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It was pointed out to me recently that ABC is now a chick network. I was asked what shows, aside from Lost, do I seek out each week from the alphabet. I couldn’t think of any offhand. The thing is, ABC may be a chick network but The CW is a chick targeting network now. Since the mingling of WB and UPN three years ago the network has turned to girls to drive the audience. An interesting tactic, but one that has come back to haunt the now fledgling network.
For a moment there it was thought CW could follow in Fox’s footsteps. Launch some original and revolutionary shows that build a core fanatic audience. Reaper, Smallville and Supernatural appeared to be ripe with opportunity. While Reaper is still as funny as always, I can’t help but feel the CW has missed the mark. They’ve created often cookie cutter shows that do nothing but entertain a handful of people each week.
With the stagnant state of the above mentioned shows the network has turned full force to girls. Right now a Gossip Girl spinoff is being worked on, and despite a 20% plus decline in viewers overall from last year for the CW shows like One Tree Hill are staying strong or even growing incrementally.
The issue is that such shows are a product of the times; they are in essence a fad. It’s the US Weekly of television entertainment. Whereas Fox used Married with Children and The Simpsons to build a solid foundation upon where to build a network that could take risks, and sometimes endure the typical bad executive decisions. The CW doesn’t have that. Smallville is a soap opera, and Reaper has so much potential but it would seem the show either won’t be back or will be undermined by the network to become much more about the Sam and Andi dynamic.
The popularity of Gossip Girl points to the genius of what the CW is trying to do. Unfortunately that popularity isn’t as great as any network would hope it to be. The CW is just hanging on, and in three years has yet to post viewership numbers that would indicate they’ll ever compete on the major network level. Unlike FX or USA, the CW is not a cable network. They have to compete on the same field as ABC and CBS. The advantage of riskier stories and subjects isn’t an option. There can be no Damages on the CW.
But there can be a 24, or a Lost. Shows that gain huge numbers while simultaneously building a loyalty to the network. What the major networks, which Fox is clearly now one of, know is that you can’t always play to the fad. Most certainly you can’t target one minor demographic across your entire schedule. That’s for a cable network to do.
If the CW is serious about staying around longer than Supernatural remains on the air then they have to look into broadening their horizons. They have to take the risk of having a subversive show.
Things are not looking good for that prospect. Right now the network in the process of producing yet another girl driven show in The Body Politic, which focuses on a young woman who comes to Washington, D.C. to become an aide in order to learn more about her father. The premise for the hour drama is yet another in a cavalcade of girl focused programming. This may be what CW Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff intends for the network, but it has little growth potential.
A successful 90210 and Melrose Place spinoff may be lucrative for the development studios, but for the CW it’s a potential death knell. Even the cable networks are branching out their content a little bit. FX has not only hard hitting drama like Damages, but a lighter side to the same coin in Rescue Me. USA has its quirky Monk and Psych comedies, but allows Burn Notice to tread lines far closer to the MacGuyver’s and Magnum’s of olden times.
Fans of shows like Gossip Girl need to be worried, because if the CW goes down there’s little chance any of the major networks will take a second look at the series. I don’t care what ABC wants to run the rest of the week to keep themselves a major player, as long as I can still have my Lost fix. If Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy weren’t allowed to flourish then who knows if I’d be able to watch Sawyer parade around as Mr. LaFleur. Variety isn’t just the spice of life, it’s the way to get your network to a place where Dollhouse and American Idol can co-exist. The CW is slowly abandoning that paradigm for something far riskier than subversive programming; a complete irrelevance to the viewing public.
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