The CW Boss on the Fates of ‘All American,’ ‘Walker’ and the Path to Profitability

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The CW announced its fall lineup Thursday, with the return of Superman & Lois, two new game shows based on classic board games and the new scripted entry Joan, a limited series starring Game of Thrones alum Sophie Turner, among others.

The lineup comes after Nexstar’s acquisition of the network in 2022, and amid a new focus of becoming profitable and reaching a broader audience. That, in turn, has led to fewer U.S.-produced scripted dramas and a need to be scrappy and cost-conscious, as the linear audience declines and many other broadcast networks, including The CW, are seeing the need to slash budgets.

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In light of this, The CW has also leaned into the acquisition of secondary sports rights, game shows and new shows in which the network owns all rights worldwide and therefore can profit off of the programs on streaming, unlike with its legacy shows All American and its Homecoming spinoff as well as Walker, all of which face an uncertain future. Brad Schwartz, CW’s president of entertainment, notes that the network has an SVOD partner coming in for Joan and has pre-partnered with the Roku Channel on the new Leighton Meister show, Good Cop/Bad Cop, and is in conversations about streaming with Wild Cards.

“I think it’s really important for us, when we pop a hit, that we can then monetize that hit in more places,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz spoke with The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday about the future of The CW’s popular U.S. scripted originals, the path to profitability and what kind of content the network is now looking for.

What is the future of All American, Walker and All American: Homecoming

That’s the big question. We said a year ago that we’re gonna develop 12 months a year, we’re going to greenlight things 12 months a year, we’re not going to be held to this upfront week, in this upfront schedule. So we have our fourth quarter locked; we’ve had it locked for a long time. But, we will have decisions on All American, on Walker, on Sight Unseen. All American: Homecoming hasn’t even aired yet. We have the second season of Sullivan’s Crossing coming; we’ll have a decision to make on season three. We have Wild Cards to pick up, Penn and Teller to pick up; we have Son of a Critch and Children Ruin Everything. There’s a lot of shows out there that we’re all very excited about and did very well. Wild Cards was the biggest new show of the year. We just didn’t make those decisions this week.

Do you know when those decisions will be made? 

There will be some that’ll come out in a few weeks to months. We also have a very exciting announcement for a piece of talent that’ll be on Inside the NFL. That’ll come out in the next week or two.

Do the financials for a show like Walker make it feasible for The CW to continue doing it? 

That is a show that CBS [Studios] does very well with internationally and sells around the world really well. They also have a second window output deal to Max on that show. So when you start putting together international revenue and SVOD revenue and the revenue you get from us, and this past year, we renegotiated on that show and they were able to do it a little more efficiently. I think if everybody gets back together, and there are a lot of people that have a lot of decisions to make, and we have budgets that we have to hold to. We’ll see if that show makes it, but it’s certainly an active conversation.

Is there a certain budget goal that you’re trying to reach with these shows? 

Yes, we are. In the Nexstar earnings report, they said how we’ve improved our earnings by $100 million this year. And we’ve done that by being really, really careful when it comes to what we pay for shows versus their performance. And so every show we look at, we have our ratings team, our scheduling team and our finance team put P&L’s together for the shows and be like, “This is how it rated, this is the revenue brought in,” and then you add the streaming revenue and then for shows that aren’t the legacy shows, we also sell those shows to SVODs and AVODs and FAST channels and kind of put all the revenue together and then when we can say this is honestly what we can afford. And you try to take your heart out a little bit, and be like, “I would love to keep doing this show, here are the economics that makes sense.” And then you work with your partners to see if we can all make it happen. Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. All the shows that are bubble shows, I guess you would call them, we love them all, you know, probably can’t do them all.

So then it’s up to the people on those shows to meet the budget goals? 

Yeah, that’s right. Can we do this show and keep up the quality and deliver the show? Does it make sense for us? Sometimes at the studio level, it doesn’t make sense for us. And some, you’re like let’s try and figure it out. And honestly, it’s not just us. Everybody’s having these conversations.

You don’t have SVOD rights for legacy shows, as All American is on Netflix and Walker is on Max, so you can’t profit off that revenue. Does that play into the conversation about whether to renew? 

Yes it does. But they’re our biggest shows, and we’re seven nights a week, 52 weeks a year. You have shows that are just that, because they do something for you. And then these other shows, you want to be able to really control them and monetize long term.

