The CW: A Network With Identity Issues

In late November, The CW had announced that it was cancelling Emily Owens M.D., after giving full season orders to fellow freshman series Arrow and Beauty and the Beast. The announcement itself didn’t come as much as a surprise, given that Emily Owens wasn’t doing particularly well in the ratings and wasn’t particularly well-received by critics. I myself didn’t make much of the pilot, and for some odd reason, found myself continuing to watch it. The writing wasn’t anything spectacular but sometimes you need some lighter fare amidst heavy drama and not wanting to delve deep into laugh-out-loud comedy (not to mention the onslaught of comedy that was on at the same time?) What honestly struck me about the announcement was reading the comments on the entertainment news websites (EW, TVLine). There were the usual comments, ranging from “Saw it coming, can’t believe it took them this long” to “That sucks! I liked the show!” But then there were a few comments that were along the lines of “What is this show? Never heard of it. Oh right, that’s because it’s on The CW”, which particularly struck me as interesting. Now, I’ve expressed my frustrations with The CW several times over the years, namely when it comes to Nikita, but it’s comments like that that make you realize there’s a bigger issue at hand.

The CW, as a network, is a peculiar case. It is a smaller network, but is included amongst the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX), as opposed to the cable networks (USA, FX, TNT, ABC Family). It is seen as a niche market network, similar to ABC Family, mostly appealing to the 18-34 demo (one could even argue that the demo is more around 18-24). It’s position in the network TV landscape causes it to not be taken seriously by many because it is almost always last in the ratings. On the rare occasion that a CW show actually beats one of the other networks’ shows in the demo, the other show is seen as being in trouble. So how exactly did the network find themselves in this predicament?

When the network launched in the fall of 2006, it was the product of the networks, UPN and The WB, merging, based on a deal between CBS Corporation (which owned UPN) and Warner Brothers Entertainment (which owned The WB). Both of those former networks tended to appeal to the younger female audience, as evidenced by shows like Dawson’s Creek, Gilmore Girls, Felicity, Veronica Mars, and One Tree Hill. But shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel, Smallville, and Roswell attempted to lure in other viewers beyond teenage girls. When the 2 networks merged, The CW became a mish-mash of TV shows from both networks, while keeping its core demographic intact. It was the following TV season, in the fall of 2007, that The CW really started to make a name (however small) for itself, with the premiere of Gossip Girl. The show became a hit for the network, a guilty pleasure for some, and a huge target for the Parents’ Television Council for its depiction of teens and their underage drinking and sex.

To this avid TV viewer, with Gossip Girl being such a huge hit, the network seemingly over-relied on the show as a selling point. From that point on, the network became known as a place for TV shows about hot young people with their hot young people problems, as evidenced by shows that both succeeded (the 90210 reboot) and failed (the Melrose Place reboot, The Beautiful Life). When The Vampire Diaries got picked up, it still fit into that category but got the added bonus of being a known entity and cashing in on the teenage vampire craze caused by Twilight – further establishing the network’s demographic, but not really bringing in other viewers. Any other shows that wasn’t already part of the roster, which attempted to be more than just about attractive people hooking up, like Privileged and Life Unexpected, for the most part didn’t see past a first season. So for shows like Hart of Dixie and especially Nikita to be on the air right now, and not being the stereotypical CW show, in their respective 2nd and 3rd seasons is certainly a feat.

Let us not forget the glaring area of The CW’s schedule that is reality TV. The CW has one slightly stable reality show in America’s Next Top Model, brought on from the former UPN days, but has yet to find another reality TV series winner. For what it’s worth, even for a reality show, ANTM still manages to fit the CW mold.

So we come back to what issues The CW faces in becoming a viable network that can be taken seriously by all. Programming is certainly the biggest issue. Where the network is now, is not all that different from when UPN and The WB existed; on the one hand, they have very teenage fare and on the other hand, they have genre fare. The shows that play very well with the teenage crowd (GG, 90210, TVD, the upcoming Carrie Diaries) is what is making the network money. The more genre or non-teen oriented shows (Supernatural, Nikita) is what generally gets better reviews from critics/journalists, but struggle in the ratings. Lucky for the network, they have a bonafide hit in Arrow, which appeals to teens (the marketing dept. certainly knew what they were doing advertising a shirtless Stephen Amell), fanboys/girls, and critics alike. However, not every show gets the luxury of being a known entity and it is seemingly more difficult to find a show that meets every need.

