Dawn Ostroff TCA Interview: The President of Entertainment for The CW Television Network talks SMALLVILLE, SUPERNATURAL, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, NIKITA, HELLCATS, More

     July 30, 2010

At the Television Critics Association Press Tour on Thursday afternoon, Dawn Ostroff, President of Entertainment for The CW Television Network, took some time to talk to the press about the network’s upcoming programming and how it will fit in with it’s current slate of shows.

Last season, The CW premiered The Vampire Diaries, which went on to become the network’s #1 series. This season, the hit vampire drama will be paired with Nikita (which stars Maggie Q)m, in an attempt to bring both shows a wider audience. The other new Fall series, Hellcats, from executive producer Tom Welling and starring Ashley Tisdale and Alyson Michalka, will be paired with Tyra Bank’s reality series America’s Next Top Model.

Along with explaining their Internet marketing campaign, Dawn Ostroff also gave some hints as to what fans can expect from the upcoming seasons of The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural, which has a new show-runner this year, as well as the last season of Smallville. Check out what she had to say after the jump:

Question: How will the new shows fit in with the current programming slate?

Dawn: We are building this network show by show. Last season, we launched a show that has become a breakout hit for this network and our #1 series, which is The Vampire Diaries. We also added a new drama that we fell in love with, called Life Unexpected, and we are proud to have it back for another season.

As The CW enters its fifth year, we are well positioned for growth. For the first time in our history, we now have original programming across the entire fall schedule, on every night and in every time period. We’ve made some strategic moves with our returning shows, and we are introducing two new shows this season, in Hellcats and Nikita, which we are very excited about.

The 15th cycle of Top Model is going to be focusing on the high fashion world, and our prize is going to be the cover of Italian Vogue, which is considered to be the most influential magazine in the world for the fashion business. We also have the 200th episode and the final season for Smallville. And, we have Gossip Girl in Paris this year, for the first few episodes.

What prompted you to put Nikita and Hellcats on your schedule?

nikita_cw_tv_show_posterDawn: Well, we have been trying to develop a female-empowering action-adventure show for a couple of seasons. When we received the Nikita script, we were thrilled because it was a show that we felt more realistic than a lot of the scripts that we had read. It had a female character who had a real passion and a reason why she was being driven. We also liked the idea that it was set in the world of spies, and the writing was very strong. Danny Cannon did an amazing job directing the show, and McG is one of the producers. It just was an incredible package. And then, when we set out to cast it and we heard Maggie Q was interested in the role and we saw her in a screen test, we knew it was going to be pretty special.

Hellcats was a different story because it was one of the underdogs. It was a script that we developed, having no real sense of what it would be, in the end. It was based on a book and, when we read it, we really all were so surprised that we liked it as much as we did. It had characters that had some depth to them. We liked the idea that the main character was really struggling to be able to stay in school, had a real drive to become a lawyer and was doing this as a way of keeping a scholarship. And, it just felt a little older too, particularly when you get into college. They’re kids in their 20s, so it’s not the same as some of the other shows that we had read about. And, with the fact that it had big production numbers in every episode, and that people loved watching the cheering and the dancing, we knew it could really work for us after Top Model.

Can you talk about your use of Internet marketing for your programming?

Dawn: We were the first network to use Twitter and Facebook to connect with our audience and talk about our shows. What’s interesting is that now Facebook and Google meet with their clients and ask if they could use us as an example, as to how they should be using the technology. This past year, we unveiled one of our biggest digital innovations – our new online sales initiative. We need to find a way to accurately measure all the viewers across the different platforms. No viewer should be left behind.

Our new convergent strategy, which we unveiled in the spring, is a big step in making that a reality and could potentially be a blueprint for the entire industry. In essence, we are putting full commercial loads within our full episodes streamed on www.CWTV.com, and it’s the only place that you can legally get full episodes for free. We’ve developed a system with our new video player, in the way that we now measure and sell online demographics and have turned our online episodes into a significant revenue stream for us. We are no longer looking at digital pennies. We’ve achieved digital dollars.

Why was there a change in show-runner on Supernatural?

