Although it's not entirely obvious upon first glance, the future of The CW appears to be a little uncertain for the first time in years.
The young-skewing network, which has built its lineup on the backs of costumed superheroes, will expand to six nights of original programming in the fall. It's the first time the network has had more than 10 hours to fill in primetime since 2009, when it eliminated its Sunday night lineup after struggling to compete with the other broadcast networks.
Although The CW's already low ratings have declined in much the same way as the rest of television — The Flash remains its most-watched program but still only averages 2.21 million viewers overnight — the network steadily upped its pedigree in recent years with two Golden Globe-winning series, Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. But with the news that both hourlong comedies, as well as the critically beloved dramedy iZombie, will end their respective runs this coming season, the network is at a crossroads. If it doesn't find new ways to take creative risks, there is a very real possibility the progress that has been made over the last four years could be completely undone.
Now, you might think that it is too early to be considering what The CW will look like a year from now — several of the network's current shows haven't even aired their season finales yet — but development season is becoming increasingly year-round, and The CW should be considering what it's going to do next.
A look at the network's scheduling decisions over the last five years reveals The CW is unlikely to cancel established series without warning. What this means is that the network is, in turn, renewing the bulk of its lineup each year. While this is great for TV fans who hate to see their favorite shows die, this actually leaves very little opportunity for new growth. Even though The CW has been going the cable route and moving toward shorter seasons for some of its series, thereby freeing up room on its schedule throughout the year, its lineup is largely the same year to year. As it stands, just three programs will end this season — freshman series Life Sentence and Valor were canceled, while The Originals will sign off this summer. For comparison, last year the network ended up saying goodbye to just four shows: established dramas The Vampire Diaries and Reign, and one-and-done series No Tomorrow and Frequency.
By expanding to six nights of programming, The CW seems to be getting the best of both worlds: it has the ability to bring back the shows it wants to bring back while also bringing in new blood that might help to ease the pressure created by losing three critically beloved series next year. Unfortunately, the network's freshman series haven't had the best track record of late, and this new crop doesn't look all that inspiring either. In fact, upon closer inspection, it's becoming increasingly clear that The CW is largely doing the same thing year after year.
Its new lineup, which features 17 shows across the traditional TV season, is made up of superheroes, adaptations, spin-offs and reboots. The network that was once known for taking creative risks that no other network would take has actually started to look a lot like the rest of television. What's even more wild is that once Crazy Ex-Girlfriend signs off, the network's only original series will be the midseason series In the Dark and the long-running Supernatural, a show that initially drew a lot of inspiration from the often forgotten series Route 66. A look at next season's lineup reveals that six shows are based on characters found in DC Comics, while Riverdale is based on the long-running Archie comics. Elsewhere, The 100 is adapted from a young adult novel, Jane the Virgin is an adaptation of a Venezuelan telenovela, and All American is inspired by the life of NFL player Spencer Paysinger. Meanwhile, Dynasty, Charmed and Roswell, New Mexico are all reboots, and Legacies is a spin-off of a spin-off.
Although shows like Jane the Virgin, The 100 and iZombie have proven that series that aren't entirely original can still make for excellent television, they tend to be the exception and not the rule. In addition to being well written and incredibly well acted, all three shows regularly take risks that make them stand out while also elevating them beyond their source material. They also offer clear and distinct voices, something that's becoming increasingly important as the TV landscape continues to expand. With the exception of In the Dark, which follows a blind woman as she attempts to solve her friend's murder with her guide dog, the network's crop of new shows honestly just feel like more of the same.
If The CW wants to continue to have the reputation it's rightfully earned after Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and iZombie sign off next year, if it wants to continue to offer programming that is unconventional, yet still thrilling and heartfelt, it has to be more than the network it seems to be becoming, one that is comfortable resting on its laurels. Opening up the schedule is certainly a good start, but filling it with programming that viewers can't find anywhere else is key. It's time for The CW to once again take the risks that other networks won't. Otherwise, Supernatural won't be the only series outliving us all.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS, one of The CW's parent companies.)