CW Boss Mark Pedowitz Talks Turnaround, Digital Deals and Losing ‘Gilmore Girls’ Sequel

Cynthia Littleton

Mark Pedowitz has been The CW’s superhero-in-chief for the second half of its 10-year history. The longtime ABC exec took the reins of the network in April 2011 at a time of major transition for the network and the TV industry in general. The CW president recently sat down with Variety to reflect on the network’s progress and the course parent companies CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. are setting for its next decade.

The same year you started, The CW set innovative output deals with Netflix and Hulu. How important has digital distribution been to the health of the network?

Pedowitz: We know when we’re programming a show we’re appealing to a bifurcated audience. We know our median age on-air is 43, but our median age on digital is 23. When we’re programming a show we’re saying, “please watch live-plus-same-day, please watch live-plus-7-day.” But what we’re really saying is “Please watch.” We just need to get on your queue — VOD, DVR, streaming, whatever that is.

The CW has had a nice turnaround after hitting a slump a few years ago. What made the difference?

Pedowitz: We took a hard look at ourselves about four and a half years ago, up and down the line and asked ourselves what did the brand mean to anybody? Who were we trying to serve? We came to the conclusion that we needed to broaden out. We have to become much more [adults] 18-49 and we need to bring men back in. We realized very quickly that we shouldn’t be looking at very young actors, but that our series needed to have protagonists were any where between 26 and 31. So you’re still hitting two different ends of the young adult spectrum.

What made the difference after you set your sights on that change?

Pedowitz: If you don’t have luck, your strategy doesn’t mean anything. We’ve had great luck. “Arrow” came about and we were able to move “Supernatural” with “Arrow” to make a night. We had a good year in [2013] with “The 100,” “Reign,” and “The Originals.” And then we got incredibly lucky with “The Flash” and “Jane the Virgin.” Those shows made a difference and changed the perception of who we were. Last year we were opportunistic with “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Even if the show didn’t do big numbers, it reinforced the perception that [CW] is a different place than it once was.

Do you see “Crazy Ex” and “Jane” as guarding against you becoming strictly the superhero network, with all the DC shows that you have?

Pedowitz: You can only take so many [DC] shows and at this point we’re at our max. But if a character pops we might look at it differently. … The nice thing about “The Flash” was that it was not a carbon copy of “Arrow.” “Legends of Tomorrow” didn’t live up to its potential last year, but we think with changes this year it will. Getting “Supergirl” [from CBS] helps us in a different form.

Your CW Seed digital incubator has expanded rapidly this year. Is original digital content becoming a business for you?

Pedowitz: [CW Seed] started as an incubator. It started to teach us about the technology infrastructure in the event that we wanted to be on all platforms. We successfully did that. It also incubated [documentary] “My Last Days.” It’s been very successful from an incubator standpoint. We are still evolving the strategy for content. CW Seed can go edgier or different, but it still has to fulfill the needs of the mothership network. Any shows we pick up for CW Seed we have to imagine somewhere in time whether they would fit the CW image and branding. We believe it may become a bigger business model for us overall. But it’s surpassed my expectations.

How are you dealing with the incredible level of competition from new outlets in the past few years?

It’s hard. For example, I would have loved to have had the “Gilmore Girls” [sequel]. Netflix can outspend me in a heartbeat. That’s tough.

Are your parent companies on the same page when it comes to managing The CW partnership? 

Pedowitz: They’re very much in sync right now. We all want the same thing. They believe, particularly as the world has evolved, The CW today is far more valuable than The CW of 10 years ago.

When you started, was there a danger of the network shutting down? Were you working against the clock?

I came in with a mandate from all four board members at the time — [former Warner Bros. chiefs] Barry Meyer and Bruce Rosenblum, [former CBS honcho] Nancy Tellem and [CBS CEO] Leslie Moonves — all said, “We know we have something, but we know we’re not getting anywhere.” They said, “Let’s try to do something” and that’s what we did. They were unclear whether [CW] would last because of the difficulties that were happening.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you started at CW?

Pedowitz: How friggin’ hard it is to turn something around. I didn’t think it would take five years to get to this point. I’d advise anybody that if you believe in your strategy, stick with it, but you’d better have some luck in there, too.

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