Back in 2007 I found this show that I never heard of while channel flipping, on a network I’d never heard of, and was instantly hooked. Naturally I’m talking about the show that took me on a journey that changed my life forever, Supernatural. But once I discovered this show, I went on a several week mission to find out why I had never heard of this show before. I published my findings in an article that started my blogging career. The article, How a Show Manages to Succeed Despite its Network.
The article chronicled the merger of the WB Network with UPN (United Paramount Network), which happened just before Supernatural’s second season. Once that merger happened, the network neglected to promote this show, which was struggling in the ratings despite being chosen for the new lineup. Those decisions were all made by the then president of The CW, Dawn Ostroff, who decided that she wanted to run a ‘girl power’ network, launching teen female centered soaps like Gossip Girl and 90210. She virtually ignored the two tops shows on her network, Smallville and Supernatural, and the male audiences that made up a big chunk of viewers of those shows. She was earning the ire of numerous “save our show” fans that were starting their own campaigns to spread the word online. I started featuring their efforts in several of my articles on Blogcritics and they gained a lot of attention from desperate fans who were looking for any chance at publicity at the time.
By the show’s fourth season, thanks to fan efforts, Supernatural gained mainstream attention and raised the profile of this struggling network, which was on the verge of going bankrupt after just a couple of seasons. Despite Supernatural’s rise in popularity, by the sixth season the CW decided to send Smallville and Supernatural to Friday nights on the schedule. Despite the so called “death” slot, they remained two of the highest rated shows on the network.
Enter 2011. The CW was bleeding money, the “girl power” strategy had clearly failed in the ratings, and management, especially on the Warner Brothers side, had enough of Dawn Ostroff. They found their guy, an established executive from ABC with some bold ideas by the name of Mark Pedowitz. We were elated to find out that he was actually a Supernatural fan! Yes, he actually watched the show. He began to treat Jared, Jensen and Misha like network royalty, actually inviting them to the upfront presentation in 2012, something that Ostroff only did once, the very first one for The CW before that second season.
The announcement today that Mark Pedowitz has stepped down as President and CEO of The CW as the acquisition of the network by Nexstar finalized got me thinking about his long history since taking over a doomed outlet that many thought would never succeed. He saved the network. More importantly to us, he saved Supernatural. That's something a long time fan just doesn't forget.
Pedowitz knew right off the bat that limiting your audiences to one specific demographic wasn’t going to work financially. The answer was pretty simple, they desperately needed that follow up to the wildly popular Smallville, which ended just before Pedowitz arrived. The large loyal audiences craving more of that superhero genre left The CW after Smallville went off the air. Arrow was launched in 2012 and was a huge success, kicking the whole DC Universe that exists to this day.
Pedowitz also had a grander vision of offering the network shows on multiple platforms, taking advantage of the online streaming and video-on-demand opportunities that were starting to open up. One of his early accomplishments was scoring a billion dollar blockbuster deal with Netflix, allowing CW shows to stream exclusively second run on their service. This is how many fans found Supernatural and caught up on its large catalog. Before then, DVDs were the only way to catch up, which was a pricey option. That was the deal that took The CW from a bleeding red network to a cash cow for the studios. Although the network itself never made money, the shows produced earned huge amounts of money for CBS and Warner Brothers through streaming deals and international distribution, more than offsetting the losses from the network. It allowed shows to run longer because their catalogs became so valuable on a per episode basis. He was also one of the first to offer next day streaming of new episodes on CWTV.com, telling audiences that they don’t have to watch during the traditional viewing hours or go through the trouble of setting that DVR.
Pedowitz earned the freedom to steer this network the way he wanted, with an ideal blend that appealed to many audiences on many different platforms. He brought diversity to CW shows, something that was lacking at all other networks. Sure, there were controversies with some of the stories on the shows, like killing popular gay characters, but the fact that these gay characters were not only on the network, but featured in almost every show, is something that no other network even tried to do. There weren’t too many shows starring female and black superheroes or even kick-ass Asian female leads. He also opened the door for many female showrunners and producers. Per Variety, “According to the network, last season around two-thirds of showrunners, writers and directors on The CW’s original scripted series were women and/or people of color, while nearly 50% of the series regulars were women and 57% were people of color. And according to GLAAD, The CW held the highest percentage of LGBTQ series regular characters among broadcasters for the fifth year in a row.”
Pedowitz’s announcement today came as a bit of a surprise. He was going to stick around to help with the transition, but everyone knew his time remaining would be limited. The new owners have a new plan - cheaper shows, more acquired programming, and a slate that caters more to their network of local stations that they own. It makes sense in this day and age where streaming is king, but it didn’t make sense for Pedowitz to stay around any longer. It’s still sad to see such a successful era end abruptly, especially one that I was a part of from beginning to end. It was a fun ride.
Here’s the message that Mark Pedowitz sent to the staff, shared by Deadline:
Dear friends and colleagues,
All journeys have a beginning and end. My wonderful journey of 11 plus years at The CW is now concluding.
From the beginning of my time here at The CW all of you welcomed me with open arms. The camaraderie, teamwork, collaboration and creativity made this a truly special place to work.
Together, we have accomplished so much. This upstart network with its unique blend of programming brought The CW into the forefront of pop culture and social media. We made water cooler TV in a multi-platform world. We embraced what the audience wanted and gave it to them.
Many attempted to emulate The CW, but few succeeded.
Collectively, we Dared to Defy the conventional norms, converted weaknesses into strengths and forged new paths that no one had done before in the industry. The CW has become a recognized leader on-screen and behind the scenes with our efforts to showcase and embrace the diverse world we inhabit. We created an environment for people to express themselves without fear and created stability in an unstable business. We found ways to share our differences of opinion and arrive at a unified consensus.
As I end my CW journey, I will commence a new one. I have activated my production/consulting company Pinestreet Entertainment. I look forward to bringing some of my projects to The CW.
May the network’s journey continue to be one of unparalleled success and may all of you continue to Dare to Defy the naysayers.
I know I will.
With respect and admiration,
Thank you, thank you Mr. Pedowitz for not only respecting our favorite show and giving it the attention it deserved, but for giving us so many great shows to enjoy on top of tuning into Supernatural every week. You made it possible for a second generation of audiences to discover Supernatural via Netflix, and for giving Jared, Jensen, and the entire cast and crew the opportunity to carry on as long as they did. 15 seasons! Who would have thought that was possible when you arrived? You also have allowed them to thrive with new projects on the network, exciting us more with new possibilities. We here at The Winchester Family Business wish you nothing but success with your new company and know your ability to harvest talent and creativity will continue to thrive. You have earned a lot of fans in the SPN Family and we will be forever grateful.