Another big issue The CW has is its scheduling. As a whole, what’s working for them this season is that they held off premiering their shows until October, allowing for there to be less breaks between episodes during the run of the season. However, how the network schedules their shows and what shows get paired up has been a problem. If you look at the past few years, you’ll notice that the only show that has stayed in its time slot is TVD; everything else has changed time slots, same day or otherwise. There’s something to be said about having anchored shows, by which you build your schedule around. That also leads to another problem in that The CW only has 10 hours of original programming a week (2 hours, Monday to Friday), which does make it increasingly difficult. All of this does relate back to the kind of shows that they have which determines how the schedule looks like. Hardcore TV fans will follow their favourite shows anywhere, but the issue is with the casual TV viewer, who could watch one show and might stick around to watch the next show if it is complimentary to the first show. Hart of Dixie, as of right now, is paired with Emily Owens, which works well together. Given the cancellation of Emily Owens, that slot will go to new show Cult in the new year, leading to a big WTF? pairing. Don’t even get me going again on the choice to pair ANTM with Nikita

With the end of Gossip Girl and maybe (hopefully? wishful thinking…) 90210, it’s about time the network truly attempts to revamp their programming or at the very least, their marketing. There is certainly no shame in being the network that has shows the other networks don’t. At the same time though, no one wants to be seen as a joke. The CW really has to get down and really consider what they want to be known as, as a network. On top of that though, the marketing and PR departments have to really make a push and work on getting more exposure for all the shows, not just the ones that are big hits or what they hope will be a big hit (yes, I’m talking about the onslaught of promotion for The Carrie Diaries during the series finale of Gossip Girl). Obviously every network has their own set of issues, but The CW doesn’t have the same clout as the Big4 broadcast networks, and it’s time that they make a serious name for itself.

Hit or Miss?: Which of Fall’s New Shows Are Worth Watching?

The Fall TV season is well underway and that means that we’ve had a bunch of new shows all vying for our attention, amidst our returning favourites. I try to give most of these new shows a chance, particularly the comedies because who doesn’t want more laughter in their lives? So as follows, here’s a rundown of some of the new shows that have premiered thus far. As always, these are simply my opinions on the shows that I took an interest in to watch. Everything is subjective so don’t just take my word for it; if something interests you, check it out and make your own judgment.

PARTNERS: The series stars David Krumholtz and Michael Urie as two lifelong friends, and their respective others played by Sophia Bush and Brandon Routh. I went into this being a fan of both Urie (best known for his work on Ugly Betty) and Bush (none other than B.Davis of OTH!) so I was very much looking forward to it. Not to mention, it comes from the creators of Will & Grace. The pilot showed some promise but very much predictable, in the way that it’s setting up all the characters, relationships, etc. It definitely has the feel of a sitcom from the late 90s/early 00s, and while some critics are calling the style outdated, I personally don’t see why it can’t peacefully coexist with all the other comedies out there. Assuming of course that they don’t write themselves into a corner with outdated/stereotypical jokes and instead stay relevant. It seems to be a nice fit with the rest of the CBS comedy Monday lineup, but the episodes thus far have been so-so.

REVOLUTION [Picked up for full season]: Brought to us from J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke, the series jumps forward to a future where we have lost all electricity and power. The governments as we know it cease to exist and the country is run by a powerful militia, under the rule of a man named Monroe. It is a fascinating concept to say the least in our tech-driven world and what’s been shown so far has been promising. Of course, with such a high concept, it leaves a lot of viewers questioning whether the writers can keep momentum/interest going. Fans of genre fare have been burned one too many times over the years and so many are going in with a “proceed with caution” frame of mind. Because for every Lost or Fringe, there’s been FlashForward, The Event, Alcatraz, and many more failed attempts at highly serialized dramas. Revolution, at least thus far, has shown to be far superior than any of those failed attempts in terms of the writing, but it is certainly the adult characters (particularly Billy Burke’s Miles and Giancarlo Esposito’s Captain Neville) that are carrying the show right now.

BEN AND KATE [Picked up for full season]: When I initially heard about the show during Upfronts, I had my reservations about it. I certainly still think they could’ve at least tried to come up with a better, less-generic title but I’ll let it be for now. That’s because the pilot was actually pretty good. It was cute and had a certain charm to it. It wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but it had some awfully amusing elements to it – Ben not liking Kate’s love interest’s inability to high-5 properly; the attempt at a three-point turn in a stationwagon; Ben trying his hardest not to swear in front of his niece Maddie (which anyone with little ones in the family can certainly attest to.) I certainly will keep watching, but it might take a backseat to the whole load of other comedies on Tuesday nights and will probably be watched the day after.

