TV Stumbled at Modernizing Nancy Drew, Until The CW Turned It Into a Supernatural Riverdale

'We thought that was the right spin,' said the network's president

In The CW's Nancy Drew, the character is working at a local diner a year after high school—and the death of her mother. Robert Falconer/The CW
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Nancy Drew has solved hundreds of cases over the years, but for several decades, there has been one mystery she was unable to crack: how to modernize herself in order to connect with TV audiences.

Since The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries aired on ABC in the late ’70s, Hollywood has tried and repeatedly failed to create a new TV show about the fictional teen detective, who has been the subject of several book series since the 1930s. A few years ago, CBS even developed a version of the character as a New York detective in her 30s, but that also did not receive a series order.

But The CW looks to have finally cracked the code on modernizing Nancy Drew, creating one of this fall’s most promising new broadcast shows in the process. Debuting tonight, the new series puts the character in a scenario that feels like a supernatural spin on the network’s hit teen drama Riverdale.

In this new version, Nancy (played by Kennedy McMann) is working at the local Horseshow Bay, Maine, diner a year after high school (and the death of her mother) when she teams up with her friends (and co-workers) to investigate the murder of a socialite that also seems to be connected to a local girl’s mysterious death.

As producers worked to develop the show, “The first thing we did is we said, ‘If we’re going to do this, she’s going to be a teenager, she’s going to come from the kind of small town that Nancy Drew in the canon comes from,’” said executive producer Noga Landau.

“And the other way we did it is we said, ‘Look, the entire canon is full of things that could be ghosts, that could be scary things that go bump in the night,” Landau said. “We’re going to actually make them ghosts. They’re going to actually go bump in the night.’”

That supernatural take on the character enticed The CW president Mark Pedowitz.

“We thought that was the right spin,” Pedowitz said. “We also wanted her a little bit older, but not as old as the CBS pilot that was done a few years back. So she’s 19. A little bit more jaded because of her mother’s death and everything, but we think it’s a contemporary version with this supernatural thriller to it.”

Pedowitz freely admits the network is leaning very heavily into Riverdale as it markets Nancy Drew which, not coincidentally, is airing after Riverdale on Wednesdays. “And we’ll have great patience with it, because like Riverdale, we believe there will be a nice linear sampling component to it, but we believe it will play very well digitally,” Pedowitz said.

The network won’t be able to rely on the Netflix bump that has boosted its other new shows like Riverdale during the past three years, due to a digital strategy shift. Now that the Netflix deal has lapsed, the network has secured in-season streaming rights on its digital platforms, meaning that all episodes of its new shows’ current season—known as the “full stack”—will be available on and The CW app, until 30 days before the start of the next season. At that point, the CBS TV-produced Nancy Drew will move to CBS All Access.

After the ’70s team up with the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew returned to TV as a short-lived syndicated series in 1995. Then, ABC filmed a pilot in 2002 for a new iteration that wasn’t picked up to series, though the pilot aired as a TV movie later that year.

More recently, CBS shot a Nancy Drew pilot four years ago in which the character was a New York police detective in her 30s. The network didn’t pick it up to series, and then NBC redeveloped the concept two years ago, but didn’t move forward with a pilot.

The show’s producers say this version of Nancy Drew is removed from the more reserved, uptight version of the character from the novels, which many modern adolescents have difficulty connecting with.

As Landau noted, “The 1930s version of Nancy Drew is actually quite scrappy. She was a flapper, she was very sassy, and underwent a rewrite that made her a little bit more of a goody two-shoes.”

And because there were no computers or Google back then, which required to her to go in person investigating in dark alleys and creepy houses, “she still felt really modern, because she was brave and fearless,” Landau said, “and that’s what we really tried to embrace.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.