Andrew Woodberry and Ashish Mehta, contributors to The Tracking Board’s annual Runway series, have been dissecting the pilots, trends, networks and needs for the 2016 TV season. This week, in the midst of the network upfronts, they’re teaming up to discuss the latest updates to the fall schedules of NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, and The CW.
On Thursday, The CW gave the last of the network upfront presentations, with President Mark Pedowitz and ad sales chief Rob Tuck noted that the network has grown their male audience, suggesting their viewership is now balanced between female and male (51% to 49%). The issue of gender equality came up again when Rachel Bloom and Gina Rodriguez applauded the network for “supporting so many shows about women and ran by women.” The pick-ups from from The CW’s drama pilot development season include Frequency and Riverdale. The CW, per usual, had a sparse comedy pilot development season as the network continues to focus on hour-long dramedies like Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – with No Tomorrow continuing Te CW’s trend of picking up one of these types of shows each year.
Check out all of the trailers from The CW’s upfront presentation and see how The CW’s Fall schedule is shaping up.
As for the pilots The CW picked up? Take it away, Andrew and Ashish…
Andrew: Our final network discussion. Ashish, you’re going to have to provide most of the value here. The only CW show I watch occasionally is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I’m actually happy they’re moving it to Fridays, because it means there will be no Nielsen expectations.
I did read Riverdale and No Tomorrow. Riverdale I found quite engaging — and I liked the writing style. I know you loved it, which is why I read it.
No Tomorrow was alright. I’m surprised at the pick up though, because it’s tonally similar to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but with a bit less humor. You’d think they’d shy away from another plot that could be Nielsen challenged, right? I am a sucker for any trailer that has Whitesnake in it, though.
So thoughts on the Frequency and No Tomorrow trailers? How sad are you Riverdale is being held until midseason? And, putting on your Nostradamus hat, will Supergirl shed a ton of viewers by going from CBS to CW, or do you think viewers are loyal to shows and not networks?
Ashish: I agree with you completely on No Tomorrow. It amuses, but not enough. The cast is charming, though, and brings just about enough energy to attract a few curious eyes. But I don’t see this as holding its own. The apocalypse angle will require writers to work hard to maintain suspension of disbelief.
Frequency was a big surprise. I’m impressed by the look and tone they’ve managed to accomplish. It’s going sit well on the network, and has a potentially wider appeal than other shows on the network.
Glad you found Riverdale engaging, Andrew. I’m super bummed that we’ll have to wait a while, though. It continues to be the show I’m most looking forward to. The CW’s already getting a taste of its potential to polarize people, but I think it’s a strong vision that might pay off in the long run. Plus, a midseason premiere means we might actually get Twin Peaks and Riverdale at the same time! I’m pumped.
I think Supergirl might actually benefit from its move to the CW. It felt like an aberration on CBS, and it’s got a whole lot of friends on the CW. Maybe the CW’s four-series crossover will occur on Supergirl’s home turf as a sort of “welcome home” present.
Since we’re nearing the end of our discussion, let’s talk about overall impressions, Andrew. Starting with the CW. I know it’s not your cup of tea. But do you think it has the potential to win you over with shows like Frequency and Riverdale? I personally think it’s the most exciting network on television right now, with a strong long-term strategy and critical appreciation.
And about all those shows being held off for midseason. Are you looking forward more to midseason than the fall (I know I am)? Which are the shows you’re looking forward to the most? Now that the fall schedule’s more-or-less in place, which network’s going to be a winner?
Andrew: Those are good questions, Ashish. I honestly don’t think I’ll get into any CW shows, unless people on Twitter start raving about Riverdale. One thing that will always hold CW back is its lack of sports. Networks literally win entire broadcast seasons now based on sports. That plus live event shows significantly move the Nielsen needle. So I think CW is in a good place — oh god, flashbacks to the horrible NBC trailer for The Good Place — but it might be peaking.
Midseason should be an interesting mix of really good freshman shows and really bad freshman shows. Things I’m looking forward to overall: Episodes 2 of Trial & Error and Making History to see if they hold up, the pilot of Riverdale to see if it really works on the screen, pretty much all of Designated Survivor until it inevitably jumps the shark because of the demands of network television, the Nielsen ratings of Imaginary Mary if it ever airs, and the NBC Olympics (though I liked the Olympics WAY more as a kid).
As for which network will win… that’s largely based on sports. I’m not sure who has the Super Bowl this year, but I’ll pick that network. As for this development season, I give ABC a C+, CW an A-, Fox a B+, CBS a B, and NBC a B-.
Since you’re a Script Consultant, maybe you can finish up by talking craft. What are some of the lessons you learned from reading dramas this year? Did any of the pilots do something exceptionally well that was memorable to you? For next development season, what types of shows should writers be focused on churning out? And just as a wild card question, what are some of your favorite pilots of all-time?
Oh, and thank you for your drama write ups for The Runway this year. They were fun to read and insightful. Getting through the network dramas is a bit of a slog, so you deserve a ton of recognition.
Ashish: My favorite pilots? I’m gonna say Modern Family and Twin Peaks.
You make a really good point about sports and live events. The CW feels like a child whose parents won’t (and honestly, can’t) let her go. Who knows, maybe Pedowitz fill find a way to beat the parents.
I have four broad “lessons learned.” One, relationships are everything. I mean that in the broadest sense possible: buddies, lovers, parents, enemies. That’s what helps sell the show (This is Us, both the CW pilots, Timeless, Bunker Hill, Lethal Weapon, 24: Legacy, etc.), and that’s what keeps viewers coming back. While there could be many reasons Zoobiquity (Fox), Kevin Williamson’s paranormal project (the CW), and that Mars thing (the CW) didn’t get picked, these are all notably shows with underwhelming character and relationship work. You need to pair a world that feels new with a relationship that feels new.
Two, a dash of soap opera could be a drama writer’s best friend. There’s a bit of that in everything now. When it isn’t there, I feel like something’s missing. Three, write lean, because it allows images and conflict to shine. Your words aren’t going to be on screen, but those images you create are. American Gothic and 24: Legacy are good examples of what to do. Training Day, in retrospect, is a good example of a pilot where words interfere with images.
And finally, for those reworking IP or writing specs of existing shows, make sure you’ve drilled down to your IP/show’s core. You need to identify what makes it tick, what makes it resonate with readers and audiences, and make sure your Emmy-worthy episode or IP-reimagining preserves that essence. Again, relationships are key (Riverdale? Good. Drew? Not so good). So is audience research. Don’t presume the reason you like a property is the reason everyone else does.
For next development season, I’d tell writers to write whatever they want to write (as long as its great drama), but keep a close eye on super-producers and creators who’ve dominated this season. Learn from their successes, and learn from their failures. Like in features, trends can be born out of thin air, but there are a few people out there who are somewhat impervious to climate change. I do think a few networks will continue to be on the hunt for the next big primetime soap, though.
And you’re most welcome, Andrew. It’s been a pleasure, and a whole lot of fun, decoding this season with you!
CHECK OUT THE 2015 EDITION OF THE RUNWAY
Andrew Woodberry & Ashish Mehta | Contributors
Ashish Mehta is a freelance script reader, currently reading for a coverage company and a film financing platform, among other individual clients in the US and UK. You can find out more about his services at http://scriptexaminer.com, or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.