On The Fifth Day Of Christmas... My true love (TV) gave to me - Five broadcast nets.
As opposed to six last year. (Of course I'm not including My Network TV here any more than I ever counted PAX. It exists, but it's not thriving and it's not available here. So there.)
Beyond a doubt the merger of UPN and The WB networks was the biggest "industry" story of the year. I'm not sure what anyone expected but I'm pretty sure none of them got it. Let's start out on the business side. Both networks were hemorrhaging money. Now there's only one network but for reasons we'll get into, it doesn't seem to be awash in cash. Then there's the name. The CW? Where does that come from? Actually I know where that comes from - it's the Columbia-Warner Network - but how many other people know that. The name should have been changed but it wasn't. Unfortunately the logo was and it turned into that green on green monstrosity that looks like it came from the '70s or from CN Rail. And don't even get me started about the network web page, which is also that sickly green.
What I will go on about is programming and audiences. The merged networks commissioned a grand total of two new shows, one comedy and one drama. For the rest they went with shows that had been on the two networks previously. Virtually all of the comedies came from UPN and the network said quite openly that they were courting the African American market with them. The other major acquisitions from UPN were Veronica Mars, America's Next Top Model, and Friday Night Smackdown. Most of the dramas came from The WB including that network's most popular show ever Seventh Heaven which had actually declared that it was airing it's series finale the previous May. Other shows were dropped including Everwood, which sparked a considerable amount of anger from fans. They wanted their show to continue and for Seventh Heaven to go as scheduled.
Audiences for most of the CW shows are at or below the levels that they had achieved. This apparently came as a surprise to a lot of people including people at the network. They seem to have believed that merging the two networks would have the effect of merging their audiences. The belief that people who had watched (for example) Everybody Hates Chris and Love Inc. would migrate to Smallville rather than to shows on one of the other networks or to something on cable was obviously a pipe dream. That's not to say that there haven't been successes - on particularly weak nights for Fox, CW shows have actually finished in fourth place for the night. The problem is that such occasions are more the result of extremely bad ratings for Fox shows rather than particular successes for The CW. In short the merger hasn't been as successful as some people had hoped.
There are aspects of this that I can't help wonder about. Would The CW have been better off if they had dropped a higher percentage of their existing shows in favour of new programs? Those people who saw the Aquaman trailer seemed to like it. How about if they hadn't decided to group all of their African-American comedies into a single block? Probably most important is whether there was some way for the merged networks to lower expectations. After all, perception is half the battle, and if The CW didn't live up to the expectations of fans, critics and most importantly advertisers then they are perceived as losers and the downward spiral begins.