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From a Seed, Comedy Sprouts

Rick Haskins had been The CW’s marketing chief when, in December 2011, the network added digital programming to his purview. As executive VP, marketing and digital platforms, he now oversees CW Seed, a studio and over-thetop network launched last year, targeting the network’s 18-34 target demo, primarily via comedies.

The initiative was also meant to develop content for the linear network—a mission that has now born fruit. In April, The CW announced that it had given a series order to CW Seed’s Backpackers, making it the first show to be thusly called up. The series will premiere July 14 as part of a summer comedy block—the first time scripted comedy will have appeared on the network in years.

Earlier this month, CW Seed unveiled a new programming slate that includes an unscripted talk show from America’s Next Top Model judge Kelly Cutrone and a Veronica Mars quasi-spinoff.

The parent network will make its upfront presentation May 15 in New York. Haskins spoke with B&C programming and digital media editor Daniel Holloway about CW Seed and the widening intersection between traditional and digital media.

Backpackers was the first show to be called up from CW Seed to the linear network. Do you see it being the first of many?

It’s always hard to tell, but I will tell you that the goal of CW Seed is to find new talent, find new ways of doing business and new technology. Part of finding new talent is finding talent that we can migrate from digital over to broadcast. Having said that, a lot of our shows will never, ever make it to broadcast, but those are not failures. Those are just very strong digital shows. And I think that some of the shows that we’re going to be rolling out for next year absolutely lend themselves to broadcast, and some, quite frankly, don’t.

Do you view Seed primarily as a portal to compete with other over-the-top networks or primarily as an incubator for broadcast?

It’s a combination, which to me is the beauty of what we have here at CW. Not only do I have the digital platform, but I also have the broadcast platform. So things that might work better in broadcast, I can move them to broadcast. Others I can just keep there.

Why has Seed been so focused on comedy?

With the CW brand, right now on broadcast we have 10 hours of content and air hour-long dramas. But what we find with our target audience is that comedy is very, very important to them. So with Seed, what we were able to do was provide that comedy.

Your new programming slate includes a talk show. Are you looking to branch out into other genres?

The Kelly Cutrone Project lent itself so well because she is the most popular judge on America’s Next Top Model. Top Model does incredibly well for us digitally, and we thought it was the perfect companion to go with Top Model streams, so we’ll see. Kelly is a great talent, and it is our first foray into reality. Keep in mind it’s just a giant incubator. I think you’ll see us try a lot of different things.

Comedy Central just announced that it has ordered its first series from its digital unit, CC:Studios. Do you foresee more networks turning to their digital arms to grow original programming?

It is interesting to see the number of people who are following us in this area. I do think it is a very efficient way to look at new talent and test new ideas in a very quick and efficient manner. So I would think that people would be doing this more and more.

With deals such as Disney-Maker Studios happening, a lot has been made of traditional media companies courting YouTube content creators. Are you looking for talent there or in other new places?

Absolutely. We sponsor the New York TV Festival. Last year we were able to find two great pieces of material that we really like and we are in preproduction with both. These people are not people you would normally find in L.A. I will tell you we have not been as successful at finding YouTube talent. We have gone down that road and not found anyone that seemed to fit what we were looking for. That’s not to say that we won’t in the future.