CW Network is now pregnant with promise

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It is the tale of a 23-year-old named Jane, a virgin, who becomes pregnant after she is artificially inseminated - accidentally.

Outlandish, thought Jennie Urman, a veteran producer, when she heard the story line of a popular Venezuelan telenovela called Juana La Virgen. Fresh off the cancellation of a medical drama, Urman was looking for a new idea to develop, but when television executives asked her to adapt the Venezuelan series for The CW network, she initially thought the premise was too crazy to pull off.

Still, she could not get the idea out of her head. What kind of doctor could make such a terrible mistake? How could this accident rock everyone's world? "The story started to come to life," said Urman, who had worked on the remake of 90210 and the series Lipstick Jungle and Gilmore Girls. "It became a story about mothers and daughters."

The show that emerged to critical acclaim is the whimsical, melodramatic comedy Jane The Virgin. Critics have praised it as a nuanced story about three generations of strong Latino women that resonates across cultures and age groups.

Jane The Virgin recently landed a pair of Golden Globe nominations - one for best comedy series and the other for best actress in a comedy series - adding wings to the show and lifting its home, CW, along with it. The Globe nominations are the first for CW, which was also the only broadcast network to score a nomination in the comedy series category.

CW's arrival "was eight years in the making", said Mr Rick Haskins, executive vice-president for marketing at CW. "There is no such thing as overnight success in today's world. It takes time to figure it out, to understand what is working and get in sync with the zeitgeist."

The recognition comes as CW is in the midst of a transformation of its own: from its roots as the frothy hub for series such as Gossip Girl to a network that is for a (slightly) more sophisticated viewer and that also appeals to men. "We felt that by becoming too niche, we were going to niche ourselves out of existence," said Mr Mark Pedowitz, president of CW.

The network was struggling when he assumed the top job in 2011. Warner Bros and CBS had established the network as a joint venture five years earlier, with the goal of improving ratings by merging their WB and UPN networks.

But the plan was not working. Series such as Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries generated buzz within a passionate fan base of young women, but the audiences were tiny and total viewership was declining. The network was estimated to be losing as much as US$100 million (S$133 million) a year.

Mr Pedowitz immediately set out to find shows that would appeal to viewers outside of the 18-to- 34-year-old demographic, without alienating CW's core audience. Executives also sought out shows with a backbone of optimism that would contrast with the gloom and doom offerings prevalent on television today. They made a successful bet on the superhero category with Arrow, about a secret vigilante based on DC Comics character Green Arrow. This year, CW landed a hit with The Flash, a spin-off of The Arrow.

Mr Pedowitz also called on his contacts across Hollywood, asking them to deliver fresh projects.

One of his early phone calls was to Mr Ben Silverman, chairman of multimedia studio Electus. When Mr Pedowitz was president of ABC Studios, the two had worked together on Ugly Betty, the adaptation of a Colombian telenovela about a nerdy woman working in a cut-throat publishing empire.

Sifting through a catalogue of ideas from South America, Mr Silverman discovered Jane The Virgin, saw its potential and recommended it to CW.

The series, starring little-known actress Gina Rodriguez as the hardworking, endearing and earnest Jane, embraces its telenovela roots with wild plot swings and wink-at-the-audience humour.

Jane is the daughter of a spirited nightclub performer, who gave birth to Jane when she was 16, and the granddaughter of a religious, Spanish- speaking grandmother. Those pressures lead Jane to abstain from sex despite being in a committed relationship. But she finds herself pregnant after a routine visit to a gynaecologist goes wrong.

Originally conceived as a drama, the series is marketed as an hour-long comedy because network executives thought that would allow audiences to suspend their disbelief and embrace the outrageous twists and turns.

On the strength of shows such as Jane and The Flash, CW is on track this year for its most-watched season to date in terms of the average number of viewers in prime time, as well as its highest ratings among men 18 to 49 since the 2007-08 season.

The premiere of The Flash set records as CW's most-watched telecast of any of its series, with more than 6.8 million watching live and in a seven-day period after its original airing.

 
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