TV Upfront

CW Upfronts Diary: In a Pitch for Diversity, Network Reminds Buyers That All Heroes Don't Wear Capes

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After a week of brazen hucksterism designed to separate advertisers from their marketing dollars, Gina Rodriguez on Thursday detonated an emo bomb onstage at the New York City Center, and for the first time since the upfronts began it felt like the audience wasn't being outright hustled.

As she has done so eloquently in past upfront presentations, the star of the CW's "Jane the Virgin" won over buyers with a heartfelt speech about how television has the potential to bring people together by fostering understanding and empathy. (It probably goes without saying that she wasn't talking about cable news.)

"I'm an artist, and I see the world through that lens," Rodriguez said, noting that she stars in one of the five CW shows with a woman at the top of the call sheet. "Art tears down misconceptions and opens eyes to the beauty of our differences. We can't all be the same, but we can learn a lot about what we are not through art."

Rodriguez went on to thank CW president Mark Pedowitz for his efforts to program a network that more accurately reflects American dynamism and diversity. "The CW uses its platform to build bridges for understanding and inclusion," she said, before wrapping with a more overt appeal for advertisers to reach for their checkbooks. "For those who have yet to join us: The doors are wide open, baby."

Rodriguez effectively became an ambassador for the CW two years ago, when she made her first upfront address to TV buyers. Her spiel, which was delivered with all the warm fuzzies of a Grammy Awards acceptance speech, included an acknowledgment that advertising dollars made it possible for her and her cast mates to pursue their lives' passions. "Thank you for letting me do what I love every day," she said. "It may be just money to you, but to us it's our dreams!"

On the off chance that anyone in the room today didn't respond to Rodriguez's speech, Pedowitz doubled down on the "awwwwws" with an absolutely shameless clip from a puppy cam from Guide Dogs of America.

Of course, as the upfronts are meant to prime the pump for the June/July negotiations, the CW pitch featured its share of more blatant entreaties for ad dollars. Sporting a green cape with a stylized $ emblazoned on the back, Rob Tuck, exec VP-national sales, swooped in to talk up streaming, demos and stacking rights. When "Supergirl" star Melissa Benoist asked why the ad sales chief was rocking the garish accessory, Tuck introduced himself as "Salesman," and suggested that he join in when the CW airs its annual four-part superhero crossover stunt in November.

The crossovers have been a huge success for the CW, which notched its highest ratings in six years during last fall's multi-show event. Deliveries for "Arrow" and "DC's Legends of Tomorrow" alone doubled during their respective stunt episodes, and "The Flash" put up the network's biggest numbers of the season.

Speaking of the capes-and-cowls set, Pedowitz noted that another new superhero series is making its way to the CW schedule in 2017-18, as "Black Lightning" joins fellow DC Comics properties "The Flash," "Supergirl," "Arrow" and "Legends of Tomorrow" in mid-season. Produced by the ubiquitous Greg Berlanti, "Black Lightning" stars Cress Williams ("Prison Break," "Hart of Dixie") as a retired crime fighter who resumes punting rump and taking names after gang violence threatens to tear his city apart.

Also in the hopper for next season are "Valor," a military drama about a team of damaged yet vertiginously-cheekboned young U.S. Army helicopter pilots who embark on a suicide mission to extract a soldier being held captive by terrorists, and a reboot of the '80s kitsch artifact "Dynasty." A sudsy whirl of intrigue, excess and weapons-grade bitchery, this new-look Carringtons saga drew the most noise from the buyers in the crowd.

A second mid-season offering, "Life Sentence," features "Pretty Little Liars" alum Lucy Hale as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who survives cancer only to face the existential dilemma of What Now? Hale, who appeared eager to emulate Gina Rodriguez's charm offensive, interrupted her own stage patter to ask producer Bill Lawrence ("Scrubs," "Cougar Town") to make his presence known so that she might thank him for giving her the opportunity to work with him.

Before Pedowitz brought Upfronts Week to a close with an invitation for the audience to join him outside the theater for a toast with some "Dynasty"-quality bubbly, the CW boss wanted to reiterate his earlier assertion about how the network has evolved from a vanilla TV channel to "a digital-linear hybrid." Pedowitz illustrated this shift with a particularly revelatory graphic, which put the median age of the CW TV viewer at 45 years old and that of the net's digital audience at 26.

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