Sunday, April 01, 2007

Super TV preview: The CW

(Over the course of a few days, SDD will be offering up its thoughts on what the networks may do with their lineups next fall as they enter the time period when they consider what to cancel and what to pick up. This is only based on unverified gossip and a little guesswork based on what networks have done in the past. We'll go alphabetically by network, and if you want to see what we predicted for ABC, go here, and our CBS prediction is here. And here's last year's CW prediction. Don't consider any of this official news. It's just our predictions.)

by Todd and Jon

When it comes to inauspicious debuts, The CW pretty much takes the cake. A weird chimera pieced together from the pieces of two dying networks, it purported to be chasing 18-34 year olds (especially women), but its schedule wandered all over the map and didn't manage to attract anyone, outside of America's Next Top Model. But one show can't keep a whole network afloat. Two WB mainstays brought over to the network, 7th Heaven and Gilmore Girls, to goose ratings saw slight ratings decline and couldn't spread their hit status to other shows. In the case of Heaven, resurrected at the last minute after an episode advertised as the show's last, this was particularly disappointing, as the show had been The WB's biggest for years and years. Both new shows picked up -- Runaway and The Game -- disappointed as well, as did three marginal shows brought over to pair with shows seen as more compatible (Veronica Mars, One Tree Hill and Supernatural, which, to be fair, has to go up against two of the biggest shows on television). Curiously for a network trying to attract younger demographics, it took forever for The CW to get its shows up on iTunes or on its Web site. They're finally there, but The CW was the last of the five major networks to not offer some sort of online viewing.

All of this, paired with the fact that Heaven and Gilmore will likely both end their runs this year (Gilmore could see an 11th hour resurrection) and what looks like a poor pilot development season, means that shows that would be ending their runs under any logical system may get another chance, including all three of the shows listed above. Everybody Hates Chris, a fine family sitcom with mediocre ratings, has already been picked up for a third season, perhaps indicating just how desperate The CW is to find hits wherever they can.

If The CW has two knights in shining armor, they're Model, a reality series that seems to perform better and better with every season and has placed third in its timeslot for its target demographic for a few weeks this season, and Gossip Girl, which looks to be one of the most buzzed-about pilots for next year, seeing as it's based on a popular series of books aimed at teenage girls. The old WB, low-rated as it technically was, always saw plenty of buzz from its shows aimed at teens, and this could be a return to that tradition. Indeed, both One Tree Hill and Veronica Mars do better with teens than anybody else, and the possible renewals of both may have more to do with the success in that demographic than anything else. By pairing Model with Gossip Girl and sending One Tree Hill to a night with few teen options, The CW could create a beachhead with that audience (though One Tree Hill's characters will all be out of college next year, which may turn off portions of that audience).

The CW can take more relief in Smallville, which continues to perform well with young men, and Friday Night Smackdown, which does the same. Smallville is getting old, though, and Smackdown's contract is up at the end of next season. If the network wants both to keep airing, it's going to get more and more expensive (just as Gilmore's return would probably require the proverbial dump truck of money). So, as you can see, outside of Model and the great white hope of Gossip Girl, The CW is in a hard place.

For now, we're going to operate from the idea that both Gilmore and Heaven will end and all three beleaguered shows will be back (Veronica re-tooled to be more of a procedural and take place in the world of the FBI). This may not be the case, but The CW can't just cancel everything and will need all the familiar faces it can find. If the network makes a deal with Gilmore, presume that Veronica will be canceled. If it makes a deal with Gilmore and Heaven, anything can happen.

Let's take a look at the current schedule, night by night.

Sunday: One Tree Hill has started airing here (inexplicably, I might add), but for most of the season, 7th Heaven held down the fort, getting ratings smaller than what it was used to and being surrounded by repeats, especially of Model and its midseason replacement, Beauty and the Geek, and the last season of Reba. The CW tried to throw its African-American-centered sitcoms on this night for one week in the fall, but it was a disaster of an experiment. This night will likely need a complete retool.

Monday: The CW brought over three of UPN's African-American-centered sitcoms and paired them with new show The Game. The original plan was to put 7th Heaven here (where it's been for years) with Runaway, but, again, that bombed. The comedies do all right, but nowhere near as well as many of the same comedies used to do on UPN, particularly Chris and Girlfriends. All of Us will probably be gone to open up space for a new comedy, as will The Game.

Tuesday: Gilmore Girls plugs along, though it has been fallible this season, with new showrunner David Rosenthal trying to dig out of the hole left for him by Amy Sherman-Palladino. The show was expected to give its usual halo effect to the perennially low-rated Veronica Mars, but it simply didn't happen outside of a few weeks when Veronica had better promotion than it usually does (the ads have made the show look like a soap, which it isn't). Currently, The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll is airing on this night and doing well enough, but how many seasons can that premise be stretched out?

