How DC Comics Superheroes Transformed The CW

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Network once known for “Gossip Girl” has built the TV equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe


At the beginning of this decade, The CW was facing a very different crisis. 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. But under Mark Pedowitz, who succeeded Dawn Ostroff in the spring of 2011 as the network’s president, The CW made a strategic shift towards DC Comics, which was owned by one of its co-owners in Warner Bros. (The CW is managed as a joint venture between WB and CBS). Even though the network didn’t know it at the time, the debut of “Arrow” in 2012 — just months after “Gossip Girl” ended — laid the foundation for the network to build the closest thing TV has that rivals Marvel Studios’ shared cinematic universe. In the second season of “Arrow,” Grant Gustin debuted as Barry Allen in what would later become a backdoor pilot for “The Flash,” which premiered in 2014. It would become the network’s biggest launch in its history, and gave birth to what has been referred to the “Arrowverse.” In 2015, CBS attempted to get into the superhero business with “Supergirl,” which starred Melissa Benoist as Superman’s cousin. The series ran on Sunday nights, often facing off against NFL football, and was on the bubble for a second season renewal. It ended up being renewed, but shifted over to The CW, where they would find ways to incorporate her into the shared universe they built. 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. Almost half of the network’s lineup this season is made up of shows based on DC Comics. On Sunday, The CW kicks off its ambitious five-part adaptation of “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” one of the most famous storylines in DC Comics’ long history. Written in 1985-86, the 12-issue series is credited for popularizing the idea of large-scale comic crossovers. It will be the largest undertaking in the network’s short history, incorporating all six of its shows and bringing back a few faces from The CW’s predecessor The WB. It’s a product of eight years of hard work, some good planning, and a little bit of luck. But much like Marvel had to enter its next phase and kill off Tony Stark and retire Captain America, The CW is undergoing its own overhaul. “Arrow” will wrap its eight-season run in January, while “The Flash” is in the middle of its sixth season. The network is already looking to fill the void soon to be left by “Arrow” by developing a spinoff following Oliver Queen’s (Robbie Amell) daughter. Additionally, a series starring Tyler Hoechlin’s Clark Kent/Superman and Elizabeth Tollich’s Lois Lane, “Superman & Lois” is in development. CW’s Pedowitz noted earlier this year that the network is going to need to pass the baton to a new group of heroes sooner rather than later. “Things will age, and we want to get the next generation of shows to keep The CW DC universe going for as long as possible.”