End Of The Arrowverse – How The CW Sale Could Blow Up DC’s Shared Universe
With the news hitting that The CW is up for sale to Nexstar, a broadcast TV company whose favorite way to make money is on noxious political ads. Still, as WarnerMedia is in the process of being acquired by Discovery Media, and ViacomCBS is settling after their own (re)merger, it makes sense the CW is where it is, knowing the history of the network. Now, any deal to sell the CW will almost certainly include provisions from both CBS and Warners that the network still needs to license their programming. That said, the sale of this network from two rival studios will change the way the CW operates in a way that could bring about an end to the DC shared universe we call the Arrowverse. (Even though Arrow had its series finale, it’s really hard to call it the “CWVerse.”)
What The CW is today is not really because of Warner Bros. or CBS, but rather the longest-serving head of a network, Mark Pedowitz. The network has only existed for 15 years, and Pedowitz has been at the top for ten of those years. He oversaw the transition from the Smallville era to the Arrow, The Flash, et al. era. He is also responsible for pushing the CW app and the streaming service CW seed, all free with ads. (In fact, the digital push was a source of contention among CW affiliates and the stations that CW itself owns in cities like Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.
So, if the sale of the CW from CBS and Warner Brothers to Nexstar goes through, it could mean that the Arrowverse will end as we know it.
Why CBS and Warner Bros. Joined Forces to Own a Network
Image via screengrab
Back in the late 1990s after the success of the Fox Network, both Paramount and Warner Bros decided to get in the broadcast game. They developed UPN (United Paramount Network) and the WB, respectively, which featured original and syndicated programming. Both networks launched in 1995 and over the next 11 years the networks lost a combined $2 billion in revenue. As Warner and CBS went through their own parent company selloffs and mergers, the two networks decided to team up and co-own The CW (CBS & Warner Brothers). The two networks would provide programming, though CBS would fall behind Warner Bros. in that department.
Yet, what made The CW unique was not just ownership by two rival studios. It also was in the unique position of not really having to worry about turning a profit. Despite their success of late, The CW has never had a profitable year. If Nexstar buys the network, it definitely will not be okay with running the network at a loss. The reason this worked for Warner Bros. and CBS, though, was that what happened to the shows after the broadcast was where they made money. People would find the shows on the CW, but they often didn’t really watch them until they hit streaming. Until recently, the Warner Bros., CW, and Netflix deal for their primetime dramas (including the Arrowverse except for Batwoman and Superman and Lois) was valued at $1 billion.
So, while the CW lost money, both parent studios were able to turn profits via streaming or develop audiences that will follow those shows to a respective streaming service. In fact, this is probably why the network is up for sale. Now that Paramount+ and HBO Max are full on competitors in streaming, the CW is extraneous.
Why The CW Sale to Nexstar Will Probably End the Arrowverse, the Best DC Shared Universe
Image via CW
Now that both CBS and Warner Bros. have an outlet in their respective streaming services for programs, they don’t really need what the CW provided. Nexstar will still need content, sure. Yet, they might want unscripted series (cheaper to produce) or they will adopt the Netflix model: one to three seasons of a show and then cancellation when all the actors quotes go up after a few years of being a hit. As its own company separate from CBS and Warner Bros., Nexstar is not going to be satisfied with the real money being made via streaming licenses rather than the network turning a profit. So, that likely means that when the sale of the CW to Nexstar is final, the Arrowverse will end. The question is not so much “if” but rather “will it be abrupt or a gradual ending?”
Thus far, Supergirl, Black Lightning, and Arrow all finished their runs, and they were very successful. This leaves The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Batwoman, and Superman & Lois in the proper Arrowverse. Newcomer Naomi and former DC Universe series Stargirl also remain. We guess The Flash runs (pun intended) for another season or two. (They may want to match Smallville’s 10 season run?) Batwoman and Superman & Lois are both just getting started. And Legends of Tomorrow feels like it could end every season, yet the nature of the show is one that defies expectation. That one is the most up-in-the-air series.
Yet, unless these series start putting up bigger ratings numbers, it’s likely that Nexstar would rather cancel them and go with newer (read: cheaper) series. So, while we all knew the Arrowverse party would have to end someday, it seems the sale of the CW might hasten that inevitability.
You can watch the current seasons of Arrowverse shows on the CW or the CW App.
What do you think? Do you think the sale of the CW to Nexstar will end the Arrowverse or the shared DC universe on TV? Do you think any of these shows will transition to HBO Max? Or do you think Warner Bros. and Greg Berlanti (and JJ Abrams) might create a new shared universe exclusively on the streaming service? Share your thoughts, theories, and hopes for the Arrowverse’s future in the comments below.
Featured image via The CW
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book of superhero short stories, Tales of Adventure & Fantasy: Book One is available as an ebook or paperback from Amazon.