Are the CW making too many superhero shows?

Alex Moreland
Contributor

At times, it certainly feels that way.

It was recently announced that Greg Berlanti’s latest superhero project, Black Lightning, would be getting a pilot order on the CW network. Though it had previously been attached to Fox, Black Lightning will now be joining Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow on what people are now jokingly referring to as the “DC-W channel”.

The appellation isn’t exactly without reason, of course; Black Lightning will mark the fifth DC-comics related property that the CW have taken on, and the seventh if you expand your remit to comic-book properties in general, given that both iZombie and Riverdale draw from such source material. In any case, though, superhero shows now make up a significant proportion of the CW’s programming; The Vampire Diaries and Reign are both reaching their final conclusions in just a few short months, while both Frequency and No Tomorrow appear not to have been renewed for a second season. This leaves our current crop of superhero shows as making up 40% of the CW’s output; if Black Lightning becomes a staple of the channel too, that figure will increase further.

It’s entirely understandable why the CW would pursue these superhero shows; after all, they’re quite lucrative. The DC TV shows collectively brought in $1bn of revenue for Time Warner in 2016 – one billion dollars of revenue. It’s pretty obvious why the CW is going to want to pursue that sort of money. Not to mention the increased popularity these shows have brought the channel as well, helping it to shake off its reputation for cliché teen drama and moving towards a network that’s got a real populist reach. In short, these DC adaptations have done well for the CW, and it’s no surprise they want to continue to develop such programmes.

Further, I’m loath to suggest that Black Lightning shouldn’t, in and of itself, be made; with its focus on a superhero who’s also a father, it sounds as though the show could break some genuinely new ground in many respects with regards to superhero drama. Indeed, the fact that this would be the first of the CW superhero shows to feature a person of colour in the lead role is also a valid reason for its existence.

And yet, as worthwhile as Black Lightning may be, it doesn’t quite avoid the fact that we’re beginning to reach the limits of exactly how much superhero content can reasonably be sustained. It’s particularly true when considering how homogenised the CW DC efforts can at times feel – even though Black Lightning may offer some new ideas, they’re undoubtedly going to be approached from a very familiar framework.

More to the point, though, there’s a definite limit on how much content the CW can produce – not just in terms of resources, but in terms of hours that they can broadcast programming. After a point, the CW reaches its limit, and can’t actually make any more television shows.

And when that time is limited – well, isn’t it better to diversify the content more? Certainly, I know I’d rather see the CW attempt to give us another Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or Jane the Virgin than yet another superhero show; it’s worth remembering that while the DC shows might have brought the CW renewed popularity, it was programmes like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that brought them renewed acclaim.

Obviously, it’s a difficult question, but when it gets down to it – this is a zero-sum game. After a time, adding new superhero shows is going to be to the detriment of other programmes. And I can’t help but wonder what genuinely innovative and brilliant television we might be missing out on, like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, for something like Black Lightning.

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