I’ve probably said this before, but it bears repeating: We live in challenging times. Generally I can see the brighter side of things and soften my own darkness with hopeful optimism. But when weighed against all the forces that encroach on us, such as the rise of autocracy, environmental collapse, and a media landscape that’s not only changing, but actively poisoned by the threat of AI, it can be more than a little difficult to stay positive. What usually helps are stories. They let me keep perspective, as well as occasionally widening it. One amazing source of such enrichment used to be the CW. And as of today, it’s fair to say the CW is, for all intents and purposes, a walking corpse.
First, a little backstory. I’ve been watching the CW since it was actually called the WB. At first, that was thanks to a certain vampire slayer and her moody vampire boyfriend, but later I kept watching for shows like Supernatural and Smallville. Back then, they were doing their best to make interesting fiction, but they lacked any sort of organization. And then Arrow came along. While that show’s hero was more Bruce Wayne than Oliver Queen, it was still compelling television, at least for a few seasons. Then CW had a brilliant idea: To make a universe of comic shows.
We got Flash, Supergirl, Batwoman and my personal favorite, the Legends of Tomorrow. Suddenly, the crossovers from my comic books were happening in real time on my TV screen. It was glorious! Sure, the storytelling wasn’t perfect, and occasionally cast members left abruptly, but as a fan of both comics and television, I had found my happy place. Even when DC movies were regularly failing miserably, the CW was a safe harbor to unwind with some iconic heroes. And then new CEO David Zaslav came along. CW’s parent company, WarnerMedia, merged with Discovery, and all of a sudden the cancellations started happening. At first, it was new shows like Batwoman. Then it was Kung Fu and The Winchesters, and now it’s pretty much everything other than sports drama All American and Walker.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a fan of reality television. The only exception for me is The Voice, but that’s it. Normally, I find reality television cheap, manipulative, and, frankly, offensive. It highlights the worst aspects of humanity for laughs. I can see the appeal from a cold, detached place, and am sure that making garbage that costs little results in good profits. But as someone who has dedicated a lot of their life to writing, let me tell you: Money isn’t everything. It’s important, sure. But not as a be all and end all. It’s a tool like any other. And when that tool becomes the reason to justify killing everything that made a network special, then something has gone horribly wrong.
The CW wasn’t just a place for comic book fans. It was also a network that celebrated diversity. Sometimes, that celebration felt inorganic and forced into stories (looking at you, Dreamer), but often it was done tastefully. I still remember the impact Kung Fu had in that first season. It was clapping back at the hatred and racism spawned by a certain orange-haired tyrant, and it felt relevant and timely. Same with Black Lightning, which not only regularly tackled issues in the news, but also the dynamics of being a Black person in America. Hell, even Legends of Tomorrow taught me about asexual orientation, something I hadn’t even heard about. I don’t even have enough space to discuss all the brilliantly crazy things Riverdale did. Point is, the network served more than one function. Sure, I appreciated the cool costumes, epic fights, and clever banter. But the exchange of important social concepts was another reason I kept watching.
Now, the CW is cutting off parts to make itself profitable. Or so it says. I personally think this is more of Zaslav’s way of killing the network’s identity, using profits as an excuse. Hell, lately I’ve seen commercials for racing documentaries (oh so exciting) as well as golf tournaments funded by oil barons. Stuff that really has nothing to do with the CW, but which I’m sure will have a more prominent place in the new vision for the network. I’m also pretty positive we’ll see more reality shows in the near future, since Zaslav came from Discovery, and all that network has is cheap reality shows.
Making money matters, and perhaps the CW wasn’t the most profitable network. Hell, they even had a free app that let you watch shows. But profit doesn’t matter more than identity or keeping your fans happy. One of the hardest things these days is being an authentic voice. The CW used to be one of those. Now, it’s just another dead network trying to slap on makeup and convince everybody that it’s not a zombie.
So now, I’m not sure where I’ll find my comic heroes, other than theaters whenever a new Marvel epic comes to theaters. As for DC, we have few options. All I know is to expect the worst from HBO, since that’s part of WarnerMedia as well, and it’s clear from the CW fiasco that they no longer care about DC’s roster of heroes. Maybe this is a call to make our own heroes and write our own stories. Because it’s clear that the Lex Luthors of the world have the keys to the kingdom, and Superman lies buried in a kryptonite tomb.