Justice League may have disappointed in the box office this month, but at least DC can still rely on its other major superhero team-up: The CW’s annual four-series crossover, which kicks off tonight.
This is the third year that the network will bring together the stars of its entire DC superhero lineup—Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and DC’s Legend of Tomorrow—for a week-long storyline that unfolds across episodes of all four shows.
As usual, The CW has high hopes for this year’s crossover, entitled Crisis on Earth-X. “Maybe we’re a little bit too grandiose in this, but we call it the Super Bowl of The CW, because it is that big of an event for us,” said Rick Haskins, evp, marketing and digital programs. “It is the most important event for the entire year, and so we do look beyond the four shows to our entire [network] audience, and the DC world as well.”
Last year’s four-day crossover led to the network’s most-watched week ever, according to president Mark Pedowitz. The network is shaking up this year’s event by holding it over two nights instead of four. Supergirl and Arrow will air tonight, while The Flash and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow wrap up the event on Tuesday. Haskins explained that this year is blocked as two movies that are two hours long, which has “changed the structure of how we’re going to roll it out, and the way that we position it as well.”
Though shortening the ratings bumps from four days to two may seem counterintuitive, the network and studio opted to experiment with a condensed schedule this year. Pedowitz, who patterned the crossovers after the annual Doctor Who Christmas specials, said the decision followed a “healthy, vigorous discussion.”
“At the end of the day, we felt, we know what four nights look like; now we’ll see what two nights look like,” he explained. “[W]e could go back to four nights [next year], but you have to be careful in terms of how you spread that wealth,” he explained. “You don’t want to overkill it.”
This season, Pedowitz also debated moving the crossover to January; the shows might have enjoyed a longer ratings boost than in December, when each series goes on hiatus a week after the big event. Ultimately, his team decided that “we’ve staked out a week, we have momentum and we can make noise.”
In 2015, the CW’s first superhero crossover saw Arrow and Flash facing off, while the superheroes teamed up to take on aliens in the 2016 iteration. This year, members of Earth-X—an alternate universe in which Germany won World War II and Supergirl, The Flash and Green Arrow are evil—crash the wedding of The Flash/Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and Iris West (Candice Patton).
Haskins isn’t worried that the producers will run out of ways to make the crossover deliver on the network’s sky-high expectations. “As a kid growing up, the thing I loved most of all is the comic books, once a year, that had them all together. So I think the fact that they’re going to be all together is enough fun for me, that I don’t really care who they’re fighting,” he said. “It’s them all together and either liking each other or hating each other, so I don’t think that’s going to be the case.”
The CW’s marketing campaign for the crossover initially began mostly over social media a month and a half ago. The network didn’t release a trailer until last Monday, which happened to be right after Justice League’s opening weekend; however, the network said there was no DC directive to separate the marketing campaigns for its two big superhero groupings, and that the trailer simply wasn’t ready until then.