TV Upfront

Upfronts: The CW Gets 'Super'-Sized, 'Riverdale' Intrigues

Archie and Jughead Meet 'Twin Peaks'

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Melissa Benoist, Grant Gustin, Stephen Amell, Victor Garber, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Brandon Routh and Caity Lotz appear at the CW's upfront presentation.
Melissa Benoist, Grant Gustin, Stephen Amell, Victor Garber, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Brandon Routh and Caity Lotz appear at the CW's upfront presentation. Credit: The CW

A year after passing on Warner Bros.' "Supergirl," the CW has done a 180, welcoming the caped Kryptonian into the fold and bolstering its already overstuffed roster of DC Comics properties.

Speaking to reporters before the CW's Thursday morning upfront presentation, network president Mark Pedowitz said "Supergirl" was "moving where it should have been in the first place" after its inaugural season on step-sibling CBS. Hours later, Mr. Pedowitz would reiterate that assertion during his formal pitch to advertisers, and emphatically so ("It. Belongs. Here.").

The acquisition of "Supergirl" sets up the mother of all crossovers, as the CW will mashup it and Greg Berlanti's three other capes-and-cowls shows ("Arrow," "The Flash," "DC's Legends of Tomorrow") during a special December mega-event.

The CW has been programming DC crossovers since December 2013, when Barry Allen, aka The Flash, popped up in season two of "Arrow." More recently, on March 28, CBS aired a "Supergirl"/"Flash" meet-and-greet.

Enthusiasm for the four-way heropalooza was such that at least one mere mortal wanted in on the action. Shortly after the CW's superhero collective took the stage at New York City Center, "Jane the Virgin" star Gina Rodriguez volunteered her services via her Twitter account: "And #JaneThe Virgin? Too much? OK, too much. But how many women have babies with no sex?!? #superMom."

"Supergirl" will remain in its Monday 8 p.m. time slot, where it will lead into "Jane the Virgin." The sophomore drama once again will go head-to-head with Fox's "Gotham," which will kick off its third season in the fall. "Supergirl" handily out-delivered the Batman origin story, averaging 7.69 million viewers and a 1.7 rating in the adults 18-to-49 demo, while "Gotham" drew 4.11 million viewers and a 1.4 rating.

"Supergirl" is one of just four new additions to the CW's primetime schedule. Available time slots were few and far between, as the network in March effectively renewed its entire schedule. The only show that was not booked for a return engagement was the midseason drama "Containment," which premiered on April 19.

Also in the hopper for 2016-17 is the apocalyptic rom-com "No Tomorrow," in which a straight-laced quality-control assessor (Tori Anderson) falls for Xavier, a hunky free spirit (Joshua Sasse from "Galavant") who believes that the earth is on an end-of-days collision course with a rogue asteroid. The two meet-cute over a fruit stand E. coli quip, and what ensues is a sort of existentialist effort to tick off every item on the doomsaying Brit's bucket list (er, "Apocalyst").

A tacit reminder to eat, drink and be merry, because we're all going to die -- and yes, that truth applies even to the ranks of vertiginously-cheekboned CW actors -- "No Tomorrow" will air in the Tuesday 9 p.m. slot, where it will compete with fellow newbies "Bull" (CBS) and "This Is Us" (NBC). If "No Tomorrow" lives up to its cutdown (there's a sight gag involving a pogo stick that may well be the funniest moment of upfront week), the CW will have to figure out a way to forestall the extinction-level event.

A far less bubbly effort lands on the CW's Wednesday 9 p.m. time slot, when the adaptation of the 2000 theatrical "Frequency" will lead out of "Arrow." When a young New York City detective (Peyton List) discovers that she can communicate with her long-dead father (Riley Smith) via his old ham radio, seemingly immutable laws of time and space are upended, and with disastrous results. (In a sense, "Frequency" can be counted among this year's mini-boom in time travel narratives.) Paired with "Arrow," "Frequency" will enjoy the benefit of the CW's second-biggest lead-in -- "No Tomorrow" was given the plum post-"Flash" slot -- but also faces a ratings giant in Fox's "Empire."

Lastly, the CW is holding the Archie Comics adaptation "Riverdale" for midseason. Surprisingly, the show seems to have borrowed a great deal of its tone and atmospherics from David Lynch's things-are-not-what-they-seem mysteries "Blue Velvet" and "Twin Peaks," an association made manifest by the presence of "Peaks" alum M├Ądchen Amick. (She plays Betty Cooper's mom.) The sizzle reel seemed to wrong-foot many of the attendees -- when the lights went up, the junior buyer to our left muttered "what the fuck did I just watch?") -- but for all its weirdly dissociative notes (Archie's doing it with his music teacher! Jughead's not wearing that stupid crown! Sex! MURDER!), Mr. Berlanti's "Riverdale" could very well succeed by virtue of its willingness to dispose of the Archie canon. (And rightly so. It's hard to imagine a wised-up, plugged-in millennial having much patience with the schmaltzy goop of the old comics, what with their jalopies and malt shoppes and cornball antics.)

"You might think you know these characters, but you've never seen them quite like this," Mr. Pedowitz said, bobbing in a vast sea of understatement.

In the call before the show, Mr. Pedowitz addressed the emerging ad-load-reduction craze, saying that while the CW considered streamlining its inventory, there are no plans to institute any formal initiative. Recalling the failed 2008 experiment that was Fox's "Remote-Free TV," Mr. Pedowitz noted that the economics don't always work out. (More than a few buyers have professed a lack of interest in paying big premiums for a less cluttered ad environment.)

"Not every show can take a smaller commercial load," Mr. Pedowitz said. "Advertisers will push back. If you have the right show, it will work. If you do not have the right show, you will pay the price."

The CW chief also noted that the network now boasts one of TV's most demographically balanced audiences, saying that the split between male and female viewers is now very close to 50-50. Five years ago, when Mr. Pedowtiz took the reins from Dawn Ostroff, women accounted for 70% of the CW's deliveries.

Naturally, the superhero shows have gone a long way toward converting many younger males into CW devotees, but the network is also aging out of the more fickle 18-to-34 demo. A few years back, the CW began shifting its guarantees to 18-to-49 deliveries, and today many of its original series actually put up bigger numbers among the 25-to-54 crowd.

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