Wednesday: America's Next Top Model airs here. Some weeks, it beats NBC's Friday Night Lights and whatever ABC puts in the time slot in the key demographics. The show won't grow forever, but The CW has showed restraint by not exploiting it too much. One Tree Hill used to air here, as did Beauty and the Geek (between Model cycles). Right now, Pussycat Dolls repeats are airing post-Model, and they do better than the original airings some weeks.

Thursday: The CW has a tough row to hoe here, going up against much more popular shows on the Big Three, but Smallville continues to carve out its own niche with the geeks and the action fans. Supernatural, which has had a fine second season, simply can't compete with the CSI and Grey's Anatomy monoliths, though it holds quite a bit of the Smallville audience most weeks. Regardless, it will probably move to another night.

Friday: Wrestling does about as well as anything else would do, and it's relatively cheap to produce in seasons when the contract doesn't need to be renewed.

Saturday: The CW doesn't program Saturdays.

Keeping all of that in mind, let's take a look at what might be The CW's best option for next season. Check out what the network has ordered to pilot here.

7 p.m. -- CW Now (new series)
7:30 p.m. -- Dash 4 Cash (new series)
8 p.m. -- Supernatural (new night and time)
9 p.m. -- Veronica Mars (new night)

The CW will probably ultimately schedule a reality repeat somewhere on this night, but putting an entertainment news magazine and a game show in the 7 p.m. hour would be a low-cost way to try something new. And changing the rest of the night to a genre/cult night would certainly set the network apart from the other networks. If Veronica is canceled, look for The World According to Barnes to take its place here.

8 p.m. -- Everybody Hates Chris
8:30 p.m. -- Aliens in America (new series)
9 p.m. -- Girlfriends
9:30 p.m. -- Eight Days a Week (new series)

Chris and Aliens seem made for each other (seeing as both series are about an outsider's perspective on white American society). Girlfriends will likely see its last season next year, and the promotion for the series stating that fact should draw viewers who left back to see how it wraps up. Finally, it may just be our desire to see The Chlum every week, but Eight Days a Week sounds like it would mesh well with Girlfriends.

8 p.m. -- One Tree Hill (new night and time)
9 p.m. -- Viewsers (new series)
9:30 p.m. -- Hell on Earth (new series)

One Tree Hill may do well enough with teens in this slot to survive the return of American Idol (which is actually less popular with teens this season, suggesting a decline is on its way). Viewsers is another cheap series, and its YouTube-esque format would be popular with One Tree's younger viewers. And Hell on Earth is mostly here because it's a comedy about a young person and I'm not sure if Viewsers is a half hour or not. If it's an hour, obviously, Hell on Earth doesn't make the schedule. Expect to see the One Tree season split in two to make room for the return of Pussycat Dolls at midseason.

8 p.m. -- America's Next Top Model
9 p.m. -- Gossip Girl (new series)

As discussed above, this might be a night that could save the whole network, presuming Gossip Girl is any good (and early word is positive). Beauty and the Geek would spell Model at midseason.

8 p.m. -- Smallville
9 p.m. -- Reaper (new series)

Smallville holds down the fort, and Reaper sounds a bit like Ghost Rider and other popular comics. Its harder edged characters and situations (which involve Satan himself) certainly won't be mistaken with CSI or Grey's.

8 p.m. -- Friday Night Smackdown

No reason to mess with this.

8 p.m. -- Local affiliates' programming

Or this.

At midseason, expect Gravity or The World According to Barnes to step in. In addition, I would expect a random reality show or two to pop up, simply because that seems to be The CW's way. There may be a comedy or two as well, but I wouldn't dare speculate. Two promising projects, MILF and Cookies and Diane Ruggiero's pilot, have reportedly slipped to next season, making things even more confusing. Wild at Heart, shot in South Africa, and I'm Paige Armstrong, from Commander-in-Chief's Rod Lurie, probably have shots as well.

The CW is a network in grave danger. The network TV model is becoming outmoded, and as ratings continue to decline, there may not be room for a netlet. The network's best bet is to mix
whatever remaining shows it has with high-octane pilots. And it remains uncertain that that will happen.

In short, your guess is as good as ours.

Tomorrow: Fox can do whatever it wants. Every episode of American Idol makes them $15 million!


Jon said...

The more I look at the dire situation that The CW is in, the more I become certain that they're not surviving the decade.

Until then, I think that looks like a decent line-up. I'm still not certain about Veronica Mars returning, though that might be blind hope since the idea of Veronica at the FBI just doesn't ring well with me at all.

Anonymous said...

My God can you (CW) ever get through a day without, dead air or station broadcasting problems. Who if anyone works there ? Bunch of druggies or people with their heads up their dark spots?