The CW’s New Shows, From Best to … Second Best

The CW is not a large network. Co-owned by CBS and Warner Bros., its target viewers are the teens and twentysomethings who play Minecraft, watch Netflix, work at odd hours or attend school, and so its lineup doesn't rate as highly in the 18-49 demo as the other four. That said, it has quietly become home to several interesting dramas in the last few years—fun stuff like Arrow and The Vampire Diaries that's watched by a passionate few. This year it has only two new shows, but both are interesting for what they reveal about how to program for a young demographic and how little they resemble anything else on TV.

This is the last of our broadcast roundups; we did CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox earlier this week. (Next week, I'll look at some upcoming cable stuff.) As always, bear in mind that these reviews are based only on the episodes provided by the networks—and in the case of The CW, just the pilots. Shows with bad pilots can go 30 Rock and turn into mastepieces and those with brilliant first episodes can Smash and die in horrible agony. But the hit rate for new shows is so low overall that pilots are incredibly important: all too often, they're the only part of a show viewers ever sample.


The Flash

What is it? An hourlong serialized superhero drama with elements of a police procedural, starring Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, a young crime scene investigator who has the kind of particle collider accident that gives you superpowers but not radiation poisoning. The series was created by Arrow creator and showrunner Greg Berlanti, Andy Kreisberg and DC Comics chief creative officer Geoff Johns, who (along with plenty of TV writing credits) also wrote the Flash comic book for several years and masterminds plenty of DC's big comics stories.

When is it on? Tuesdays at 8 p.m., starting Oct. 7.

Is that a good timeslot? It's the most competitive timeslot on the calendar—NCIS, The Voice, Utopia and Selfie are all on at the same time--but the CW gets viewership a lot of odd ways, including online. There are already major upsets among the contenders for the period: Utopia is setting itself on fire as we speak and Selfie is kind of a mess. We'll have a better idea of what The Voice will look like on Monday. Oddly, I feel like scheduling this show opposite NCIS was a mistake, despite the networks having totally different viewer bases. It's kind of a cop drama and could do better if it wasn't opposite another cop drama run by its corporate co-parent.

Is it any good? Yes indeed. It has the nerd chops of Arrow with a large dollop of general-market appeal, and Gustin is charming in the lead. DC Comics has made the mistake in feature films of trying to turn everything into the Nolan Batman movies (gracious, that Man of Steel thing was awful), but this is less The Dark Knight But Fast and more Spider-Man Is a Cop. The CW's programming strategy has really borne fruit in an interesting way here—very much like CBS' does. Gustin guest-starred on three episodes of Arrow, did well and now gets his own show. In the new show there's a three-episode arc starring Brandon Routh (the badly-served actor from the other terrible Superman movie) as shrinking hero Ray Palmer, The Atom. Because there's already an eightyish-year-old library of world-building around these characters, the settings and supporting cast pop into place pretty quickly every time one of these shows gets greenlit and The Flash is the first to maximize that instant-show-bible advantage. Also, Johns makes sure the characters from the comics are introduced carefully and consistently, which, given the number of writers who worked on them, is actually not something that happens in the comics! Candice Patton is a lot of fun as Iris, Barry's forbidden love interest, and Tom Cavanagh is a hoot as the scientist who runs the lab where Barry gets his powers.

Will it survive? Almost certainly. And it might draw some older, superhero-friendly viewers, too.

Do you want your brand associated with it? Yeah, definitely. Plenty of opportunity for colorful integrations, consumer products and so on, too.


Jane the Virgin

What is it? An hourlong serialized romantic dramedy that's based on Venezelan novela Juana la Virgen and was created by Telemundo exec Perla Farías. The series follows Jane, a young Hispanic woman living with her mother and grandmother, who, despite her sexual conservatism, finds herself pregnant after a distracted gynecologist gets her chart mixed up with a woman who wants to be artificially inseminated. Her police officer boyfriend, the child's father, the father's conniving wife and Jane's family find themselves in situations that rival the premise for absurdity.

When is it on? Monday at 9 p.m., starting Oct. 13.

Is that a good timeslot? Again, this is a different ballgame for The CW, but, also again, it's weird that CBS let them air it opposite its sole bid for youth viewership, Scorpion. It's up against Sleepy Hollow on Fox, too. It's admittedly aimed at young Hispanic women, but I guess I just know more than one young Hispanic woman who likes fantasy and horror programming.

Is it any good? Yeah, it's fun. Gina Rodriguez, who plays Jane, is just wonderful, and it's a kick to see handsome novela star Jaime Camil playing handsome novela star Rubio, who materializes occasionally throughout the pilot to give Jane wise advice. The show's jokes work pretty well, although there are moments when it's not sure whether it's a farce or not. (Writers: it's a farce. I promise.) The producers have the unenviable task of amping up the humor to explain the absurdity of the situations and it's unclear how long they'll be able to keep that going. But when it works, it really works. Andrea Novedo plays Xiomara, Jane's mom, and she's great, too. So the more comedy the two of them get to do together, the better the show will be. Its soapy plot threads promise a lot of silliness to come, and everybody seems game.

Will it survive? It might. But novelas tend to skew toward one generation and The CW toward another. If you want to attract more young Hispanic consumers, make Supergirl Hispanic. Here's hoping the Jane-of-two-worlds equals co-viewing, but efforts to please everyone frequently please no one. Irrespective of strategic wisdom, the quality here is still high.

Do you want your brand associated with it? Definitely. Young, fun, diverse, well-written.

In sum, the CW's schedule is modest, but it punches well above its weight. Major nets mostly assume that Hispanic and young audiences are going to come to them, which increasingly looks like a mistake as the generation stays away from TV in droves. These shows aren't perfect in their attempts to reach those audiences, but hey, at least they're trying. Also, The Flash may be the best pilot we've seen this season. Long may it run.