What We Lose When We Lose the CW

Greg Berlanti
Photo by Gregg DeGuire/Getty
Matthew Belloni
January 17, 2022

For months, Greg Berlanti and his WME agents braced for the inevitable. As the producer of CW shows like Arrow and All American, Berlanti knew the network was for sale, so when the news finally broke on Jan. 5, he wasn’t blindsided. But he wasn’t exactly thrilled, either. Berlanti has built a half-billion-dollar business at that network—with, at one point, an insane-sounding ten series on the air or greenlit there. His current $400 million-plus deal with Warner Bros. Television, signed in 2018, was premised in part on placing shows at the CW, which is co-owned by Warner Bros. and CBS. Berlanti is part of a group of writer-producers—Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, Julie Plec, Kevin Williamson, etc.—who have made fortunes shepherding young adult and genre series onto a unique and lucrative conveyor belt through the TV business.

In 15 years, the CW has never made a dime. Its genius, and why CBS’ Nina Tellem and Warner Bros.’ Bruce Rosenblum smashed together UPN and The WB, was as a launch pad for shows, produced by their studios, that could then be licensed around the world (and later to streaming outlets) for huge profits. Those ancillary checks funded the whole party, allowing Berlanti and his company’s leader, Sarah Schechter, to become the most prolific TV producers of their generation, and The CW’s C.E.O., Mark Pedowitz, to ignore cratering linear ratings and greenlight tons of money-making series that you and I never watch. Did you know there’s a Dynasty reboot that is now in its fifth season? I didn’t until I googled “bad CW shows.” (I don’t recommend doing this.) 

Like everything in Hollywood these days, though, the CW business model was amazing until it wasn’t. WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS realized waaaay later than they should have—which is a theme you might recognize from last week’s column on the Yellowstone streaming debacle—that selling off shows probably wasn’t a winning long-term strategy. So its Netflix deal ended, WBTV and CBS Studios began producing for their own platforms (HBO Max and Paramount+), and now there’s really no need to own a linear network that loses $100 million a year on its own, according to the Journal.