The CW opened its 2022-23 broadcast season Monday with its new owner, Nexstar, delivering a loud message to the creative community and Wall Street: Expect change, and expect it fast.
The station group, which officially took over the younger-skewing broadcast network Oct. 1, parted ways with The CW’s three top executives: CEO Mark Pedowitz, streaming and marketing boss Rick Haskins, and finance chief Mitch Nedick.
The changes arrive as Nexstar CEO Perry Sook and newly installed CW president Dennis Miller (no, not that one) plan to make the network profitable by 2025 with programming that targets a broad audience of adults 18-49. (The CW’s median age on its linear network is 58, but the age of its digital audience is late 20s to early 30s.) Sources say Nexstar plans to focus on The CW’s linear schedule and become more affiliate-friendly. Sook and Miller are said to be fans of such broad CW fare as Jared Padalecki’s Walker franchise, Greg Berlanti’s Superman & Lois and the family-focused Kung Fu. All three shows were among the few series to earn early renewals in March, ahead of The CW’s May cancellation spree that left it with 11 scripted originals — the same tally Pedowitz inherited when he took over the network in 2011.
Multiple sources say Pedowitz planned to stay on atop The CW, but talks with Nexstar leadership went south over what some suggest were issues with his reporting structure and the direction they planned to take the network. (Pedowitz and reps for The CW and Nexstar declined comment.)
Many top execs who do business with The CW are still searching for answers about its new direction. Pedowitz was forced to cancel 10 scripted originals in May, the most in a decade since he took over the network, due to Nexstar-related issues as well as dwindling budgets from Warner Bros. Discovery and CBS Studios (each still retains a 12.5 percent stake).
“Over time, we will be taking a different approach to our CW programming strategy and will leverage our experience in spending approximately $2 billion a year on programming, attracting and monetizing viewers,” Sook told reporters in August as the station group sealed the deal for The CW.
In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, Nexstar noted that as the deal closed, it “provides that WBD and Paramount will continue to produce 12 original, scripted series for the network primarily to air during 2022 / 2023 broadcast season. Nexstar anticipates The CW will begin to generate profit by 2025 and the expected investment to profitability is in the low 9-figures.”
Sources say Nexstar is looking to age up The CW from its current 18-34 demographic and cut costs, as the company has already expressed interest in reducing the network’s licensing fees. A show like Walker, for example, costs $3 million an episode to produce — about half as much as CBS-turned-Paramount+ drama Evil and up only about $500,000 from when Pedowitz first arrived at The CW. Sources balked at the idea that Nexstar would succeed in reducing licensing fees that are already low by broadcast standards.
Berlanti, who exec produces seven shows on The CW, is among those who have been waiting patiently to hear from Nexstar about its plans for the network he helped transform with his slate of DC Comics shows. “No one has reached out. But I believe in our shows,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “With all the changes happening these past few years, all I can focus on is if you make a great show, it finds a way to succeed.”
As for Miller, he’s relatively unknown to most of the creative community, though he does count experience in both scripted and unscripted. The former Nexstar board member ran the TV group at Lionsgate for three years in the late ’90s and consulted with Pop when the cable network was briefly owned by the studio. He counts roles at Lifetime and Turner, where he worked in scripted. He’s also a former entertainment attorney with a venture capital background and recent experience in unscripted.
Sources say Miller is also keen on delivering more low-cost unscripted/alternative programming (see Masters of Illusion, World’s Funniest Animals) as well as multicamera comedies (which are cheaper to make than single-cam). Where that leaves original dramas like All American and its spinoff (which both have output deals with Netflix) and Berlanti’s DC roster is a big question mark.
“They either have a beautiful master plan that they’re going to unveil or no idea what the f— they’re doing,” sums up one source with business at The CW.