The CW’s Brad Schwartz Dismisses Concerns That Canadian Series on U.S. TV Are Seen as a ‘Discount Bin’

As The CW has changed its financial model under new owners Nexstar, entertainment president Brad Schwartz has relied more on international co-productions from countries like Canada. Speaking on Tuesday at the Banff World Media Festival, Schwartz — who hails from Canada — acknowledged that in the past, Canadian acquisitions on U.S. networks have often been seen in a lesser light. He’s hoping that perception is changing, however.

“I would hate for anybody to ever think that Canada is the discount area, because that’s kind of our Canadian personalities in the first place,” Schwartz said. “Canada has the advantage of having some great broadcasters that are required to invest a lot of money in Canadian content. And then there are tax credits and our American dollars go farther here. I think historically maybe people didn’t respect Canadian content as much. And maybe there’s still a little bit of that in the background. I personally, as a personal ambition, have tried to change that.”

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Schwartz pointed to shows like “Schitt’s Creek” (which he developed and ran on Pop TV), “Letterkenny” and “Orphan Black” as some of the recent Emmy-winning and award-worthy shows originating from Canada.

“If I have been lucky enough or ambitious enough to have the relationships and be the one really diving in and championing that content to the world, then that makes me proud,” Schwartz said. “But the CW, we don’t have the budget that CBS and NBC or Netflix has. There’s only so much we can spend. We’ve been able to do a lot of great deals with Canada, and maybe we’re just sneaking in before everybody else.”

Canadian co-productions on The CW include “Wild Cards,” “Sight Unseen,” “Sullivan’s Crossing,” “Son of a Critch,” “Children Ruin Everything” and “Run the Burbs.”

“We like to laugh on the scripted team that sometimes it seems as though we have more Canadian relationships now than we do American because we’ve gotten so entrenched in the visibility,” said Saleena Lockett, exec director of scripted programming at The CW. But it’s been great to learn another market to have even more access to more creatives. The way that you guys do things here, even on a creative level, actually gives us access to many more projects than we can sometimes in America because of how stringent the system is and what we can get our hands on.”

The tricky part, Schwartz said, is to set the shows in a bit of a neutral setting — so perhaps Canadian audiences recognize locations like Vancouver, but U.S. audiences don’t feel like they’re missing the local references. (He compares the vague specificity of “Schitt’s Creek” in Canada to the “everytown” feel of Springfield on “The Simpsons.”) “We want to make sure that there’s that broad entry point for every moment, where everyone can feel as though this is a place where they can be they can understand and experience,” he said.

Schwartz added: “I do think that Canadian content can sit beside everything in the world these days. They’re incredible shows which we just feel lucky and fortunate that we’re the ones that got them but I would certainly not call them a discount. We just say we’re a little ahead of the crowd.”

Pointing to the difficulty of competing for shows given The CW’s limited budget, Schwartz pointed to a BBC series that was recently on the market, “The Good Girls’ Guide to Murder.” Said Schwartz: “We bid on that one. We stayed very diligent to the number that we thought we could afford. And Netflix blew us away. Wasn’t even close.”

Schwartz said The CW still hopes to air between 10 and 12 scripted series on the air — but to that end, all of those shows will require production partners. And beyond Canada, that also includes deals right now in Australia and the U.K.

“We still have great ambition to do a lot of scripted,” he said. “But it’s hard for us to do shows on our own. So the co-production route is really the only way for us to do scripted programming.”

He highlighted the new show “Good Cop Bad Cop” as another example; the Leighton Meester drama (from Future Shack Entertainment and Jungle Entertainment) includes as partners Roku (which has the second window), Australian’s Stan and the U.K.’s ITV, which distribution rights outside of the U.S. and Australia.

“And then we decided as we said to shoot in Australia, so now we’re getting government funding. We’re getting tax credits, you’re getting the advantage of foreign exchange,” he said. “You’ve got to love it first, you’re not just going to do it because of the deal. And then we have to go that extra step of really thinking creatively about how we’re going to put finances together. All of our scripted shows will be that. Canada will always be the first place that we always come for all the reasons we’ve discussed.”

Meanwhile, a genre that the CW is spending more money on is sports, which started with the network’s deal for LIV golf, which he called “a very opportunistic opportunity… our local stations are really thirsty for sports. We never thought we could afford it. And then a regional sports network went out of business and all of a sudden we got a really great deal on ACC football and basketball. That’s once we started seeing the results of all that. Then we wrote a very big check and got into the NASCAR business.”

Since then The CW has also done deals with the WWE and picked up the NFL Films series “Inside the NFL,” which he hinted is about to add a new host alongside Ryan Clark.

“Sports has been the greatest driver of new viewers for us,” he said. “I think you’ll see more sports on the CW, not less.”

Schwartz said upcoming plans include a pre- and post-show for NASCAR. The CW also has the remaining teams from the Pac 12. “There are gonna be days where we have three football games in a row,” he said. “So we are thinking we may be building a little studio so that we can go from game to game and have like a home base. All of that is in early discussion.”

Meanwhile, asked about The CW’s acquisition of Max’s “F-Boy Island,” which didn’t work out for the network, Schwartz admitted that he was “devastated” by it. “It did not do well on linear, killed on our AVOD and with the distribution revenue coming in from international, it’s going to be fine,” he said. “But it was not the breakthrough hit that I was hoping for.”

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