overthinking the idiot box

February 1, 2006

This Fall on The CW

Everybody Hates America's Next Top Gilmore Geek
by Michael Adams

Maybe the demise of Michigan J. Frog as The WB's mascot should have been a red flag that bigger changes were afoot.

In a company town fueled by rumors and innuendo, the total silence leading into the January 24 announcement of a merger between The WB and UPN made for a truly surprising and unexpected business maneuver. Even more shocking is that the news came on the heels of the Television Critics Association's Winter Press Tour, when the industry's power players gather in Pasadena to discuss the immediate future of the TV biz. If ever there was a place for such game-changing information to leak out, this was it.

On the surface, The CW, a joint venture between CBS Corporation and Warner Bros. Entertainment, seems like the ideal solution to a problem that has plagued UPN and The WB since their inception 11 years ago. The two networks have always been neck and neck in the ratings, essentially splitting the same target audience of advertiser-friendly 18-34 year-olds. By combining the best of both worlds, the potential exists to pool each network's viewers. For example, America's Next Top Model and One Tree Hill currently air opposite each other, forcing the same demographic to be siphoned into what amounts to a smaller audience for both shows. Airing on the same network could lead to viewership increases not only for these shows, but for all the shows that The CW carries over from the two networks.

The programming possibilities for The CW are both exciting and somewhat disheartening. I can't think of a more snarktastic pairing than Gilmore Girls being followed by Veronica Mars, but between the two networks there are not enough quality shows (a subjective contention, I know) to fill up The CW's 13 hours of primetime. Sure, they could bring over such middling fare as All of Us and Related, but shouldn't the combination of two networks create a surplus of truly exceptional product? The official press release mentions Supernatural, Everybody Hates Chris, Smallville, Girlfriends, Beauty and the Geek, Reba, Top Model, Gilmore, and Veronica as shows that may be a part of the new network (no final decisions will be made until the schedule is set at the May upfront). This still leaves more than four hours to fill, two of which will likely be taken by WWE Smackdown!. That's a total of 23 current primetime hours whittled down to less than 13!

While it is easy to poke fun at what the two networks currently have to offer as separate entities, CBS Corporation president Leslie Moonves's claim that The CW "will clearly be greater than the sum of its parts" may not be completely ludicrous. Yes, the combined efforts from both networks can't even fill the schedule, but imagine a network that will have something worth watching in almost every hour it programs. Of course, any new product remains to be seen and both networks have midseason shows yet to debut, but the existing shows are almost universally acclaimed and can only gain from supporting each other rather than competing against one another.

By contrast, The CW has at its disposal an entire slate of shows that are already very much in the public consciousness. There won't be any need for the execs to twist anybody's arm to get people to watch.
The CW is launching in a better position than any network in history„ it's going in with established hits and instant name recognition. When Fox started in 1987, it drew media attention thanks to watchdog-group protests surrounding Married...with Children, but, according to Wikipedia.org, it would be almost a year and a half before America's Most Wanted gave Fox its first top 50 Nielsen finish „ and this was at a time when there were far fewer shows on the air; it would be even longer before the network was actually taken seriously. UPN traded on the popularity of the Star Trek franchise with Voyager, but was unable to translate the fans' love for all things Trek into success for any of its other early programs. By contrast, The CW has at its disposal an entire slate of shows that are already very much in the public consciousness. There won't be any need for the execs to twist anybody's arm to get people to watch. And with the backing of two of the biggest production companies in all of television, it should be some time before the network has to resort to shows like Homeboys in Outer Space or The Mountain.

Now all they need is a name that rolls off the tongue just a little bit easier. How about asking that frog if he's got any suggestions?

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