Earlier this month, The CW announced that their schedule would be expanding to Sundays beginning in fall 2018, upping its total number of primetime hours from 10 to 12. It would be the first time they programmed the night since the 2008-09 season when indie studio Media Rights Capital time-leased three hours of content that included reality show In Harm’s Way, mythological dramedy Valentine, and Easy Money, a family drama starring future Oscar nominee Laurie Metcalf. None of the three found success and the following season, The CW returned its Sundays to its affiliates, making it the lone broadcast network with no original programming on the night.
In a matter of a decade, The CW has turned its fortunes around thanks to leaning on DC Comics intellectual property (e.g. Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Black Lightning, and Legends of Tomorrow), which has left the network flat in both the 18-34 and 18-49 demos as well as up 3% in total viewers this season, and a productive relationship with Netflix at a time when television economics are undergoing significant evolution. Not only has the streaming giant become the exclusive home to The CW’s stable of shows, they’ve gotten into the co-production business, internationally distributing the likes of Black Lightning, Riverdale, and Dynasty, thereby making the latter profitable before it even debuted. At this point, The CW might not be competitive with the other four broadcast networks in terms of L+SD ratings, but their business model has given them the type of financial and ratings stability that was lacking for some time. As such, a Sunday expansion makes a certain amount of sense.
But the expansion got me to thinking what The CW could’ve looked like had Sundays been in play before 2018-19. Of course, this is all informed speculation given that the financials of television have greatly changed in the decade since The CW gave Sunday up and the network has never produced as many pilots as they have for next season. Had Sundays always been in play, The CW likely would have had to beef up their development earlier and their dealings with Netflix have only gotten more lucrative since the first deal in 2011, meaning that L+SD ratings would’ve played a greater role in their decision-making than they do now. By the law of averages, Sunday wouldn’t (and couldn’t) have been the tide that lifted every short-lived show to #EightSeasonsaThemeParkandActionFigures status, but here, in the spirit of good fun, are five things that could’ve been different for The CW if they had a little more room to work with on their schedule. Or five things that absolutely happened on The CW-2, which is totally real and probably amazing.
Justice for The Carrie Diaries #JusticeforTheCarrieDiaries
Under CW President Mark Pedowitz’s reign, the lone CW show to make it to a second season and not hit 70 episodes was The Carrie Diaries, its underrated Sex and the City prequel that bowed out after 26 episodes in 2014. Despite the show’s strong online presence and an unexpectedly solid transition to Fridays, where it aired essentially on its own, The Carrie Diaries was never able to escape the toxicity of Sex and the City 2 and found itself caught on a network that was transitioning toward genre shows and male viewers. While it likely would’ve benefited more from being held until The CW was ready to A) expand its relationship with Netflix and B) re-embrace female viewers through well-known intellectual property, the show could’ve easily kept going had Sundays been open, as The CW’s 2014-15 Fridays were already flimsy with burnoffs, reality, and repeats. Having two more hours to play with on top of that would’ve allowed The CW to keep a well-regarded limited series that was tied to an important franchise for producer Warner Bros. while not totally abandoning female audiences in its pursuit for a gender-balanced schedule.
Less burnoff scheduling
Every broadcast network has been in the situation where they don’t give a late-season show much of a shot, whether it be because they already have a full boat of renewals, they love their development, and/or the show didn’t turn out the way they wanted. And it’s very likely that Sundays wouldn’t have saved every CW show from premiering too late to really be in contention, but the likes of Containment, The Messengers, and Star-Crossed would’ve had more of a shot than they got with more hours on the schedule. While the former two premiered after the network had given its annual mass renewal, essentially ensuring their fates as one-and-dones before airing an episode, the latter debuted against the Winter Olympics and found itself the lone CBS-produced show that season on the outside looking in, the victim of a WB-heavy schedule and Beauty and the Beast‘s international reach. Sundays could’ve given The CW the scheduling flexibility to not have to premiere shows in deep spring and the space to potentially renew what shows did premiere late, whereas the night would’ve been a haven for something like Star-Crossed, which generated the type of small but vocal (and digitally savvy) fan base that fuels a network like The CW. Sunday, at least in the opening years, could’ve been anchored by either a veteran or a newbie with IP awareness, but with the increased importance of digital to The CW, it could’ve easily become a night similar to Fridays where they stash cult favorites with disproportionately strong non-linear audiences for the purpose of banking episodes.
