President, CBS Television Stations, “We are very pleased with the growth and success of The CW over its 12-year history and look forward to welcoming the expansion of the Network’s primetime schedule to 12 hours.”
While linear TV continues to contract, the CW is +3% year-to-year to date in total viewers and flat in adults 18-34 and adults 18-49 on TV alone, without factoring in its growing digital streaming numbers. The CW is the last remanning broadcast network with a medical age in the adults 18-49 demo (45 in linear), with its digital/on-demand viewership in their 20s and 30s on average.
The ongoing effort to go up a night of programming factored into the CW brass’ recent decision to order a record 9 pilots this season, 8 standalone ones and a planted Supernatural spinoff, Pedowitz said. That is almost double the tally of 5 pilots picked up last year.
Pedwoitz called the expansion “a win-win” for the affiliates, which are getting another night of strong programming, and for the CW owners, CBS and Warners, whose studios produce all CW series and will get additional revenue opportunities from selling more series internationally and to digital platforms.
He said it is still early to discuss what shows will go on Sunday night but indicated that the lineup will likely include established returning series with strong fan base as well as recognizable brands.
One idea — Charmed spent the second half of its original run on the WB as a Sunday anchor. One of the CW’s pilots this season is a high-profile reboot of the popular supernatural drama series.