After 'Gossip Girl,' Bringing the New Drama
On Dec. 17, The CW bid a final
"XOXO" to Gossip Girl, as the drama about "the scandalous
lives of Manhattan's elite" aired its series finale. The brand-defining
series led to other hits such as The Vampire Diaries and this season's Arrow,
but the network now must position its drama brand for a broader section of its
core adults 18-34 demo; it hopes to do that with midseason's The Carrie
Diaries and Cult. Thom Sherman, executive VP of development at The
CW, spoke with B&C programming editor Andrea Morabito about Gossip
Girl's legacy, the network's evolving drama brand and his priorities for
next season. An edited transcript follows.
Gossip Girl was a brand-defining series, the first to
get big buzz after The CW launched. Talk about the show's legacy and
Gossip Girl obviously put us on the map in a lot of different ways. The
type of storytelling and characters that were put into that show were, I think,
unique to television at the time; the provocativeness of that show, the edge
that it had, the biting sense of humor at times. In publicity and marketing we
were able to do things with that show that we would not have been able to do
with other types of series. Whether it was the OMFG campaign, which I think
also put us on the map in a big way, or the fact that those actors-you couldn't
go to the newsstand, and they weren't on a cover somewhere. It created a brand
in which people talked about the shows, people buzzed about the shows, people
got very social with the shows. It set a tone across all areas of our internal
business that we continue to this day and will continue going forward.
Its initial success has been eclipsed in recent years
by The Vampire Diaries and now Arrow. Where does your drama brand
go from here?
What Gossip Girl was, was a noisy show. I think Vampire Diaries
is and was a noisy show. I think Arrow is and was a noisy show. Defining
noise in today's marketplace, with all the different options that are out
there, every genre is tackled on some network whether it be broadcast or cable
or even on the Interwebs, as we call it. We want to be as broad-based as
possible while still narrowly focused on adults 18-34. You start to cannibalize
yourself if all the shows are just pure relationship shows or all the shows are
pure action-adventure or high-concept. You've got to have a mix of things that
can appeal to all audiences while still having some DNA be similar.
You have a Wonder Woman project in development,
plus projects from Mila Kunis, Reese Witherspoon and Bret Easton Ellis. What
are your development priorities for next season?
The pitch to the creative community this year was, look at the five shows that
we picked up to go to series, let's do more of that. Let's be in all genres,
let's do all areas, but let's also make sure that when it comes time to put the
shows on the air, there is something that gives [each] some sort of hook to be
able to sell it. So when you see our pickups, hopefully we'll have that and
hopefully there will be promotable elements inside those.
You're experimenting with comedy in your digital
studio, CWD. CW president Mark Pedowitz has said he wants to stabilize the
schedule first before adding other genres. How far off is comedy on the
I'd say we're still a ways away from that. We have some scripts and we're
talking to Rick [Haskins, executive VP, marketing and digital programs] about
maybe getting some of them filmed, taking a pilot script and breaking it into
webisodes. The other thing we're looking at is on the reality side, finding
stuff that plays in the more comedic space of reality and using that as a
potential way into getting comedy on the air for The CW.
What's the biggest priority for The CW in 2013?
We feel like we have two very solid nights in Wednesday and Thursday, and now
we want to go and attack Monday and Tuesday, and bring those up to the same
level, while not ignoring Friday-but obviously Monday and Tuesday are the key
priorities. Hopefully if we have some success at midseason, that's going to go
a long way to reaching that goal sooner rather than later, but we'll have to
see how those shows play out.
You're giving The Carrie Diaries a cable-style
launch, airing the pilot three times. How come?
If you look at what we've done this year, we've kind of done that with all our
shows, we have repeated them at least once during premiere week. It's just
trying to get as much exposure possible for the show. You see that time and
again in cable where they rerun these things, whether it's a scripted show or
especially on the reality side, just that aggregation of audience over a short
period of time sometimes can help build buzz and people tell their friends and
by the time you get to episode two, hopefully everyone that needs to see the
pilot has seen it, is excited about it and wants to come back for the second
episode. It's just all about trying to get more eyeballs in front of it as
quickly as possible.
The CW did summer programming for the first time this
year. Are you actively developing for summer right now? Just reality or
We have reality stuff that we'll be doing for the summer. We're open, but as
time gets short, it may be too difficult to get any new scripted stuff up for
the summer, but there's a little bit of a window of time. But as we've said we
will leave no stone unturned trying to find great stuff and find original
content wherever that may be. If there's an acquisition out there like we did
with LA Complex last summer, we're still talking about that for this
coming year as well.
How much do The CW's partner companies -- CBS and
WB -- weigh in during the development process? Do you hear from Les Moonves or
They're involved when we make final decisions about what's going on the
schedule as any company with bosses -- if you go to ABC, I'm sure they're
talking to [Bob] Iger, at NBC they're talking to [Steve] Burke. We have those
conversations. But ultimately, during the development season, it's our slate.
We keep them very informed about what we're doing but that's my team's and I and
Mark really deciding what we think is right for the network. And they are
extremely supportive and also extremely supportive of what we've wanted to do
with the schedule.
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below