Fall check-in: The CW

cw

Hey all. It’s been too long. I’ve been really busy this fall and writing elsewhere (hopefully you’re following me over at This Was Television and TV.com). But frequent contributor Wesley Ambrecht decided to exchange some emails about the state of the broadcast networks with sweeps upon us (well now over, but still). We have tackled FoxNBC, CBS and ABC. Finally, it’s time for The CW.

Wesley: With one network left, and the holiday season bearing down upon us, we should probably keep things moving. So, onto your favorite network and mine, The CW. This fall represented a turning point for TV’s fifth network. It was their first development cycle with newish president Mark Pedowitz at the helm, and the 5 pilots they sent to series represented a new high. Of those 5, 3 were given slots on the fall schedule. Emily Owens MD joined Hart of Dixie for a medical themed Tuesday block, Arrow and Supernatural were paired on Wednesdays for male-oriented night of action, and Beauty and the Beast drew the long straw (aka the post Vampire Diaries birth).

As we head into the winter season, I can say Arrow is the only new drama I’m even close to caught up on. Besides the visceral pleasures of Will Holland, Katie Cassidy, Annie Ilonzeh, Jessica De Gouw and Stephen Amell’s arms, Arrow has been pretty well plotted thus far. The way they’ve mixed serial stories with procedural elements is reminiscent of FX’s Justified and EPs Andrew Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim have done a nice job world-building. It also helps that Stephen Amell is incredibly expressive. People harped early on that he didn’t have the beard or what not, but none of that shit is necessary. He nails the core of Oliver Queen week in and week out.
The CW’s other two offerings I have more or less given up on. Beauty and the Beast was a fine pilot. I think the major hump that failed to get over in that debut, and the reason I haven’t felt compelled to watch subsequent episodes, was convincing me that Kristin Kreuk could be a NYPD officer. Plus, it kept my beloved Secret Circle from being renewed. Emily Owens MD was my 2nd least favorite pilot behind Chicago Fire. The voice over on that show was beyond grating, and it’s cancellation came as little surprise to me. I just hope Michael Rady finds a better way to spend his time.

Where are you with The CW’s new offerings? I assume you’re up to date on Arrow, but what of the other two? And, what do you think of their two midseason offerings?

Cory: THANK GOD we’re finally talking about the C-Dub. This feels like home. 

You’ll be surprised to know that I’ve only seen around three episodes of Arrow. Not because I didn’t like it though; it’s been a casualty of my unbelievably packed schedule this fall. (Ed. Note: I’ve now seen six episodes of Arrow and I really, really like the show.) What I have seen I liked a lot. You’re right about Amell. You know that I loved Justin Hartley’s performance as Oliver on Smallville and while I always understood why they recast and moved away from that show’s mythology, I was still a little disappointed (especially since Hartley ended up stuck on Emily Owens). But after a few episodes, I was totally in on Amell’s portrayal of the character. It’s a different performance–and it should be–but it works really well, especially for this show’s tone and universe. I’m really looking forward to catching up with the show over the holidays. More importantly, I’m really happy the show is doing well for the network, but we can talk more about that in a bit. 

The other two shows are, as you said, unmemorable. Beauty and the Beast isn’t as bad as some suggested, but Kreuk is unbelievably unbelievable as a cop in any city, let alone NYC. Jay Ryan was pretty tepid in the pilot, but he’s improved a bit in other episodes I’ve watched a few minutes of. Emily Owens just didn’t work. Good cast and decent idea in theory, but just not well-executed. And of course, now it’s dead. Should we maybe start talking about that Tuesday at 9 timeslot as one of the more cancerous on network television? It’s as bad as ABC’s 8 p.m. Thursday slot. This means we can expect big things from my most anticipated new show of 2013, Cult! But let’s talk about the veteran CW shows. What are you watching – other than Gossip Girl because you just have to know how it ends, right?