The CW has talked about wanting to be profitable by 2025. Where are you in that trajectory? 

We’ve improved our earnings by $100 million this year. I think we’ve improved our earnings by over $200 million in two years. So this team is really hitting on all cylinders. We’ve had three consecutive quarters of ratings growth. And we’re doing it more efficiently and we’re doing it with a smaller team. And it’s kind of us against titans. We’re the underdog, and it’s all going really well. So I think if we continue on this track, and we play a little Moneyball and put really good content on the air and do it efficiently and keep growing our ratings — and now that we’ve added, you know, an incredible amount of sports, 500 hours of sports from zero — it’s all kind of pushing us in the right direction.

To meet that 2025 goal? 

I would say to meet the company’s goals. It’s interesting, because there are areas where Nexstar benefits off of The CW that don’t necessarily hit our P&L. The CW is certainly on a track to continue toward break even. I don’t want to put a date on it.

What’s the upside to getting secondary sports rights?

You can’t be in broadcast television today without being in sports. It’s just an incredibly important piece of broadcast television. Live, simultaneous viewing of a lot of people. Nobody does it better than broadcast. There’s like 20 million homes just using digital attendance out there. The broadest reach is still broadcast. NXT wrestling, that’s 52 weeks a year, two hours every Tuesday night of live, sports entertainment, that’s a five year deal. NASCAR starts this fall, that’s a seven-year deal. We have the second year of ACC football and men’s and women’s basketball, and we have LIV Golf and Inside the NFL. The greatest step that I can say when it comes to sports, a year ago zero people in history had ever watched sports on The CW. And according to Nielsen, if you just look at a six-minute reach number, 30 million people have now watched sports on The CW.

So sports has been just an incredible, incredible new viewer acquisition tool. It has been a revelation for all of our local affiliates and local stations because now they have sports on the weekend. They can compete with everybody else.

After more than a year at The CW, do you have an overarching philosophy for what a CW show is? 

I think people ask that question because the CW used to be so well defined. Everyone knew what a CW show was. There are movies that are like, “Oh, she left me for a CW actor.” Everybody knows what that means. We can picture what a CW actor looks like. But nobody ever asked that question of CBS or NBC or Fox, right? These are big 10 brands. The word broad is right in what we are, and your job is really just to bring in the most amount of simultaneous viewers as possible, things that can help your local stations. We have the largest reach of anybody, and that reach between broadcast and SVODs and AVODs is getting bigger not smaller. And so you have to think broadly. So I think when you look at our schedule, there isn’t one thing that you can be like, “Oh, that’s a CW show.” We have game shows. We have movies. We have young adult dramas like Superman and Librarians. We’ve got adult dramas like Sullivan’s Crossing and Joan. We already mentioned game shows. We’ve got wrestling and sports, now 500 hours of sports from zero. So it’s starting to feel like a big five broadcast network, not a big four plus the CW.

And that goal of getting bigger and broader was certainly the plan a year ago, and I think we’re executing against that, you know, really well. But, as a guy that always leans toward branding and marketing, I hate that we can’t say this is the audience we’re going for and this is the type of show we’re going for. Bravo has their “affluencers,” they even name their audience, or Syfy has their igniters they name their audiences. Advertisers can go and kind of buy that audience. That’s not us. We’re broadcast. And just like CBS has talk shows and game shows and news shows. We’re very similar in that way.

It sounds like you’d rather have pockets of different audiences then.

Eventually you want to tie it all together. What we realized on day one, when we actually looked at the data, the CW was really, really strong with a small amount of people and that small amount of people came back for Arrow and Superman and All American because it was all this very, very kind of niche YA cable brand. When we looked at the data, you realize the biggest challenge The CW had was reach, reaching enough people.

The goal was to increase reach, and I think we’ve done that and things like sports and things like adult dramas and things like game shows or unscripted content. So I think it’s little pockets of audiences. But then eventually, you want to build it so that people that watch wrestling, you can promote college football to, and college football people you can promote NASCAR to and then people who watch NASCAR are gonna love Sullivan’s Crossing, very kind of heartland adult drama. Then people that watch Sullivan’s Crossing, we hope they’re gonna one watch the game shows and get their families together to watch Scrabble. It’s a big 10 brand. It can’t just be one thing.

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