Monday, May 25, 2009

The CW’s 2009 Upfronts

Here's what The CW is planning for the coming season.

Cancelled: 4 Real, Easy Money, In Harms Way, Valentine, Privileged, 13: Fear Is Real, Stylista, The Game, Everybody Hates Chris, Reaper.

Renewed: 90210, America's Next Top Model, Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, Supernatural.

Moved: Smallville

New Shows: Vampire Diaries, Melrose Place, Beautiful Life

Not Yet Scheduled: Parental Discretion Advised.

Complete Schedule

8:00-9:00 p.m. Gossip Girl

9:00-10:00 p.m. One Tree Hill

8:00-9:00 p.m. 90210

9:00-10:00 p.m. MELROSE PLACE

8:00-9:00 p.m. America's Next Top Model

9:00-10:00 p.m. THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE

8:00-9:00 p.m. VAMPIRE DIARIES
9:00-10:00 p.m. Supernatural

8:00-9:00 p.m. Smallville
9:00-10:00 p.m. America's Next Top Model Encore

Melrose Place is, like the show preceding it, a remake of the classic Aaron Spelling night-time soap of the 1990s, with at least some people from the original series making a comeback. Well at least temporarily because a character from the original series (who was previously thought to be dead) is murdered in a plot thread that will reportedly carry through the entire season. Stars Laura Leighton and Thomas Calabro from the original series, and Shaun Sipos, Katie Cassidy, Colin Egglesfield, Stephanie Jacobsen, Michael Rady, Jessica Lucas, and Ashlee Simpson-Wentz.

The Beautiful Life is a typical CW show with a young cast and a vaguely soap opera-ish plot line. This time around the subject is the modelling industry. Raina Collins (Sara Paxton) and Chris Andrews (Benjamin Hollingsworth) are two young models just breaking into the industry, Raina at the top and Chris at the bottom. The cast includes Mischa Barton as Raina's friend and sometimes rival Sonja, Elle Macpherson as Claudia Foster who owns the agency that represents Chris. Other cast members include Dusan Dukic, Ashley Madekwe, Jordan Woolley, Corbin Bleu, and Nico Tortorella. Ashton Kutcher, Jason Goldberg, Karey Burke, Mike Kelley, and Carol Barbee are executive producers.

Like Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries is based on a series of young adult novels. Elena (Nona Dobrev) is a popular high school student who has recently suffered a personal tragedy. In the wake of this she becomes infatuated with Stefan (Paul Wesley), a mysterious new guy at school. Very soon she discovers that Stefan is in fact a vampire. Soon she encounters Damon (Ian Somerhalder) – Stefan's charming but evil older brother. The two brothers find themselves competing for Elena's soul and those of her friends.

In Parental Discretion Advised Britt Robertson plays Lux, a teenager who has spent her entire life bouncing from one foster family to another. Trying to become an "emancipated child" she is forced to track down her biological father "Baze" Bazile (Kristoffer Polaha), a guy in his thirties who owns a bar and has a couple of slacker roommates. He in turn leads her to her mother Cate Cassidy (Shiri Appleby), who hosts the local "Morning Madness" radio show with her off-air boyfriend Ryan (Kerr Smith). Cate is saddened that her daughter has been in the foster system since birth. When Lux's effort to be emancipated fails, the judge grants temporary custody to Baze and Cate who have to overcome their discomfort for the sake of their daughter.


Despite the fact that The CW is only programming five nights a week as compared to six nights from the other networks, they will have as many hours of scripted programming in the Fall of 2009 as NBC will, thanks to that network's decision to air The Jay Leno Show each week night. While The CW's eight hours of scripted programs are likely to be far less popular in terms of pure viewership than those on NBC, it is likely that the network will be relatively pleased with the results. The CW is pursuing a different sort of programming model than any of the other four networks. In effect they are narrowcasting, focussing most of their programming at a specific audience – 13-34 year-old women. While it is true that there are a couple of shows that attract an audience outside of that group – Supernatural and Smallville – most of the network's focus is on this particular niche.

Perhaps the most interesting move made by The CW isn't a new show but rather the decision to move an established show; Smallville. Probably the most popular scripted show on the network, The CW reportedly spent a great deal of money to sign Tom Welling for a ninth season. So it would seem strange to move the series from its established timeslot on Thursday – a night that has some of the highest advertising revenues in the week thanks to movie advertising – to the supposed ratings ghetto of Fridays. However there is probably an argument to be made for the move. All of the networks are starting to make a tentative effort to program scripted material on Fridays. I suspect that The CW programmers believe that Smallville has a chance to thrive on Fridays, while at the same time establishing a theme for the network's Thursday night line-up other than "guys' night." The real weakness isn't running Smallville on Fridays but rather following it with an encore of America's Next Top Model rather than a scripted show which would make better use of the show's ratings strength. The problem is finding a show that would mesh with Smallville – the mid-season replacement Parental Discretion Advised really doens't work in that

Themes do seem to be a major feature of The CW's programming. Putting Melrose Place on after 90210 seems to be a bit of simple logic – two Aaron Spelling shows which theoretically at least will not only appeal to the network's core audience but also to those with a nostalgic attachment to the original series. Similarly, the placement of The Beautiful Life, a series about the modelling industry, following the reality series America's Next Top Model is a very logical connection, creating a "fashion industry" block. The one area where this might fall down is with the placement of Vampire Diaries preceding Supernatural. While both series have an "otherworldly" theme (to avoid using the word which is also the title of one of the series), from what little I can discover from a synopsis and a few clips the handling of the theme in Vampire Diaries is hardly similar to the approach being taken on the older series. The other reasoning for placing this show in this time slot is obvious when you realise that the alternative was most likely to place the show on Friday nights without adequate support.

All in all, while no one would mistake The CW's fall line-up with that of CBS or even NBC, I'm inclined to think that it shows at least a bit of an understanding of the market they're trying to reach. There's nothing in the shows that's surprising or stands out glaringly, but the shows that The CW is putting on the air at least betrays an understanding of the audience they're hoping to reach, which is way more than can be said for some (well one) networks.

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