THE MINDY PROJECT [Picked up for full season]: Mindy Kaling breaks out of The Office and into her own show, where she plays an OB/GYN who sort of lives her life like it’s a romantic comedy (though let’s be real, women who watch enough rom-coms kinda do wish real life was like that). What’s great about this show is just how straightforward Kaling makes her character. We’re not talking the Hollywood ideal of what a working single woman should be. Kaling writes her character Mindy as if she was real, and rooted in reality, not Hollywood reality. Love what’s aired so far.

GO ON [Picked up for full season]: Matthew Perry returns to NBC as a sports commentator who is forced to join a support group after the death of his wife. Perry does snark pretty well (he is Chandler Bing after all!), but he’s also got a pretty funny supporting cast, including John Cho, Tyler James Williams, Laura Benanti, and Julie White, among others. Without a doubt, one of the best new comedies of the season.

THE NEW NORMAL [Picked up for full season]: Ryan Murphy’s new project centers around Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha’s couple, Bryan and David, and their want to start a family. Georgia King’s Goldie is their surrogate, who already has a child of her own, Shania. Goldie’s grandmother, Jane (played by Ellen Barkin) is a total left-winger, racist, and bigot. Though it has its funny moments, I’m not entirely sure how much longer I will keep up with the show. Even for Ryan Murphy, who brought us Glee, a lot of what happens in the episodes feel very heavy-handed and almost preachy – talk of gay equality/acceptance, political views. It all feels a little too much.

GUYS WITH KIDS: The sitcom stars Jesse Bradford, Anthony Anderson, and Zach Cregger as…guys with kids (can they BE any more straightforward?). Almost similar to Partners in that it has an old-school sitcom vibe, and yet I was taken aback a little bit when I heard the audience laughter on this show. Maybe because these days, NBC rarely has any sitcoms that tape in front of a live studio audience. I didn’t particularly like what I’ve seen so far. It had its amusing moments (as tends to be the case when you’ve got kids in the mix) but I don’t remember truly laughing at anything. Maybe a few chuckles but that’s about it. I’m willing to give the show a chance, based purely on the fact that Jimmy Fallon created and is executive producing it, but they have to really step up their game with the writing.

ANIMAL PRACTICE: Let it be known that the only reason I checked out this show is because I’m a fan of Joanna Garcia Swisher. Now, I attempted to watch it online but the video just kept on stalling. So I pretty much took it as a sign that I REALLY should not be watching it. From what little I was able to watch, it pretty much reaffirmed my initial thoughts upon hearing it got picked up – terrible. [UPDATE: Cancelled]

LAST RESORT: I can’t even begin to explain the plot of this show, which probably should’ve been a warning sign as to whether or not I’d like it. This is my attempt at explaining it – a nuclear submarine crew receive orders to nuke Pakistan, but something about the order doesn’t seem right to the captain. They disobey the orders, get hit by an American missile, and take refuge on some island, until they are told what exactly is going on in D.C. The cast that creator Shawn Ryan has assembled include Andre Braugher, Scott Speedman, Robert Patrick, and Autumn Reeser; in other words, a great cast. But watching the pilot, I got rather bored and quickly realized that it just was not for me. I did watch to the end, but I can’t help but wonder how they are going to be able to sustain it as a series. It seems better suited as a movie or mini-series. Also, in my opinion, ABC didn’t do it many favours by putting it on Thursdays @ 8. It’s a show that would definitely work better and possibly get a better audience if given the 10 p.m. hour. Just don’t count me in on this one.

ELEMENTARY: A modern take on Sherlock Holmes set in New York, with Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. Yes, Watson is now female. No, the producers have already adamantly said that there will not be a romance between Holmes and Watson. Besides the inevitable fact that the character details of Holmes and Watson are slightly changed, there really isn’t much else that really sets it apart from any other procedural drama. I certainly applaud the fact that Lucy Liu was cast as one of the leads (we certainly need more visible minorities as leads, instead of just supporting), but it’s not quite enough to make me a regular viewer. Due to the case-of-the-week set-up of the show it’s not exactly something that requires immediate viewing, so I think it is safe to say that I’ll only watch it from time to time.

