Focus on Affiliates, Profits, and Cheaper Originals for The CW’s Future Under Nexstar
Early indications suggest that Nexstar is striving to be more affiliate friendly and schedule programming that targets a wide demographic of adults 18-49, but many top executives who do business with The CW are still looking for answers.
The CW’s new owner, Nexstar, sent a clear message to Wall Street and the entertainment industry on Monday when it launched its broadcast season for 2022–2023: expect change, and expect it quickly.
Three of The CW’s senior executives were let go by the station group, which took over the younger-skewing broadcast network on October 1. These executives were Mark Pedowitz, the network’s CEO, Rick Haskins, the head of streaming and marketing, and Mitch Nedick, the head of finance.
The adjustments come as CW President Dennis Miller (no, not that one) and Nexstar CEO Perry Sook aim to turn the network profitable by 2025 with programming that appeals to a wide audience of adults 18-49. (The CW’s linear network’s median audience age is 58, compared to the late 20s to early 30s for its digital audience.) According to sources, Nexstar wants to concentrate on The CW’s linear schedule and improve its affiliate relations. Sook and Miller are reportedly fans of popular CW shows including Greg Berlanti’s Superman & Lois, Jared Padalecki’s Walker franchise, and the family-oriented Kung Fu. Prior to The CW’s May cancellation binge, which left it with just 11 scripted originals (the same number Pedowitz inherited when he took over the network in 2011), all three shows were among the handful to receive early renewals in March.
Numerous sources claim that Pedowitz intended to continue leading The CW, but negotiations with Nexstar management broke down due to disagreements over his reporting structure and the network’s future direction, according to some insiders. (Pedowitz and spokesman for Nexstar and The CW declined to comment.)
The CW’s new orientation is still a mystery to many senior executives who do business with it. Due to Nexstar-related concerns as well as shrinking budgets from Warner Bros. Discovery and CBS Studios, Pedowitz was forced to cancel 10 scripted originals in May, the most since he took over the network ten years prior (each still retains a 12.5 percent stake).
As the station group finalised the transaction for The CW in August, Sook told reporters, “Over time, we will be taking a new approach to our CW programming strategy and will harness our experience in spending around $2 billion a year on programming, recruiting and monetizing viewers.”
The arrangement, according to Nexstar, “provides that WBD and Paramount will continue to produce 12 original, scripted series for the network to air predominantly during 2022/2023 broadcast season,” according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday. The CW is scheduled to start making money by 2025, and the expected investment to get there is in the low nine figures.
Sources say Nexstar is looking to age up The CW from its current 18-34 demographic and cut costs, as the company has already expressed interest in reducing the network’s licensing fees. A show like Walker, for example, costs $3 million an episode to produce — about half as much as CBS-turned-Paramount+ drama Evil and up only about $500,000 from when Pedowitz first arrived at The CW. Sources expressed doubt about Nexstar’s ability to lower licencing fees, which are already modest by broadcast standards.
One of the people eagerly waiting to hear from Nexstar about its plans for the network he helped revolutionise with his slate of DC Comics programming is Berlanti, who executive produces seven shows on The CW. “No one has made contact. However, I have faith in our productions,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “With all that has changed over the past few years, all I can concentrate on is that if you do a wonderful show, it succeeds in some manner,”
Although Miller counts experience in both scripted and unscripted media, he is mostly unknown in the creative community. In the late 1990s, the former Nexstar board member oversaw Lionsgate’s TV division for three years and collaborated with Pop during the studio’s brief ownership of the cable network. At Turner and Lifetime, where he worked in scripted, he counts his roles. He also has recent expertise in unscripted and is a former entertainment attorney with a background in venture financing.
According to sources, Miller is also eager to provide more free-to-air alternative programming (such as Masters of Illusion and World’s Funniest Animals) and multicamera comedy (which are cheaper to make than single-cam). It’s unclear what that means for Berlanti’s DC portfolio and original dramas like All American and its spinoff (both of which have production deals with Netflix).
One person with business at The CW sums it up this way: “They either have a great master plan that they’re going to announce or they have no idea what the f— they’re doing.”