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.

The Issues of TV Scheduling

I know as of late, a lot of my posts have been about television, but I just can’t help it. I have always watched a lot of television and with that comes a lot of observations/thoughts/questions/concerns/pure enjoyment. The thought that’s been on my mind lately is the issue of program scheduling.

We currently live in a world where all our favourite TV shows (old and new) don’t necessarily have to be watched live and can be watched later on our DVRs and on the internet. We now essentially have the ability to create our own perfect TV schedule. At the same time though, the methods of measuring viewership of any given TV show is severely outdated and doesn’t give a precise count of how many people are actually watching a show. Nielsen ratings rely on the select households who have the Nielsen boxes, and watch shows live as they air. Progress has been made in that DVR viewings are being included up to 7 days after an airing, but again, internet viewing has yet to be accounted for. So where does that leave our TV shows that struggle in the traditional ratings? Social media is now playing a part in helping decide the fate of some shows – the more active the fan base, the better. But where a TV show fits on the network’s schedule sometimes plays a major part in viewership.

It’s probably just me, but I sometimes wonder exactly how network executives decide on how to schedule their lineup of shows. When Upfronts happen in May and networks unveil their schedules for the following season, a part of me wonders how much of the schedule is planned out ahead of the announcement and how much is a reaction of the other networks’ schedules. You look at something like The Voice and DWTS results show both being moved an hour earlier than it was previously; that can’t possibly be a coincidence right? That being said, all of the broadcast networks have yet to create a so-called “perfect schedule.”

There are days on the schedule where the networks have gotten a very solid line-up of shows that are complimentary, or at the least somewhat make sense with one another (particularly in the 8:00-10:00 P.M. block). For example, the comedy blocks of CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC on Mondays through Thursdays, respectively. The CW pairing Gossip Girl and 90210 together, as well as Hart of Dixie and Emily Owens, M.D. makes sense. ABC Sunday has 3 different shows in Once Upon A Time, Revenge, and 666 Park Avenue that, to me at least, works pretty well together. Let’s be real, most of the CBS lineup works because at least 80% of the shows are procedural dramas.

On other nights, the networks can completely falter in their scheduling, making it seem like those scheduling decisions were afterthoughts. Friday nights in particular, on FOX, NBC, and The CW, are a complete mishmash of programming. FOX currently has one of Gordon Ramsey’s shows, leading into the final season of Fringe. On NBC, they were going to have 2 comedies anchor the night, and lead into the second season of Grimm. And worst of all, the CW seemed to think that just because they are both female-fronted, America’s Next Top Model and Nikita would make a great pairing (they don’t). How do any of these scheduling choices make sense?

Below, I offer up options/thoughts as to what scheduling changes should be made on the part of the networks:

  • For midseason, The CW should deeply consider pairing their new hit Arrow with Nikita (which is in desperate need of viewership despite the fact that it is easily the best/most well-written show the network has). An action-packed night of television? Who doesn’t want that?
  • Now, I know fans of Supernatural have been thankful for the move to Wednesdays, following Arrow, but the show already has a solid fan base and it’s in its 8th season – how many more viewers do you think there’ll be? Way I see it, once Fringe ends its run over on FOX, Nikita can swap with Supernatural, which will compete better against Grimm on Friday nights, and get paired up with the new series Cult when it premieres.
  • I still don’t understand NBC’s decision to air Rock Center at 10 P.M., after 2 hours of comedy on Thursdays. It just seems like a waste of a time slot on a night that people (particularly the all-important 18-34 demo) would actually watch scripted television. I know the 10 P.M. slot doesn’t necessarily have to flow with the other 2 hours, but NBC could have easily made a 3 hour comedy block – although now that we see a few of its new comedies aren’t doing so well, that won’t happen. To me, the easiest solution would be swap Rock Center with Grimm. Grimm could probably get away with adding some more scary stuff, if they have a slightly later time slot.
  • I’ve mentioned before that ABC’s Last Resort deserves a better time slot than Thursdays @ 8, even though I don’t watch the show. The problem is, there isn’t much room to play with in ABC’s current schedule. Private Practice is wrapping up, so Last Resort (assuming it gets a full season pickup) could take that Tuesday @ 10 slot. That would then leave the 8 P.M. Thursday slot for Body of Proof, which is slated for a midseason return. ABC also has 2 other new dramas (Red Widow, Zero Hour) waiting to be aired, though those don’t quite fit in that time slot either.
  • Speaking of shows that are on tap for mid-season – where is Smash gonna go? Last season, it scored the slot after The Voice, which is now being occupied by Revolution, and that’s been picked up for a full season. After this cycle, The Voice is coming back for another round, but it has yet to be known when exactly the 4th season will start. So there’s a small window where Smash could appear in between Voice seasons.
  • Though come to think of it now, Parenthood‘s current 4th season is only 15 episodes long, so it will be done by February. Also, Grimm is nearly halfway through its season (thanks to its really early start following the Summer Olympics) – so is it possible that Grimm will end early in the season? Or will NBC do an extended hiatus mid-season (which is almost always a bad idea) and give a new show a chance during that hiatus, then wrap up Grimm‘s season in May?
  • You know what I still like to complain about? The one hour results show of American Idol…and by extension, The X-Factor, and even DWTS + The Voice. It can so easily be done in 30 minutes, so why do they feel they need to stretch it a full hour? It’s so tedious!
  • It has also come to my attention that a lot of scheduling issues could be solved if there was LESS competition reality shows. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching The Voice and DWTS, but it takes up 3 hours of programming! They should move one or two of these shows to the summer, when there’s NOTHING to watch except SYTYCD. Not to mention, why hasn’t anyone thought about putting these shows on Fridays? The general consensus it seems is that a lot of people don’t watch TV on Friday nights, so why not make people watch by putting one of these (apparently) highly rated/well-watched shows on Friday? And no one really cares about the results show, so Saturday is a perfectly fine day to air it. If I’m not mistaken the UK does this already, so why can’t it work here?

Whether or not any of the above actually happens, is beyond me. I am not a television network executive, I do not make these decisions. The business and politics of television baffles me and frustrates me just as much as the music industry. It pains me to see lack of viewership for some of my favourite shows, due to a weak or a non-complimentary lead-in. There just has to be a way for the networks to properly measure how many people actually watch a television show, that’s not based purely on Nielsen ratings. Not to mention, I live in Canada, so my viewership isn’t exactly accounted for in the grand scheme of things. I would love nothing more than to at least see my internet viewing count for something, but I can’t access Hulu or watch any videos on any of the official network websites, so that’s kind of a problem.

So fellow TV viewers, if you were a network executive, how would you schedule the shows on your network? Furthermore, despite this not being brought up in the post, do you think it’s time for the broadcast networks to adopt a model of less episodes a season, similar to the cable networks? Don’t you think that would solve a lot of scheduling issues, with too many shows and not enough airtime? And seriously, why hasn’t anyone tried putting a reality competition show on Friday nights? Share your thoughts below!