On Dec. 17, The CW will bid a final "XOXO" to Gossip Girl, as the drama about "the scandalous lives of Manhattan's elite" airs 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 importance.
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 network?
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 scripted also?
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 Bruce Rosenblum?
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.
E-mail comments to email@example.com and follow her on Twitter: @andreamorabito
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below