Wesley: I’m legitimately shocked to hear you’ve only seen three episodes of Arrow. I figured you were prepping a sequel to your Smallville book already.

Tuesdays at 9pm have been rough for The CW, but that’s usually because they put the show least compatible with anything else there. Veronica Mars, Reaper, Priveledged and Life Unexpected were all wonderful show with distinctly different sensibilities than the network at large. Hellcats and Melrose Place‘s failures were a bit more surprising, in that they had compatible lead-ins and a dearth of direct competition. Emily Owens MD was a logical pairing with Hart of Dixie. It just happened to be a bad show. 

I can’t say I understand the decision to swap Cult in there midseason. I was expecting The CW to ship Beauty and the Beast to Fridays with Nikita, giving Cult the Thursday 9pm slot. Granted, that would have left a hole on Tuesdays; but, I’m sure they have some reality place-holder waiting to be unveiled. Behind Hart of Dixie, and opposite a slew of younger-skewing shows, I doubt Cult takes off. But, Cult is also a very niche offering and the pilot was pretty terrible. So, it was probably doomed for the get-go.

As is well documented, The CW is my favorite network. And yet, I am woefully behind on nearly everything. I’ve only seen 201 and 202 of Hart of Dixie and none of this season of Nikita. Thankfully though, I’m almost up to date on the truly awful Gossip Girl. Why? Because I make poor life choices. And, I’m entirely caught up on The Vampire Diaries, which has been stunningly mediocre this season.

I have a bunch to say about the mediocrity of TVD, and why I’m worried about its future, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you. Have you been watching? Also, tell me what you really think about this final season of Gossip Girl, and let me know what else you’re currently watching. 

Cory: I can’t overestimate how excited I am for Cult. I know it’s going to be a disaster. The four-minute package was horrid, and it seems as if they didn’t update the script from the first time it was in development a decade ago. With The Following coming over at Fox, the show is only going to look worse. There’s nothing can really explain why The CW thought Beauty and the Beast deserved the Thursday timeslot, but I guess they don’t want to rock the boat too much come mid-season. 

Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries are my primary touch-points this season as well. I’d love to hear your thoughts about TVD. Price Peterson and I spoke a lot about the show when I guested on the TV.com podcast and I think he’s more supportive of the direction the show has taken this season, but I’ve definitely enjoyed it nonetheless. While I’m still having trouble getting over turning Elena into a vampire, I admire the show’s attempts to cultivate the raw emotion that comes with that transition. The plot mechanics and McGuffin-style storytelling have reached their most ridiculous heights this season, but the character work is still pretty strong. And the cast is so strong that even mediocre episodes are still enjoyable as hell. What are your big issues with it?

stefan-and-damon-season-4Wesley: Ugh. That’s the word I think best describes my reaction to The Vampire Diaries this season. After a premiere that saw the writers quickly write their way out of every single cliff-hanger, most of which were stupid (Klaus in Tyler’s body anyone?), TVD had a strong second episode. Then, things fell off a cliff. 403 aka “The Rager” may be the worst episode of the show to date. I spent almost the entire hour sighing, and the CGI motorcycle ride just plain made me laugh. Since then, it has been stunningly mediocre.

TVD used to be really great at manufacturing suspense. That is no longer the case. The umpteenth daggering of Rebekah meant nothing, because we know she’ll be back eventually. The immortal professor is less creepy and mysterious than he is boring. And, while I enjoyed elements of “The Killer,” predominantly because Connor was a great character, it ended in predictable fashion. Elena had to kill someone and Connor is one of those TVD guest stars you know isn’t long for the world. He probably should have been the season-long villain but this show plays too fast and loose for that. Plus, his death allowed them to drag out another inevitable; Elena will be human again by the end of this season.

