New CW Chief Brad Schwartz Talks Scripted Strategy, Unscripted Plans & Branding As He Seeks “Breakthrough Content That Also Makes Money

As Nexstar announced Wednesday morning, former Pop TV president Brad Schwartz is returning to the network executive ranks as President of Entertainment at The CW. Reporting to new CW president Dennis Miller, he will be starting at the network in two weeks as he winds down his current role as CEO of The Capra Project, a startup entertainment venture focused on “authentic stories of family, faith, joy and hope” which was launched last year with investment from Lionsgate, UTA, Blumhouse and Tyler Perry.

For Schwartz, who started his executive career in his native Canada as SVP & GM, The Much MTV Group before coming to the U.S. for stints as SVP Programming at Fuse and then president of Pop, this marks a return to The CW where he consulted for 10 months in 2020-21 on acquisitions (linear and digital) and on ways to further the network’s AVOD strategy. During that time, he also helped bring two Canadian series, Children Ruin Everything and SkyMed, to the U.S. with co-production deals at Roku and Paramount+, respectively.

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At Fuse, Schwartz launched breakout Billy on the Street; at Pop, he spearheaded a slate of modestly budgeted original scripted series, most of them co-productions, led by Emmy juggernaut Schitt’s Creek.

In an interview with Deadline, Schwartz discusses his plans for The CW as it focuses on profitability under new owner Nexstar, its new brand identity, as well as its mix of scripted and unscripted series and whether sitcoms and procedurals will be part of it. He also addresses the potential fate of The CW’s current scripted series, models for making scripted shows that are profitable for the network, his development strategies, executive team, and whether The CW will continue to program seven nights a week.

DEADLINE: We don’t have a clear sense yet for The CW network, what it would look like, how much scripted and unscripted programming, whether there will be news. Nexstar executives must have shared with you their vision when they approached you for the job. Can you give us an idea what the next stage in CW’s evolution would be like?

BRAD SCHWARTZ: I’m looking forward to getting in there. I’m looking forward to looking at everything that’s working. Looking at the budgets, trying to figure out what shows are profitable, what shows are not. Let’s keep doing more of the shows that are profitable. And then to really look at the industry. There are only five broadcast networks, these are still unrepeatable assets, monster platforms with a lot of content to offer. So let’s go out there and let’s look at what everybody else is doing. Let’s look at what’s working on The CW. And let’s find smart little ways that you can compete and differentiate yourself and be audacious and be contrarian.

I don’t think it’s as easy as what’s been writing in the press, like, “Oh, you’re just going to have to go cheaper and you’re going to go unscripted.” I don’t think it’s that. Tt’s about being efficient. It’s about being smart. Schitt’s Creek was not the most expensive show in the world, Billy on the Street was not an expensive show but they broke through in culture, and Billy on the Street on this tiny little network Fuse had a two-minute segment in the Emmys with Seth Meyers and Billy Eichner running around together.

It just takes looking at things a little differently. And yeah, well lesser resources than NBC, CBS, ABC, etc. But our ambition shouldn’t be to beat them. So I think it will be a mix of unscripted, it’ll be a mix of scripted, and we’ll find the little holes in the market where we can break through. So I don’t think it’s as black and white, it’s just “Oh, you’re gonna do cheap unscripted stuff,” I don’t think that’s the case. I think we’re going to try having breakthrough content that brings in large audiences, and we’re just going to have to figure out a way of doing it efficiently.

DEADLINE: The current CW scripted shows are being produced under a different model that is not conducive to the network being profitable; it was devised to create value for studio suppliers (and owners) CBS Studios and Warner Bros TV. What will happen with these shows? Can you keep any of them and make them work for the new, profitability-centered CW the way they’re structured budget- and license fee-wise?

SCHWARTZ: I would love for you and I to chat again in a little while, after I get in there. A big part of it is, what do we pay for all these shows? I don’t know yet. I see the Nielsen ratings but I don’t know what like the C7 or the C30s are. Or how they do in digital and how much revenue they make. We will look at all of these shows and see creatively and revenue-wise, the ones that make sense to keep doing, so I don’t know the answer to that yet. I want to figure that out as much as you do. If shows are working, and they’re profitable, of course you’re going to keep doing them, but you are right in saying that these shows were all greenlit under a different model where a lot of the money for those shows came from international, from streaming deals, all sorts of long-tail distribution that the actual CW unit didn’t get to participate in.

