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The CW’s Brave New World

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Fledgling network looks to continue creative changes in 2013

With the demise of The WB and UPN, out of the ashes a new network called The CW emerged. In a sense, they were full of promise because they weren’t bogged down with the stigma of being The WB or UPN; they got to brand themselves differently, choose which demographic they were going to go after, etc.

I was in high school when this occurred, so I guess it’s safe to assume I was in the target audience. I had followed over from those parent networks through my interest in Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars, but both those shows only made it one season post-merger.

Then The CW went through a mutation that changed what it was at their very core. Or at least, they tried to…

In the past few years, we’ve seen this network struggle to find its voice. I’m talking a new and extremely vague slogan every year since it debuted. As of this moment, it’s “TV Now,” which – given their track record – will probably change soon enough.

After failing to mesh The WB and UPN’s programming, the network became mostly known for their big, glossy high school dramas. A few famous examples of this are ‘dead-and-buried’ Gossip Girl and ‘currently-on-life-support’ 90210.

It’s obvious that The CW has always been pursuing the young adult-to-teenage demographic. When it first started, it still had the shows that aired on the parent networks. Then with the addition of Gossip Girl, it seemed it was rebranding itself with the image of spoiled party kids. Now that Gossip Girl has been cancelled, it signals that the network is finally ready to move towards the dark and gritty.

Replacing the “rich kids in high school” failures are shows such as Arrow, Beauty and the Beast, and Nikita. Then you’ve got The Vampire Diaries, which is still teenager-centric, but is also heavy on adult supernatural themes. While not all of these newer shows could be considered quality, they are a marked improvement over what The CW has attempted in the past. And along with the network’s ever-popular mainstay, the immortal Supernatural, these fresh offerings are carving out a new niche.

Sure, you’ve got Hart of Dixie and The Carrie Diaries that serve as nostalgia for the golden days of The WB, but The CW seems to be heading in yet another, much more stable direction.

The thing that all these newer shows have in common is that they all carry at least a minimal amount of geek cred. Arrow is about a vigilante superhero. Nikita has secret agents, spies, and conspiracies galore. Call these shows “geek-lite” like me and instantly gain a few cool points (Pop Insomniacs will be offering cool points in the near-future).

This spike in popularity doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, either. The Fall 2013 schedule is rumored to have at least some sci-fi aspects in them, such as Oxygen. Oxygen will stick with the high school motif that The CW is afraid to completely drop, but will also feature aliens having to integrate into earthling society.

Another example is The Originals, a spinoff of The Vampire Diaries, which would feature a mix of new and previously introduced characters in New Orleans.

Some of these may seem unremarkable, but there’s no mistaking the darker elements creeping into almost all of these new shows. The evidence is there: in the last decade or so, we’ve gotten to a point where blockbuster movies are almost exclusively book or comic adaptations. Last year, the most anticipated films were both franchises: The Avengers and The Hunger Games.

Then there’s this year, where the presumed blockbusters will be Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness, both of which are of course super-famous geek-out sequels.

It’s pretty safe to say that if you want to come up with something original and try to turn it into a blockbuster, your dreams are dead for the time being. But don’t cry, chances are you’ll still get a cult following in the coming years (hello, Looper).

We’ve gotten to a point where being a nerd is finally cool. It’s only taken about half a decade, but we’re there. I find these growing numbers of nerds to be good news; the bad news should be obvious, however. Like all trends, “nerd” will fall out of favor at some point, and what’s cool will shift to something different.

The CW, like most networks, follows the trends. Right now it is trending toward science fiction with dark undertones. Depending on what society deems cool in the future, things could and likely would change; as of right now the network seems to be sticking to this model.

With a focus on science fiction and the supernatural, the network can now start to hone in on creative and, ironically, more human shows than its previous offerings. That, along with their few more grounded and heartfelt shows, means that The CW has potential to succeed.

Overall, the network’s shows might be closer to fluff than quality, but it’s a start. The CW is attempting to change with the times, and while its vapid, hollow past still haunts it, at least it’s trying. That can only be a good thing – while it lasts.