How ‘Arrow’ Built The CW’s Own Superhero Cinematic Universe

Stephen Amell’s Emerald Archer exits after eight seasons on Tuesday

As “Arrow” heads into retirement with its 170th and final episode on Tuesday, Stephen Amell’s Emerald Archer leaves behind a legacy that may only be rivaled by Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark.

Both are billionaire playboys that become self-sacrificing heroes, using their brains and expensive technology in lieu of actual superpowers. But the similarities between the two extend up to the corporate level. After all, they’re both the godfathers of two of the most successful comic book franchises in media.

And for The CW, it happened by accident. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly last December, “Arrow” co-developer and consulting producer Marc Guggenheim said they never planned to introduce other DC superheroes. “The answers to all those questions were, ‘No, no, and no.'” After all, the network’s co-owner Warner Bros. was busy trying to build its rival to the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the big screen, which never came close to mimicking Marvel’s billion-dollar formula.

But one was being built on the small, even if wasn’t planned.

In the second season of “Arrow,” Grant Gustin debuted as a pre-Flash Barry Allen, in what would later become a backdoor pilot for “The Flash.” It premiered in 2014 as the network’s biggest launch in its history. At midseason, The CW held its first what would become an annual crossover event, formally giving birth to the so-called “Arrowverse.”

From there, it would grow nearly as fast as Gustin’s Scarlet Speedster, becoming the closest thing on any medium that rivaled Marvel’s successful formula.

In 2015, CBS attempted to get into the superhero business with “Supergirl,” which starred Melissa Benoist as Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El. The series, a curious fit alongside CBS’ other older-skewing fare, often faced off against NFL football on Sunday nights. It was on the bubble all season but ended up getting renewed, shifting over to The CW. Because of its corporate origins, “Supergirl” did not exist in the same shared world of “Arrow” and “The Flash,” The CW still found ways to incorporate its newest hero into its growing shared universe.

The expansion continued in 2016 with “Legends of Tomorrow,” which culled supporting characters from both “Arrow” and “The Flash” like Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer/Atom and Caity Lotz’s Sarah Lance/White Canary. “Black Lightning” was introduced in 2018 and “Batwoman” became the latest DC Comics hero to join The CW this fall.

It’s the culmination of a strategic shift under CEO Mark Pedowitz, who pivoted the network towards genre programming. As “Gossip Girl” was ending its run in 2012, the primarily female-skewing network was searching for its successor. These included unsuccessful attempts at reviving “Melrose Place,” a “Sex in the City” prequel and the Sarah Michelle Geller-led “The Ringer,” an attempt to cater to “Buffy” fans from the WB era.

In fact, almost half of the network’s lineup this season was made up of shows based on DC Comics.

And much like Marvel is entering its own next phase, killing off Iron Man and passing on Captain America’s shield, the end of “Arrow” wraps up The CW’s own first chapter. Next year, Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman gets his own series, “Superman & Lois,” and the network is eyeing an “Arrow” spinoff that would follow Katherine McNamara’s Mia Queen (a backdoor pilot for the potential series aired last week).

Tim Baysinger

Tim Baysinger

TV Reporter • • Twitter: @tim_bays


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