DEADLINE: But what is your intent? Is it possible to keep at least some of the existing CW scripted series?

SCHWARTZ: I haven’t gotten in there to fully go through it all, but gosh, I’d love to.

DEADLINE: We ran a story about a target $1 million license fee that is being floated around. Is this something that is feasible and would make a scripted series profitable for the CW?

SCHWARTZ: And how many viewers watch? CBS is a profitable company, NBC is profitable, ABC is profitable, Fox is profitable. And they spend a lot of money on programming. So, we have to grow, we have to do shows that deliver more audiences and if you do that, then you can invest more and more and more and grow with your success.

The CW is currently, as you know, not profitable. We can’t be the only broadcast network that isn’t profitable. So you can spend a million dollars on a show as long as it delivers the amount of viewers and as long as you’re monetizing it in enough places, to make it possible and to make it work. So yes, those types of license fees can work depending on how much they deliver.

DEADLINE: There are other ideas that are being talked about. International co-productions would be natural for you given your background, but are you also willing to take second window on shows or be flexible on terms, like how soon scripted series can go on a digital platform out-of-season? What other things are you looking at to make scripted shows on CW more affordable?

SCHWARTZ: I think everything is on the table. First and foremost, being able to work with the entire media industry instead of just two core suppliers. Being able to go out there and work with really large companies and really small companies. I remember Prentice Penny who’s gone on to become one of the top showrunners in our industry, when we did his first scripted show at Fuse for the tiniest of budgets.

And Millicent Shelton, who’s one of the top TV directors in Hollywood today directed two of those episodes, we won an Image Award for Best Director. So again, when you can get out there and think entrepreneurially about business models, everything you just said — looking to do co-productions, looking at financing models, looking at second windows or first windows with a streaming partner — I think we are going to be open to all. We will have to be open to all entrepreneurial opportunities to make great content, and under the new way that the CW is structured, we’re open to everybody. Let’s just find great, great content that works. It’s not even so much about the budgets. It’s about making them profitable. You can spend a lot of money on a show if it makes more money for you.

DEADLINE: The CW signaled a potential shift to multi-camera comedies and drama procedurals over the summer while [former chairman and CEO] Mark Pedowitz was still there. Are you going to continue that and try to go into those genres?

SCHWARTZ: I think one of the most fun times in my career was doing One Day at a Time. Gloria [Calderon Kellett] and the team there was just so fantastic, and I loved every minute of it, I loved going to the table reads. Doing multi-cam is really special, and if you get it right, you can do it at scale. So it’d be silly not to look at comedy, especially with the world in the shape it’s in right now. Comedy is a wonderful escape. So yes, we’d love to look at that.

My experience with procedurals is they can certainly be expensive. So is there a way of doing it in a way that is that is more efficient? A great example of that actually is SkyMed. A co-production between Paramount+ and CBC, it’s a medical procedural, with some 911, rescue energy to it. If you can do a procedural and figure out how to put the partnerships together to make it work, of course, that’s the type of content that works all across the country. So yes to all of it.

DEADLINE: Have you spoken yet with CW’s EVP Development Gaye Hirsch and VP Alternative Cyle Zezo? Do we know anything about what their future might be at the network?

SCHWARTZ: I know Gaye, of course, from when I was consulting there, but no idea. I’ll get there and meet everybody and see what people want to do.

DEADLINE: You brought a lot of your top executives at Pop to Capra. Could any of them join you at The CW?

SCHWARTZ: We had an incredible team at Pop TV, I just I loved them all dearly. It was us against the world. We were only about 100 people, everyone knew each other’s names, we had the smallest resources in the industry, we competed with titans, and we won more Emmys two years ago than anyone besides Netflix and HBO. So I would be honored to work with any of them again but there also is a great team at The CW. Let’s get in there and we’ll figure it out. But yeah, I would love nothing more than to work that team again.

