Upfronts 2014: The CW reaches new demos

Mindshare's Janine Newbigging is impressed with the quality of new show ideas, as the channel moves away from its Gossip Girl roots.

By Janine Newbigging

After an exhausting week of presentations, CW capped off the week with a high energy event that did not disappoint. Guests were welcomed into the City Centre theatre to the innovative DJ drum beats of AFISHAL featuring Dwayne Wint.

As they left the stage and we were all sure the presentation was about to begin we were instead shocked when triple platinum recording artists Neon Trees took to the stage. They delivered a stellar performance of “Everybody Talks” and “Here We Go Again” among other hits.

But the surprises didn’t end there. With the crowd now sufficiently revved up, Arrow star Stephan Amell came out on stage to surprised screams and enthusiastic applause. He introduced the first of CW’s new programs – The Flash. And what a fitting intro as two of Arrow’s creators – Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti are behind the new series, not to mention the crossover between the two shows. Watching this preview was like watching the trailer for a big budget action movie. As with Arrow, The Flash has the potential to bring new audiences to the CW.

It was at this point that the first CW executive took to the stage. Rob Tuck, VP of national sales, beamed as he confirmed CW just came off the channel’s best season in years with a schedule that was as strong and stable as ever, meeting its objective of opening the network up to new audiences. He was followed up by equally proud network president Mark Pedowitz who joked that they are no longer known as the Gossip Girl network.

He went on to say that they have delivered on their commitment of expanding reach by appealing to men and adult demos beyond those aged 18 to 34. He proudly referred to Arrow as the breakout hit of the fall and mentioned how it boosted ratings for lead out Supernatural, which just came off its highest rated season in four years. He went on to tell us how The Originals doubled ratings in its time period and how the network is up 28% in total viewers on Friday with the introduction of Whose Line Is It Anyway.

With the Tuesday to Friday schedule solid, Mark pointed out that it was now time for them to build the Monday night schedule. And with that intro, we previewed Jane the Virgin. Jane is a young woman who always tries to do the right thing and accidentally becomes artificially inseminated with her boss’ sperm. Sounds ridiculous and far-fetched, right? Oddly, the concept works and I found myself emotionally attached to the characters. It is the relationships between her, her mother and grandmother that drive the show.

As with every other upfront presentation, the social media strength of CW’s programs was the next big discussion point. CW, like all the other networks, claimed they were the leaders in engaging viewers. We also heard about CW Seed – the CW’s original digital video company, which is testing the waters with new concepts like Play It Again Dick (a Veronica Mars spinoff) in the hopes this will lead to the development of new series, like the new summer program Backpackers, which started online but will be on the schedule in the summer with full episodes. Other fresh summer programming was touched on with Fool Us (with Penn & Teller), Famous in 12, and the iHeart Music Festival, among others.

CW’s original programming is up 43% and that is evident with the fresh programming for mid-season. Hart of Dixie and Beauty & the Beast are returning, along with new programs The Messengers and iZombie. And these are not your regular mid-season fare. In The Messengers five strangers are inexplicably linked after a meteor hits earth. How they are linked to the fate of earth is unclear but so is the origin of the “presence” they are all drawn to. This sci-fi drama certainly fits the CW’s mandate to draw in new audiences and once again the slick production and engaging characters make this an intriguing new show.

The final new program iZombie from the creator of Veronica Mars stars a likeable young zombie who works in a morgue in order to get access to her food source – brains. The side effect of her unconventional diet is that she retains the memories of those whose brains she consumes turning her curse into an asset by helping the police solve their murders. Think Warm Bodies meets Crossing Jordan.

Not only did CW deliver the most entertaining show of the week, they also delivered on the most interesting new program concepts and engaging characters and storylines. CW can no longer be narrow casted as the young female network. I for one, will be tuning in.

Janine Newbigging is the director of exchange at Mindshare Canada