666 PARK AVENUE: Rachael Taylor and Dave Annable star as Jane and Henry, a young couple who move into the historic Drake Hotel in New York as the new resident managers, which is owned by Gavin and Olivia Doran, played by Terry O’Quinn and Vanessa Williams. As she attempts to restore the Drake to its former glory, Jane slowly uncovers something far more sinister in its history than she could’ve ever imagined. We also follow the lives of the other residents, including Robert Buckley and Mercedes Masohn’s couple, Brian and Louise Leonard; Samantha Logan’s Nona Clark; Helena Mattsson’s Alexis Blume; and Erik Palladino’s doorman, Tony DeMeo. The show is a sexy, seductive thriller, attempting to create a balance between being a soap and a creepy horror mystery drama; it’s a little bit of a hard sell. Now I know people have dismissed it because it’s “not as creepy/scary as American Horror Story“, to which I say it’s a broadcast drama AND it’s on ABC (which is owned by family-friendly Disney) – there’s only so much that they can air. From the get-go, I thought it was a great move by ABC to air this as part of its schedule alongside Once Upon A Time and Revenge, but for some reason, the ratings thus far haven’t been stellar. I’m certainly intrigued by the show and can’t wait to see where they go with the story. Hopefully ABC gives this some time before making any rash decisions regarding its fate in TV land.

ARROW: Based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow, this new adaptation follows former billionaire playboy Oliver Queen coming back to Starling City, after being presumed dead for 5 years. Oliver comes back vowing to right the wrongs of his family and restore their city to its former glory. The show comes to us from executive producers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg, with Stephen Amell cast as Arrow. A lot of people saw this as a replacement for Smallville, but what the producers have done here is make it an entity of its own, with a look and feel that draws more from the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. The CW have a surefire hit on their hands here, with not only a known entity but with a well-crafted show that goes along well with their Wednesday night partner Supernatural and Nikita (which would’ve worked INCREDIBLY well as a lead-out of Arrow). You certainly don’t have to be a comic book geek to see how great a show this is.

NASHVILLE: Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere stars as two rivals in the country music industry. Britton is Rayna James, a superstar who’s made a name for herself in the country music world, but who’s record sales aren’t so spectacular in the eyes of her label. Panettiere is Juliette Barnes, an up-and-comer with massive crossover and youth appeal. Just like how you don’t have to know the comics to get into Arrow, you don’t need to be a country music fan to be able to enjoy Nashville (though it may help a little when they perform some of the songs). The writing is impeccable, Britton has found herself another great character (following Friday Night Lights and American Horror Story), and Panettiere is coming back rather nicely with a much role than her Heroes character. While the focus is on Britton and Panettiere, the supporting cast certainly holds their own. Clare Bowen (Scarlett O’Connor) and Sam Palladio (Gunnar Scott) play a pair of songwriters who might just help Rayna regain success, and almost nearly stole the show with their performance of “If I Didn’t Know Better” at the end of the pilot episode. Charles Esten as Deacon, Rayna’s lead guitar player and ex; Eric Close as Teddy, Rayna’s husband, who is running for mayor; and Jonathan Jackson as Avery, Scarlett’s boyfriend and an aspiring musician, all add much drama to what’s sure to be another hit for ABC, assuming the ratings are good.

EMILY OWENS, M.D.: Mamie Gummer (daughter of legendary actress Meryl Streep) star as the title character, who is fresh out of med school and is quickly learning that life in the hospital is not so different from high school. It’s basically Grey’s Anatomy for the CW crowd. Based on the pilot alone, it’s not great, but it’s also not terrible. Something about the writing and the characterization of these people doesn’t particularly strike me as new and exciting. Certainly between Gummer and her other castmates including Justin Hartley and Michael Rady, you kind of wish they were given better material to work with. I am really hoping that the second episode will show improvement over the pilot, or else I’m afraid it’s not going to make the cut.

So that’s my thoughts on some of this year’s freshman shows. CBS already made the first cancellation of the season, cutting loose the legal drama “Made in Jersey” (Fridays @ 9? It never stood a chance.) But what else will join it? Which of the new shows have you watched? What’s been worth your time (or DVR space)?

Upfronts 2012: The CW Releases Schedule for Next Season

Last but not least, The CW announced its schedule for the 2012-2013 TV season today. With 5 new shows being added to its lineup, major scheduling changes were inevitable for the network and it turns out The Vampire Diaries is the only show that will stay put in its current time slot. Though others may seem surprised, the scheduling changes made for some obvious pairings. But first, a look at the new shows coming on the network.