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DEADLINE: Over the past couple of years, The CW kept expanding to eventually seven nights a week of original programming. What is the plan now? Will you keep that or will you scale back?

SCHWARTZ: My understanding when this job was presented to me and in all the conversations I’ve had is that we are a seven-night-a-week network, two hours a night, and that’s what we’re allowed to sell. Now things can change. I have not heard of any changes to that at all. But my understanding that we are a seven days a week.

DEADLINE: We are in the middle of the traditional development season, to which you don’t have to adhere. Since there already is scripted programming on the network, are you thinking about even ordering pilots this season? Do you have that in the budget, and what is your model in terms of straight-to-series versus pilots? Are you open to both?

SCHWARTZ: Yes, again, I got everything to figure out. In my career, I’ve had resources that have been on the lower end. And so when you have a really good idea, you have a really good team, and you’ve really good talent, sometimes you just got to take a swing and say go do it. Other times you have ideas that are like, I kind of need to see if it works, and you go make a pilot, or sometimes you make a little presentation that’s 10 minutes long or you order three more scripts — you’d be like wow, the first script is great, I think I need three more to really see if they can keep delivering this level of quality or quantity, or comedy or whatever it is.

I think for us to win, we’re going to have to be nimble. For us to win we’re going to have to consider everything. It’s kind of just a big broad answer to your question, but it’s true. And we have to be open to all ideas, all content creators, all models in order to go out there and do what we need to do and compete with much bigger networks.

DEADLINE: Have you spoken yet with Greg Berlanti, who has been The CW’s top producer?

SCHWARTZ: I have not. I know Dennis has, but I have not no. I look forward to that. We have a lot of friends in common. And he’s obviously wonderful.

DEADLINE: The CW’s unscripted slate consists of a handful of shows, Penn & Teller, Masters of Illusion, World’s Funniest Animals…

SCHWARTZ: Those do very well.

DEADLINE: They do. Talk about your plans to ramp up unscripted. In your career, you have done shows like Billy on the Street. What areas are you looking to expand into? Could we see reality competition shows on The CW?

SCHWARTZ: When it comes to unscripted, this is something I learned at MTV from the amazing Liz Gateley. I remember I once pitched them a show and it was like a Hills show but was to take place in Whistler, and it was a great show. Liz taught me a valuable lesson, she said, where we’ve always been most successful at MTV is when we make something new, not when we copy ourselves. When we do The Osbournes it works but don’t you try to do five other Osbournes it doesn’t.

When you first do The Hills, when you first do Real World, when you first do Ridiculousness. But then if you just try to roll out copycats, it never works and it never breaks through in culture. It was a lesson that I take to this day, and it’s harder and harder with how many billions of hours of content that are being made right now and billions of dollars that are being spent on content, to find unique things, to not just be a copycat, to not just do the same old competition show or the same old Housewives reality show. Those are all awesome and they kill it. But it’s going to take a lot of effort, a lot of creativity to find those things that are really different. And so at this point, talking to you now, my answer is, we definitely are going to do unscripted, it’s an area I’ve had success, but we got to figure out ways of doing things that you don’t find elsewhere.

DEADLINE: Do you have an idea about The CW brand a year from now? Right now it’s a network for young adults and home of DC shows. We have read a lot about Nexstar trying to make it broader.

SCHWARTZ: I will be overseeing marketing and branding. I am excited about figuring out the right brand direction. But what I will say is in my experience with networks in my career, I kind of know the recipe for how this goes.

But what I also know is, you have to know what your house is before you know what color to paint it. Before we know what the brand is going to mean, or what it’s going to be or what the logo is going to be, let’s build the house first. And so that’s number one, what is the house that we’re building? And who is that house being built for? Before we start thinking about the color of the drapes and the color of the house. So it’s a great question. I look forward to digging into that question myself. I don’t have an answer right now.

DEADLINE: You have a lot of friends in Canada. Are you getting a lot of calls, have you already earmarked some potential shows that you can either bring in as acquisitions or have CW join in as co-producer?

SCHWARTZ: Yes, I already have shows in mind. Yes, I already have people in mind. And yes, my phone has been blowing up with calls from the 416 area code.

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