At the 2014 Television Critics Association summer press tour, CW president Mark Pedowitz was asked about the cancellation of The Carrie Diaries, the Sex and the City prequel that had scored some of the best reviews in the network’s young life. He claimed that while the show had a strong digital presence, it simply wasn’t “economically feasible” to bring the period drama back for a third season, as the show’s on-air ratings never quite matched up with its online streaming numbers. However, despite what gaps there might have been between the show’s performance and the expectations the network had going into season two, The Carrie Diaries deserved a third 13-episode season, with its cancellation signaling something troubling for The CW going forward.
An important aspect of The CW’s rebuilding has been the abundance of pre-sold titles, projects that have a certain amount of audience before one scene can be shot. The network has done well in finding genre titles that find their new aesthetic and production values, including Arrow and upcoming The Flash, but they’ve yet to find their own Pretty Little Liars, a soap based on a best-selling novel series that captures the imaginations, eyes, and Twitter accounts of a large swath of young women. While The Carrie Diaries might not have been the commercial success that the network had been looking for, its low-key earnestness and lack of salacious plot twists keeping it from exploding on social media, it was the closest thing The CW had to a soap franchise and that’s not something to give up when they’ve shown no interest in cultivating non-genre programming. Keeping The Carrie Diaries would have allowed The CW to have a prime example of their continued commitment to this type of project and of their forward thinking when it comes to monetizing content; Carrie might not have had the on-air success that the network wanted, but for The CW to throw away a strong digital audience that isn’t getting served by other outlets shows that while they might talk a good game about how they’re ahead of their broadcast brethren in terms of valuing online numbers, they’re still tethered to the traditional ways of supporting and evaluating content.
Not only would keeping The Carrie Diaries have shown The CW’s loyalty to an impressive, recognizable brand, it would have allowed the network to have more non-genre content to play with. Currently, the network is left with a downsized Hart of Dixie, which will have to deal with star Rachel Bilson’s pregnancy and its own dwindling ratings, and telenovela-inspired Jane the Virgin, which will be facing the tough task of airing with an incompatible lead-in on a traditionally tough night for the network, if you’re looking for shows without a supernatural presence. Reign‘s flirtation with the supernatural in the form of Clarissa likely helped it foster an audience from a weakened Vampire Diaries, while a second season that doesn’t exactly sound like a costume drama should keep it from sticking out from the rest of the network’s offerings, something that Hart of Dixie and Jane the Virgin won’t be able to say come October. Had The CW ordered another season of The Carrie Diaries, Jane could have found a more hospitable home than its potentially rough Monday time slot, while Hart might have had a stronger chance at securing itself a fifth season if there were other shows of its ilk to pair it with, thereby keeping non-genre content as a vital piece of The CW schedule and allowing the network to not just pay lip service to the idea of having a balanced schedule. Without Carrie, though, Fridays have turned into a home for cheap unscripted programming (America’s Next Top Model, Whose Line is it Anyway), repeats, and low-rated dramas that won’t do as much damage to the schedule (Hart of Dixie, potentially Beauty and the Beast), while the rest of the week is filled to the brim with science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
In a lot of ways, the schedule The CW has put out is an inverse of the oft-derided Dawn Ostroff era, where genre content was confined to the Friday night ghetto while glamorous primetime soaps littered the friendlier weeknights, and they’re facing the possibility of overcompensating for that period of their existence and hurting themselves in the end. Granted, genre programming has effectively broadened out The CW’s audience and made them a network more critics are able to freely admit they watch, as well as the fact that other broadcast networks have specific niches they cater to (e.g. ABC and primetime soaps/family comedies, CBS and crime procedurals/multi-cam comedy), but The CW is effectively teaching fans of a certain type of programming that they’re not welcome anymore. Through their programming and development choices, they’re cutting off a certain segment of their potential audience and keeping their network from having as diverse a viewership as it could; the cancellation of something as self-assured and well-regarded as The Carrie Diaries, which came into existence with a fairly broad audience already, is a signal to those who create and consume non-genre content that The CW has turned a corner, that nothing lacking superheroes or supernatural entities will be given the support and time necessary to gain a following. With faith in how The CW handles their soapier content falling as a result of their treatment of The Carrie Diaries, Hart of Dixie, and so forth, fans of that type of content will be less likely to invest their time and energy into new CW soaps, which will lead to more cancellations and the eventual secession of non-genre content on the network. Effectively, The CW has killed a whole side of its identity and turned itself into a niche cable network, a Syfy-lite whose standard for success will have to shift if there is any meaningful dip in its number of female viewers.
The Carrie Diaries was an intelligent, earnest teen drama in a television landscape where programming aimed at young people has to be bigger, louder, and more explosive in order to gain a foothold. It told stories that aren’t seen on television today and approached sexuality as thoughtfully and naturally as can be, which makes the way it was mishandled by The CW all the more disappointing. By moving the show to Fridays, airing it through the month of December, and not giving it anything resembling a lead-out or promotion, The CW destroyed their best chance at having a soap franchise and allowed one of their best reviewed series to wither away to nothing, all due to network/studio politics and the idea that dramas that don’t take place in a heightened reality aren’t the best fit for them at this time. The network might be on a high right now, and surely will find success with The Flash next season considering that their entire fall schedule is built around launching the Grant Gustin-fronted drama, but eventually, the bottom will drop out of their genre-heavy schedule and it’ll make the loss of shows like The Carrie Diaries, full of potential that the network wasn’t able to see, all the more difficult to bear.