Still, I think the two biggest issues I’ve had this fall concern the love triangle and Jeremy. Steven McQueen has largely been wasted by this show. Case in point, last year, he sexed up some ghosts and then went off to Colorado to play baseball. So, I was excited to hear that Plec had big plans for him this season. Sadly, Jeremy Gilbert: Vampire Slayer is endgame material and we’re far from the end of this show. His blood-lust for vampires and growing hatred for Elena is a fascinating story. It’s one I would have loved to see near the end of this show. But, by placing it at the top of S4, the TVD writing staff has pretty much ensured an unsatisfactory conclusion. Either Jeremy dies (unlikely) or he loses sight of his goals via mind-wipe or magic. Then, there’s the love triangle which, to be frank, I’ve never cared about. Elena can bone whoever she wants, but the writers should own that decision. This sire nonsense is just that. Nonsense. 

On a tangentially related side-note, this show has made awful use of Phoebe Tonkin. Like, I’m glad she’s on my TV every week, but The CW should just announce that she is playing Wonder Woman already.

Cory: Wow, that’s some real vitriol! 

I don’t necessarily disagree with anything that you’ve said about the show. I especially agree about Connor. That was a great character that deserved better. But it does feel like you’re a little jaded and cynical about the show at the moment. I’m not so sure Elena will be human. They’ve really committed to telling this story and we know how quickly the characters fail to put plans together after it seems impossible that they won’t work. Jeremy’s story is really interesting–which is, I guess, partially why they ditched Connor so quickly–and though I see your point about the series’ willingness to burn through stories so quickly ultimately ruining this one, I’m willing to wait and see. 

But you’re also right about Phoebe Tonkin. I think that’s one of the show’s biggest problems. There are still probably too many characters, and while Plec and company typically do a fine job of giving everyone something to do, sometimes, it just doesn’t work that well. So many of the original characters are still around, which is good because I like them, but also hurts the show’s ability to make me think anyone of substance is actually in danger. At this point, I think TVD has just settled in to a post-glory period that allows it to still tell really great stories every now and again, but generally coast on slightly lesser versions of stories we’ve already seen before. That’s okay. But it’s just not the show it was in 2011. 

Let’s talk about Gossip Girl. I’ve been beating my head against the wall this season while writing about the show. The finale is tonight. Before it airs, tell me how you’re feeling about the final run.

Wesley: It’s more disappointment than vitriol, which I guess is the same way I feel about Gossip Girl. I remember a time when GG was a genuinely good show. Hell, just last year it was fun. This season, however, has been awful.

The premiere, which co-creators Josh Schwartz and Steph Savage wrote, was probably the high water mark and even that wasn’t particularly good. A great deal of my frustration can be attributed to how much this season has pandered to shippers, which you actually touched on in one of your reviews. I’m admittedly a DAIR fan, but I didn’t need them to end up together for satisfaction. I just needed compelling stories.

Below is a list of things that Gossip Girl did to its main characters instead:

Dan turned his back on all the other Upper East Siders for no apparent reason and started writing take-down pieces for cash. Nate agreed to post these pieces on The Spectator, primarily because he didn’t know what a take-down piece was. He dropped out of Columbia before they covered that. Then, Dan turned on Nate and gave Vanity Fair these pieces, because Georgina told him too. Yes, that Georgina. Later, Dan made an ill-fated to win Blair back. When that failed, he settled for Serena.

Nate slept with a high school student, freaked out when he learned her age, had sex with her again, and then reconciled those feelings. He almost ran The Spectator into the ground like 5 times because he’s the worst.

Blair and Serena were friends. Then they weren’t friends. Then they mended fences… until one or both of them set those fences on fire. When they weren’t doing that, Blair was trying desperately to run her mother’s company alone and Serena was being an “adult.” Neither of these stories made a lick of sense. Eleanor has never been one to dessert Blair, let alone her empire, and Serena went to college last season because she was afraid of growing up too fast. But, the writers swept both of those things under the rug. Blair and Chuck reunited but in a chaste way. Serena and Dan reunited in a biblical way. I cared about NONE of this.

