At their peaks, the WB and UPN networks gave us wonderful shows -- "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Felicity" and "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Everybody Hates Chris" and more. At their low points, they merged into the CW, which almost disappeared.
But now the CW has started a surprising comeback. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
The CW network suddenly has two things it’s not used to –
ratings and respect.
Ratings? The debut of “The Flash” drew 4.8 million viewers,
triple what the CW usually gets.
Respect? In a poll, Television Critics Association members
put the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” second (to Fox’s “Gotham”) as the most promising
new series. Gina Rodriguez, who plays Jane, was the overwhelming choice for potential
breakout star … with Grant Gustin of “The Flash” finishing second.
Add other mild successes and the CW seems to have recovered
from a long bout of invisibility.
The network was created in 2006 by merging WB and UPN, but
the sum soon became less than its parts. During the “sweeps” month last May,
the CW averaged only a million viewers; CBS had 11 million. For last season,
one list of 181 shows (some counted twice because of changed nights) saw the CW
with nothing in the top 127 … but 17 in the bottom 21.
“When we lost ‘Smallville’ (three) years back, we lost men,”
said Mark Pedowitz, the network’s programming chief. “So we tried to balance
out and broaden out,” to show “we were no longer (only for) a teenage-girl
“Arrow” arrived two years ago, becoming the network’s top
ratings-getter … and helping launch “The Flash.” The latter show skipped the
usual temptation to cast a beefy, square-jawed hero. Instead, it chose Gustin –
slender, likable, 24 and happy to play the world’s fastest being.
“I actually was very fast as a kid but, ironically, hated
running,” Gustin said. “I quit soccer because I thought it was ridiculous that
we were running back and forth.”
The CW’s other breakthrough star had shown patience. In
2012, “Filly Brown” was nominated for a grand jury prize at the Sundance Film
Festival; Rodriquez, its star, won Imagen Award and ALMA Awards; she signed a
holding deal … then turned down a role in the “Devious Maids” cable series.
“I found it limiting that that was the one that was
available to me,” Rodriguez recalled. “I found it limiting for the stories that
Latinos have, for the stories that Americans have.”
Then came producer Ben Silverman, who has had his best luck
importing shows – “The Office” from England and “Ugly Betty” from a Colombian telenovela.
He pitched several ideas to Pedowitz, who jumped at a Venezuelan soap opera
about a virgin who is accidentally inseminated.
“I wanted it to sort of have a fairy tale, whimsical
quality,” said Jennie Snyder Urman, who molded that into “Jane the Virgin” for
the U.S. “(It’s) somewhere between ‘Ugly Betty’ and ‘Gilmore Girls.’”
The central character is an ambitious young Miamian, working
toward her teaching certificate. For Rodriguez, 29 -- who grew up in Chicago, “English
being my first language, Spanish being my second,” with a sister who’s an
investment banker – Jane fits neatly. “I waited for her patiently,” she said.
Rodriquez grew up with “The Cosby Show” and “Growing Pains,”
but her co-stars know telenovelas, the soap-style miniseries that rule prime
time in Latin America. “I grew up watching
telenovelas in Puerto Rico and … did telenovelas for Telemundo for a while,”
said Ivonne Coll, 67, who plays her grandmother.
Now this series includes a telenovela that Jane watches with
her mother and grandmother. “We have lots of wonderful moments, where we can be
over-the-top funny,” Coll said. “In the real telenovelas, they don’t even know
they’re over-the-top and they’re funny.”
A comedy-drama, English-Spanish, silly-serious show, “Jane”
is sort of the ultimate hybrid. The CW needs that, as it recovers from invisibility.
“Jane the Virgin,” 9 p.m. Mondays (starting Oct.
13), after “The Originals”; reruns at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17
“The Flash” and “Supernatural,” 8 and 9 p.m.
“The 100” will be 9 p.m. Wednesdays (starting Oct.
22), after “Arrow”; on Oct. 15, that slot goes to a “Flash” rerun.
Also: “Vampire Diaries” and “Reign” on
Thursdays, “America’s Next Top Model” on Fridays.
Mid-season shows are “iZombie” and “The
Messengers,” plus the return of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Hart of Dixie.”