Batwoman was finally canceled after limping along for two extra seasons. I saw one episode of the show (the first) and tuned out ever since. But from the sidelines, it’s been an interesting study on how the CW has tried to chase an audience that didn’t reciprocate its interest in bulk. In a country with 332 million people in it, Batwoman as a show is only trying to chase .001% of it, their core audience of 450,000.
What went wrong first? I’d say it’s that the show decided from the start not to chase the comic book fandom or the Batman fandom, but a very tiny cross section of the progressive LGTBQ+/diversity crowd that likes comics and watches TV. Instead of going for mass appeal, from the earliest trailers they made it clear they were writing for a very particular audience.
From the very first trailers, slogans about how the Batsuit would be “perfect, once it fits a woman,” and the casting of Ruby Rose (a prominent lesbian actress in the part of a lesbian superhero) really pushed who the show was trying to appeal to the most.
From a business standpoint it’s good to know who your audience is and what your product is about, but in show business with network television you need viewer volume to justify costs. One of the biggest problems with Batwoman the series was that the target demographic is notoriously tiny; each season was trying to hang onto that core audience lost the “normies” who were tuning in for the story, the action, the drama, and the links to the Batman mythos.
What numbers are we talking about? Well, let’s start with a big picture view:
The CW overall in 2021-2022 has taken some major hits, with none of their top 10 shows cracking an average of a million viewers per episode. Check it out:
On this chart Batwoman doesn’t look like it’s in terrible shape compared to the bottom half, until you also factor in that it’s lost over 60% of its viewership since season one.
As a comparison, here’s CBS’s numbers for the same season:
CBS’ lowest rated scripted show pulls in 2.276 million viewers on the average, which is better than double “Superman & Lois,” the best performing CW show on the chart, which pulls in .9 million.
Plus the retention numbers (year to year) wasn’t filled with good news either. Batwoman lost 28% of their target demographic from last year. They have around 450,000 regular viewers . . . that’s it. In comparison to Good Sam, the bottom-of-the-barrel CBS show, Good Sam had 560% more viewers!
If that wasn’t bad enough, Good Sam’s time slot is Wednesday at 10 PM! The Primetime CW shows are earlier (7–9), meaning that Good Sam on CBS as a middle-of-the-week late show crushed every CW show in what are considered the best time slots. 
What does this all mean?
Batwoman got slaughtered in ratings by the other broadcast companies and took such a beating that the WORST show on another network pulled in over 4 times the viewership. Add to that during season one Batwoman lost over 60% of the original audience.
The show was likely renewed twice because the show wasn’t the absolute bottom of the CW barrel, but compared to other TV shows on other networks, it would have been canceled after season one, maybe even during season one. However, because it’s the CW and all their shows have way lower viewership than the other companies, it survived. I also think the company didn’t want to admit defeat with this property, even after losing its main star; even after the serious dive in viewers and writing quality in season two; after all of that it was renewed for a third season. That decision defied most TV logic. It’s true some shows don’t find their footing until a few seasons in, but usually those shows have over a million interested viewers.
Batwoman isn’t alone; the CW as a company appears ready to sell off the network, (possibly to Nexstar), which may mean a radical shake up for the entire line up of shows and the company overall.
Let’s talk the technical side of the show and not just marketing. Why did it perform badly?
Time for a deeper dive. Aside from the demographic targets and the marketing of Batwoman, the production itself has had some major problems.
Batwoman . . .
- lost their original main star (Ruby Rose),
- lost their arguably biggest name actor (Dougray Scott),
- experienced the same challenges of filming a TV show or movie during COVID,
- and then had to replace Rose with newcomer Javicia Leslie playing a new character, Ryan Wilder, with no comic book background, which was a big miss with a lot of Batwoman fans, who came into the show off the strength of the comic revamp of Kate Kane.
To be frank, Ryan Wilder as a character, a reformed criminal living in a van down by the river, wasn’t a strong replacement for the cousin of Bruce Wayne, and wasn’t well written. Having an ex-criminal don the costume on a whim and just “be” Batwoman, without any story lead-up or in-universe training, didn’t do anything to enable the audience to suspend disbelief, not even the “core” audience. The whole change to a new character was a mess. Ryan Wilder’s first season’s story focused more on criminality than heroics, a bad call for a show that never found solid footing even when Rose and Scott were still in play.
The marketing for the show infamously had conflicting ideals; for instance, Kate’s insistence that she didn’t want anyone stealing the credit for her persona/work, while simultaneously stealing every aspect of the Batman identity for herself to use. This conflict in ideals also led to a conflict between the intended audience, and the wider audience, pitting the feminist ideal of a woman empowering herself against the plot reality of a woman taking on the mission and trappings of the man who started a legacy.
Ultimately, this show has suffered from a poor start, low budget, and a plague of problems both internal and external.
Could anything have saved the show?
I absolutely think so. First, if the show had kicked off with someone like Bruce Wayne having trained Kate Kane and asking her to take over due to a long absence he needed to handle, I think a lot of the core Batman fandom would have been down for the ride. Batwoman exists as a character because of Batman; instead of respecting that origin, the show tried to put a very negative light onto the character of Batman. That was a big mistake. Even the marketing divided the audience before the show even aired; by unifying Kate and Bruce to the same mission and showing a deep respect, (even familial love) between the two, that could have fostered a unification of the target audiences as well.
Second, I think the show would have been a lot better after Rose’s departure with recasting Kate Kane, and keeping Kate-the-character in the suit. An audience that was already having trouble investing in the star as the character was then asked to believe in Ryan Wilder as a super hero, when everything about her was antithetical to being a super hero. What makes Bruce Wayne Batman or Kate Kane Batwoman? Well, it’s that both honed their minds and bodies into a living weapons against crime, but through very different paths; creating a new character who is supposed to just step in and be brilliant because she believes she’s strong doesn’t work with anyone who understands reality or comic book reality.
Third, a fresh angle would have helped. “The Batman” had a nice take of focusing on Batman as a detective again. I think Batwoman would have worked better at the inception if Kate was in over her head and struggling to rise into the role. But because it’s an episodic show, a good fresh take wasn’t likely to happen. But I think it would have helped a lot.
What makes me sad about the show ending? Well, I may not have been a fan of the show, but Rachel Skarsten and I went to the same church in Los Angeles for a while and I found her to be a wonderful human being with a great work ethic and dedication to her craft. In this town there are a lot of fake people but I found her to be a real gem, so I’m a little sad she lost her job.
I’m sure she’ll bounce back just fine; she’s really beautiful, talented, and not afraid to work in Vancouver or LA. I wish her and the rest of the cast and crew a speedy journey to their next projects.