Dawn: Eric Kripke, who has been a fantastic creator/executive producer of the show, felt that the show really should go on, and that he still had more stories to tell. And, Sera Gamble, who has been number two on the show for a while, was eager to step up and take on the role of executive producer. While Eric is still involved on a day-to-day basis, Sera is really running the show. And, Bob Singer is there, and he’s been there all along as well.

The show had seemed like it was ending, at the end of this last season. When did you decide to renew it and why?

supernatural_tv_show_imageDawn: We looked at Supernatural last year and, creatively, I think it had its strongest season ever. We also saw that the ratings went up. When they came in and pitched us ideas for the season, we were really excited about the direction that they wanted to go in. It will be a bit of a throwback, going back to the first season. It’s a bit of a switch in the characters, where Sam is a little bit more like Dean, and Dean is going to be a little bit more like Sam. But, they had some innovative ways to approach the season. We all thought it may be even stronger than last year, so we are excited that the show will be back.

Can you expand more on the direction of Supernatural for the upcoming season?

Dawn: In the first season, Sam and Dean were pretty much were hunting something different, every single week, and they’re going to go back to that format. The one twist, aside from the guy’s personalities changing a bit is that their mother’s side of the family is going to turn out to be hunters also, so there will be some storylines involving their mom’s side of the family.

How much more life do you see in that series, more than one more year?

Dawn: I would hope so. I think we’re all feeling really enthusiastic about Supernatural. They had their best creative season yet last year and everybody on the show still feels that there’s a lot of juice left in the characters, so we hope it goes on for more seasons, for sure.

Do you have any comedies in development for The CW?

Dawn: We don’t really develop comedies in development right now. When we hear something that’s funny, we develop it. Sometimes it can fit as an hour, and sometimes we’ve developed half-hours. We do have a half-hour comedy coming on, called 18 to Life, in another week, and that’s a Canadian import. It’s charming. It’s a single-camera, half-hour show and, if it does well, we’ll see where we go from there. We’ve tried a lot of comedies before, but what we’ve really been doing is developing shows that have a lot of comedy in them.

Can you talk about the success of The Vampire Diaries and why audiences have responded so strongly to the show?

Dawn: Well, I think that The Vampire Diaries certainly has struck a chord, and it’s more than it just being about vampires. The characters and the stories that Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec have been telling really are just great television, whether or not you’re into vampires. That’s almost secondary, at this point. What I think that they’ve done so brilliantly is that they have already set up an entire arc for the season. They already know exactly where they want the characters to be.

How are you looking to develop the fan base even further?

Dawn: The fan base is just growing. It’s incredible to see a show that we put on Thursday night at 8 o’clock, which was a very risky move, and it became our #1 show in one season. A lot of people had heard about the show, but they hadn’t gotten invested yet, so summertime, especially for a young audience, is a time when a lot of them go and sit down and watch the whole season in one pass, so they can be ready for a second season. But, we think it’s going to have a fantastic year. And, the fact that we’ve put Nikita on behind it is going to help not only The Vampire Diaries, but also Nikita because it’s going to have a strong lead-in and it will attract yet a different audience that will crossover between the two shows. Both will benefit, in the end.

Since this is the last season for Smallville, is there a chance that Michael Rosenbaum will come back at the end and do a cameo as Lex Luthor?

Dawn: We have left the door open. We hope that he will come back, but we don’t know if that will happen. They do have the entire season planned out, and I think it’s going to be a really thrilling last season for them. I know that a lot of the actors and the writers feel this sense of wanting to give the audience a really fulfilling series finale, and so I think it won’t disappoint.

Will there be a lot between Superman and the Zod character?

Dawn: Well, the big villain this year is going to be Darkseid, and they’re going to have Brainiac back. They’re also going to have Supergirl and Hawkman back, so they’ve got a lot of interesting surprises.

With Smallville wrapping up, have you thought about either a spin-off or perhaps another DC Comics adaptation to replace it?

Dawn: We have started to talk about other DC Comic adaptations. We haven’t picked anything up to develop yet, but we would love to see something on the air, so we’re going to work on it.