  • EMILY OWENS, M.D. [Tuesdays @ 9]: Emily, fresh out of med school, is a first-year intern at Denver Memorial Hospital. Happy to put her days as a geeky girl from high school behind her, Emily soon realizes that life at the hospital is just a grown-up version of high school. Mamie Gummer stars as Emily, and is joined by Justin Hartley, Michael Rady, and Kelly McCreary. I obviously usually have reservations about a medical drama, but seeing as how this is The CW and not CBS, I’ll check it out. I have to commend the network though on further trying to develop and put shows on the air that are might skew a little bit higher demographic (as opposed to pretty much playing for the teenagers).
  • ARROW [Wednesdays @ 8]: One of the most known entities in the lineup of pilots picked-up, Arrow is the origin story of DC Comics’ Green Arrow. If you watched Smallville, you know they did their own take on the character, with Justin Hartley playing Oliver Queen/Green Arrow. For this show, they cast Stephen Amell as the title character, supported by Katie Cassidy, Willa Holland, David Ramsey, and Paul Blackthorne. Shows and movies based on comic book characters have always been iffy for me; it really all depends on the look and feel of it all. I didn’t really watch Smallville when it aired (a good number of episodes, but didn’t follow through on all 10 seasons), but I might consider watching this just to see where they’re going with it.
  • BEAUTY AND THE BEAST [Thursdays @ 9]: Just because ABC hit gold with Once Upon A Time and NBC with Grimm, fairy tales seem fair game. But I don’t see why this was necessary (not to mention there was another B&B pilot in contention on ABC). In this new updated version of the tale-as-old-as-time, Kristin Kreuk plays homicide detective Catherine Chandler. When Catherine uncovers a clue regarding her mother’s murder, it leads her to Vincent Keller, a doctor long presumed dead but is now living on the outskirts of society in order to protect his secret – “when he is enraged, he becomes a terrifying beast, unable to control his super-strength and heightened senses.”So the Beast is pretty much the Hulk, except he doesn’t turn green? Not gonna lie, I have my doubts about this show. Obviously the network has faith in it, to give it the Vampire Diaries lead-in (though I’m not sure anything else would’ve made sense anyways), but I just can’t see this doing well.
  • THE CARRIE DIARIES [Midseason – Mondays @ 9]: Based on the novel by Candace Bushnell, this series follow Carrie Bradshaw as a teenager in the 80’s, before she became the Carrie Bradshaw that people know from Sex and the City. I know this is coming from Fake Empire (Josh Schwartz’ creative team) but I could care less about this show. I didn’t even watch Sex and the City, so I have no prior interest to even be compelled to watch. As it is, it was pretty damn obvious that this show is being groomed as the successor to Gossip Girl, but that too is a show I stopped watching/caring about.
  • CULT [Midseason]: When Jeff Setton’s brother, Nate, goes missing, he starts to investigate in the dark world of a show called “Cult”, its rabid fans, and how the gruesome twists on the show are becoming all too real. Matthew Davis, Jessica Lucas, Alona Tal, and Robert Knepper stars in this show from Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Len Goldstein, and Jason Ensler. The premise itself sounds quite intriguing, added to that, the midseason placement isn’t really an issue as it is intended to have a shorter episode run (so we know they are developing for a specific number of episodes).

Other changes in the schedule:

  • 90210 and Gossip Girl are paired back up again on Mondays (thanks CW for clearing up my Mondays ever so slightly). This will be the final season of GG, and it is set for an 11-episode order.
  • Hart of Dixie moves to Tuesdays @ 8, predictably leading-in to Emily Owens.
  • Supernatural makes the move from Friday to Wednesdays @ 9, making it the perfect companion to Arrow (as it was with Smallville for several years).
  • Nikita stays put on Fridays, but now gets the 9 PM slot. It gets a lead-in from America’s Next Top Model, which swapped with Supernatural, moving from Wednesdays to Fridays @ 8. I’m thankful that Nikita gets a lead-in (and a new season!), but I’m not so sure ANTM is the proper lead-in for it.
  • This is a general scheduling note – in order to reduce the number of breaks/re-runs during the season and to get away from the slew of other network starts in late September, The CW has opted to push its season start-date to October. In previous seasons, the network decided on getting a head-up on the other networks by starting the season in the first weeks of September, which only led to multiple (annoying)/long breaks for many of its shows, and they only suffered in ratings afterwards (particularly the new shows).

So that’s it for upfronts! For a more detailed description at all of the CW’s new shows, check out Deadline.