Better endings for Hart of Dixie and Reign
It’s understandable that Hart of Dixie was given a short fourth season after a third season where ratings collapsed and sentiment around the show grew a bit more negative. Though that fourth season turned out to be a delight that won fans back and vastly overperformed its Friday scheduling, the show was ultimately cancelled as it hit the vaunted 70-episode mark and The CW needed the space for the following season. The series finale of Hart of Dixie was an immensely satisfying coda to a feel-good show that no one paid attention to, but its performance in season four indicated that with a little more wiggle room on The CW, it had the juice to continue for at least one more shortened season.
Reign‘s cancellation, meanwhile, came down while the show was going into production on what would’ve been a season finale, which recontextualized its final season in a negative way. Though it had stretches of greatness and became the thematically richest that it ever was, season four just didn’t feel like a final season and for any show that gets to that third/fourth season mark to not go out on their own terms is especially disappointing. Reign was also yet another female-focused CW show that did solid business on Fridays and while I understand The CW getting rid of shows lacking in buzz/ratings once they cross the 70-episode mark, an open Sunday would’ve allowed the show to get the type of conclusion that it deserved while increasing CBS’s presence on the schedule. Plus, where so much of The CW’s business model relies on streaming, ensuring that every show that lasts a minute gets a conclusive, satisfying ending is only good for their relationship with Netflix, as shows that end on cliffhangers and/or go out with a whimper aren’t the greatest magnets for streaming audiences.
Regular season reality
On the one hand, The CW’s use of Whose Line, Masters of Illusion, and Penn & Teller in the summer has given them a pulse during that season and it’s understandable that they would want cheaper productions that draw solid ratings to stay in the summer. And the idea of using the regular season as an incubator for their Netflix deal, getting shows as much exposure as they can before they ultimately end up on the streaming platform, makes financial sense for The CW. However, I do think that using something like Whose Line on Sundays would’ve been a way for them to appeal to affiliates, draft off of something like America’s Funniest Home Videos, and give a show with a lighter tone or a more family friendly premise a pretty decent lead-in. The show spent the 2014-15 season on Fridays paired with repeats of itself, America’s Next Top Model, The Messengers, and Cedric’s Barber Battle, so it’s no stranger to regular season competition, while putting something cheaper on during the regular season could alleviate some of the financial pressures that would come with expanding your schedule. If they didn’t want to risk the stability of the DC-verse and didn’t have the female-skewing property they think could’ve opened up Sundays, or if they wanted to go whole hog on Sundays and needed something reliable on Fridays, Whose Line would’ve certainly been an option for the regular season.
More intellectual property to use as lead-ins
The way that The CW began its turn around was through embracing the DC Comic vaults and gradually building its schedule out using low-risk properties. Where the news that they’re expanding to Sundays again was preceded by pilot orders for reboots of Charmed and Roswell, as well as a Supernatural spinoff, it’s clear that the network would’ve embraced the IP boom earlier in order to make Sundays work. Whether that would’ve been more DC shows, reboots of past WB/UPN shows, or reincarnations of shows within the WB and CBS archives remains to be seen, but logistically, it’s easier to make this type of move (or to rescue a flailing night, as CW Sundays were in the years leading to the MRC deal and subsequent surrendering) if you have known properties to lean on. The major question here would’ve been whether The CW went more female-skewing in its programming, likely ramming up against ABC’s (then) strength while trying to duck football, or if they would’ve utilized their fledgling comic universe in an attempt to make their new night broader.