Chuck tried to take down his dad. Then, Chuck tried to take down his dad. Later, Chuck tried to take down his dad. Did I mention Chuck tried to take down his dad? Because, that’s all Chuck did.

Cory: I agree with most of that. How do you feel now that it’s all over?

Wesley: Annoyed, mostly.

Dan as Gossip Girl only make sense for about 1/5th of the stories they’ve told, and most of those stories have come this season. And yet, Steph Savage is going around to different outlets and claiming they’ve known it was him since Day 1. She even went so far as to tell TV Line that a suspension of disbelief wasn’t necessary on the part of fans. Well, this Tumblr full of plot holes begs to differ.

Outside of the reveal, most of the finale was kitschy and hollow. We knew the CHAIR wedding was happening; I had suspected the Derena wedding was, since news that Momsen and Paolo were coming back; and, everything that surround those two weddings was fluff. I think the highlight of the whole thing was finding out that Nate gets to be mayor of New York City. Truthfully, Nate is the real winner of GG. He got to sleep with characters played by Leighton Meester, Blake Lively, Katie Cassidy, Jessica Szohr, Ella Rae Peck, Joanna Garcia, Tika Sumpter, Sophia Black D’Elia, and a few cougars too. Not to mention the fact that he was able to drop out of Columbia University without seeing any professional setbacks.

I know you probably don’t feel much like repeating yourself, so I would direct readers to points 4 and 5 of your review, which were spot on. If you have anything to add though, hit me with it. Otherwise, we can talk about The Carrie Diaries and how you’re expecting that to do this winter/spring. Plus, any of the pilots in development that may have grabbed your attention.

Cory: Nate as Mayor is the best thing ever. But yeah, there’s no need to really repeat myself too much. I agree with what you’ve said. By the time the finale aired, I was just over it. The show went off the rails a long time ago and never really recovered, even amid the Dan-Blair stuff that we both enjoyed.

So let’s talk about something that will hopefully be much better: The Carrie Diaries. Can I say that I’m legitimately looking forward to this? Fake Empire does beginnings really well, and they’ve wanted to go back to the 1980s for a while now. AnnaSophia Robb looks like a star and the reviews have been good. What do you think, and are you projecting it to be much of a hit?

Wesley: I had the pleasure of watching The Carrie Diaries pilot a few months back, and I feel comfortable saying I enjoyed it more than any of the hour long pilots that debuted this fall. It’s both funny and heartfelt, two things I can’t say about Sex in the City. AnnaSophia is charming as can be. She brings the perfect mix of vulnerability/naiveté and sass, and Austin Butler will make the ladies swoon.

As for ratings, I really hope it becomes a breakout/network defining hit in the mold of Dawson’s Creek. Unfortunately, I worry that the earnestness and the tangential connection to SITC may actually work against it. On the bright side, The CW team seems to understand how important the success of this show is to their brand. Putting it at 8pm instead of 9pm, where it was originally slotted, and debuting it while The Voice is on hiatus. 

Cory: Yeah, it seems like The CW knows that this could be a big one for them – holding it until midseason, giving it a nice promotional push, a decent timeslot, etc. Obviously, nothing on this network is ever going to breakout on a grand scale, but if there’s a show that could do it, it might be this one. I wonder about the Sex in the City connection. I don’t know about you, but I know a lot of girls my age who adore that show and watch it repeatedly on DVD. Maybe this won’t be an appealing show to them, but I think there is a younger audience who likes Sex in the City there. If this show hits, that gives The CW two big wins in the first full year of the Pedowitz era. But moving forward, there’s still work to be done. You pay more attention to the development process than I, so what’s sticking out pilot-wise? We both know that Phoebe Tonkin’s going to topline the network’s Wonder Woman show and that will be wonderful, but after that, what else is there?

