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The Sneaky Genius of the CW: Fall Schedule Revealed

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The CW announced its fall schedule earlier this week and a quick look at the roster made us smile. Jane the Virgin, The Flash, iZombie… we spend more time watching the CW each week than we do watching CBS and NBC combined. The CW has more good, fun, inventive and original television than any of the major broadcast networks. How did this happen?

The CW was culled from the wreckage of failed networks WB and UPN. The CW was launched back in 2006 with the goal of drawing people in the coveted 18 to 34-years-old demographic. Its first television show and biggest hit was America’s Next Top Model, which is still around, now showing on Fridays at 9:00 p.m. The network aired the best shows from UPN and WB while developing its own series. After its early forays into comedy (Everybody Loves Chris, The Game) failed, the CW bailed on comedy during the 2008-09 season. When the CW got big distribution deals with Netflix and Hulu in 2011, it started revamping its lineup with bold shows that were able to identify what was about to be cool. Yes, the CW is essentially the trendspotter of broadcast networks.

WHERE THE CW STARTED TO SHINE

Supernatural (Wednesdays at 9:00 p.m.) and Vampire Diaries (Thursdays at 8:00 p.m.) are long-running series originally aimed at the youth block, but both quickly shed their reputation for teen fare by attracting fans of all ages. The two shows have aged well and they anchor the CW’s lineup on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

CW broke through a crowded era of TV with Arrow (Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m.), which gave the CW instant credibility with comic book fans and managed to do something no other CW show achieved on such a large scale: getting positive popular and critical reviews. Once CW had Arrow in its stable, it acted quickly to increase its stature with a new superhero series, The Flash, which returns this fall on Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m.

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This is the point where many networks have faltered. ABC and NBC rolled out shows loosely based on superhero movie franchises (S.H.I.E.L.D.) and comic book characters (Constantine), both of which were burdened by half-baked premises. S.H.I.E.L.D. eventually righted the ship, but it really had no reason to exist until they decided to closely tie the show to big happenings in Marvel’s cinematic universe. Reasonable minds may differ, but I still think to really enjoy and understand S.H.I.E.L.D., you need to be gung ho for the Marvel movie franchises and their conflicts. Meanwhile, NBC’s version of *Constantine made the title character play second fiddle to the police procedural story of the week. As far as this viewer is concerned, investing too heavily in police proceduralisms is a non-starter for superhero and comic book adaptations.

*The show was already starting to find its footing and could have vastly improved had NBC not given it the hook so quickly. But a fast trigger finger is NBC’s most intractable problem.

The Flash came out of the gates with a clear idea of exactly what it wanted to be. The Flash‘s lead character, Barry Allen, unabashedly wants to be a superhero after he gets struck by lightning and learns he can run with supersonic speed. He is enthusiastic about his new job, optimistic, and determined to learn how to use his powers for good. In an era dominated by brooding and ambivalent superheroes and anti-heroes on every other show, The Flash is pretty refreshing.

Fall 2014’s other big debut was from Jane the Virgin (returning Mondays at 9:00 p.m.) File this one under “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

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When we reflected on the title, we didn’t know what it was going to be – a show that made fun of religion? A show that was laughing at its title character? Or was it proselytizing? Well, it turned out to be the best adaptation ever of a telenovela. Jane begins with a stupid pilot trick – Jane’s devastated gynecologist accidentally inseminates her rather than the patient in the exam room next door – and turns it into something smart, bold, funny and heartwarming. The show doesn’t take itself too seriously. And yet manages to respect all of the characters’ points of view.

Jane the Virgin won AFI and Peabody Awards, and star Gina Rodriguez won the Golden Globe. This fall the CW will wisely pair the show with its newest hour-long comedy, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Mondays at 8:00 p.m.). I’m not gonna lie: the title and premise of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had us rolling our eyes. Then we watched the show’s audacious trailer.

Rachel Bloom wrote the show and stars as a sad lawyer who has a chance encounter with a prior crush. She figures their meeting is destiny taking a hand, so she up and moves to California to chase him. The pilot has three big musical production numbers, because the series is a musical comedy! Yay! This kind of wacky surrealism is the perfect match for Jane the Virgin. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was developed at Showtime and was the fall TV season’s biggest shock pickup by a broadcast network.

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iZombie (Tuesdays at 9), which was adapted for television by Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, was an unexpected hit in the spring. The show is loosely based on the comic book of the same name. Heroine Liv is a zombie who works in the morgue, where she eats brains and solves crimes. The conceit is that when she eats the brains, she takes on characteristics of the dead person, including seeing what they saw. iZombie is not the first TV show built around its lead character’s ability to have supernatural visions involving the victims, but it is certainly the best one. The strength of iZombie is its great supporting cast. The show manages to balance the police procedural aspects by focusing on character growth. It also is starting a deeper exploration of the zombie world Liv was unexpectedly delivered into when she was killed by a zombie during a party.

CW also has Reign (Friday at 8:00), the historical drama that has turned into a guilty pleasure watch, as well as the much anticipated Legends of Tomorrow, which won’t premiere until early 2016.

The CW doesn’t have as many hours to program as the other broadcast networks, nor do they have the same degree of advertiser/ratings pressure as their competitors. [pullquote]
Still, the network could have continued to just throw up sloppy shows designed to appeal to people ages 18-24. Instead they’ve chosen to green-light innovative, risky concepts that are changing the face of TV.
[/pullquote]When you look at pilots picked up by other networks, there is evidence that the comedy-hour format and superhero concepts are being mimicked by CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox. The CW will start the 2015 fall season as the little broadcast network with a big voice and surprising reach. The CW is now a tastemaker and TV audiences seem to be very grateful.

Alex is a lawyer and opinionated.

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