Wesley: Unlike the other nets, it’s always hard to gauge exactly where The CW stands from a development standpoint. We know Pedowitz wants to get back into the comedy game, but he hasn’t ordered a single half-hour script that I’m aware of. This strikes me as odd, and may actually support my theory that he’ll look at Apt 23, when ABC throws it away. On the other hand, it could indicate that he’s being very picky on the comedy front, in which case we could be looking toward another calendar year without sitcoms on The CW.

WW

On the drama side, we presumably still have The Selection; though I find it odd we’ve heard nothing about that since Upfronts. I saw the first version of that pilot and it LOL bad. That being said, it was 1,000 times more commercial that CultAmazon seems like a sure thing, assuming its more competent than David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman. Allan Heinberg is a talented comic writer and a veteran writer of The OC, so I’m pretty pumped to see where he takes the character, especially if my crush-object Phoebe Tonkin is donning the tights. 

Other than those two offerings, the scripts that have been… perplexing. There were whispers that they planned to tackle Battle Royale, but no scribe was ever announced. Nina Coleman sold them a multi-generational family drama about a girl who starts a book club with her mom and grandmother. Jerry Bruckheimer sold them something about idiosyncratic doctors who make house calls. And, they also took a flier on a drama about a young Native American forest guide. Something tells me none of these make it to pilot.
They definitely have some stuff to look out for though. Julie Plec, Greg Berlanti, and Phil Klemmer’s remake of The Tomorrow People, for one. With those auspices, I’d be shocked if we don’t see that in fall 2013. There’s also Wunderland from Chad Hodge, which re-imagines Alice in Wonderland as a contemporary cop drama, a Roswell-esque drama entitled Oxygen from Andre Nemec, Josh Appelbaum, and Meredith Averill. JJ Abrams has a cop drama in the works and the Fake Empire guys have a high-school drama from tabloid magnet Bret Easton Ellis. 

Moreover, the pilot I’m most anticipating (at any network), is being written for The CW by none other than Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas. Tentatively titled Metropolis, it’s centered on a group of friends who are struggling with their adult lives not living up to the expectations they had when they were idealistic college friends.

Cory: You saw The Selection?! I knew it had to be really terrible for them not to immediately go forward with it. I’ve also been surprised we haven’t heard more about it over the last six months, which I guess could be good and bad. 

Based on the rest of the projects you listed, it seems like The CW is still have troubling figuring out who they want to be moving forward. They’ve tried to develop a number of procedurals and “more traditional” theoretically adult-skewing shows in recent years and none of them have worked. I guess you could put Emily Owens M.D. and Beauty and the Beast in that category. But despite those kinds of shows appearing in the developmental process, the network has mostly kept doing what people expect it to do. With Gossip Girl gone, it’s a something of an end of an era for The CW, but it’s still unclear what new era replaces it. Arrow‘s been the winner we expected it to be and you have to imagine that the Wonder Woman show at least gains eyeballs early on, so does that mean The CW becomes the superhero network? I’m not sure, but I would be curious to see if and how that could happen.

On the comedy front, I’m not surprised. They probably can’t get particularly good pitches after pushing comedy out of their developmental strategy for half-a-decade. It might take a little bit, especially if Pedowitz is being picky — and he should be. If they’re going to try to make comedy work, they need good initial offerings. 

Wesley: As I’ve said since their launch, The CW’s brand should simply be “shows for the youthful viewer.” It looked like that’s where they were headed last May, and I’d think the failure of something like Emily Owens would only drive them closer to that. It’ll be interesting to see.

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One thought on “Fall check-in: The CW

  1. This was very insightful for me. I’ve been a longtime fan of the CW (Smallville), and I’m very happy with the network’s lineup this season. With shows like Arrow, Supernatural and Beauty and the Beast, I’m happy to have a DISH Hopper to record and save it all. Its hard drive stores up to 2,000 hours of entertainment, so I’m able to store my lineup and not have to make room come time for midseason finales…for the first time ever! Now I just need to get a few of my friends that work with me at DISH to stay loyal fans, even though their favorite show, Smallville, has left the building.

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