Dear The CW,
So, how’re things? We’re now into the sixth month of your existence, and I’d like to be frank with you. I greatly appreciate your efforts to offer youth-oriented programming, and you’ve managed to develop America’s Next Top Model into a buzz-worthy program on the same level as other reality shows. And yet, as we enter your sixth month, I have a message for you: you need a complete makeover, in every possible way.
Now, I know that this might seem drastic, but let’s consider this year as a bit of a practice run. You just weren’t the huge success that they wanted you to be, all you could do was increase demo numbers in women from 18-34. This is good, and all, but there has been no breakthrough, no tremendous change; there is not yet a CW identity.
I know it’s difficult, when you’re taking on mostly shows from other networks, you’re not going to be able to suddenly brand everything together. UPN was a network that focused primarily on an African-American and female audience, while The WB appealed to families and young adults. These are two identities that can’t just be integrated overnight, it takes time.
This wasn’t helped by a few decisions that most definitely did not prove beneficial. The decision to keep 7th Heaven was a detriment to both of these images. It was clear that the family focus of the WB was headed out the window, the show only served to confuse your message further. Couple this with the decision, financially motivated, to renew Reba, and you’ve got a Sunday Night lineup that lacks any relation to the rest of your audience.
But, this isn’t your only problem. Even with this Sunday lineup, there was a chance to define something new that could be built on in the future. And yet, for two reasons, this failed.
First off, your pilots sucked. Folding two networks into one left very few spots for new shows, and the result was only Runaway and The Game breaking through into the Fall lineup, and your only Spring holdover has yet to appear (It looked like a crappy soap, anyways). Runaway is already cancelled, The Game is struggling greatly, so there is no “new” tentpole for you to signal as your great success in this your first year.
Second, the shift to the CW has actually resulted in the relative failure of many of your former shows. 7th Heaven took a huge ratings hit, your Monday night African-American focused comedy block has been an utter failure, Gilmore Girls dropped like a rock even before American Idol stepped into the picture, Beauty and the Geek has failed terribly as an ANTM replacement, One Tree Hill has been just as annoying, and, most importantly, no new audience has been found for a show like Veronica Mars.
I’m a big Veronica Mars fan, and can’t really say that I’ve seen a huge drop of quality as of late or anything, and so it pains me to say this:
You need to cancel Veronica Mars. And Gilmore Girls. And 7th Heaven. And One Tree Hill. And at least two of your comedies. And you can’t hesitate, keep around shows like Gilmore Girls because of rabid fanbases (Myself included). You need to clean house.
You’ve got Supernatural and Smallville, holding out very well against increased competition on Thursdays. You’ve got Friday Night Smackdown, continuing ratings success if not thematic connection (Fridays are a dead zone anyways, might as well counter-program CBS/NBC). You’ve got America’s Next Top Model as your centerpiece, something to build upon. But you need to build around these shows.
It’s about developing pilots, a lot of pilots. It’s about actively searching for shows that will actually define something about The CW, something that ties into a consciousness. I expect you’ll be tempted to keep Gilmore Girls, but you shouldn’t do it. I greatly enjoy the show, even in its current state, but you need to define something new.
You’re lucky that Josh Schwartz is ending the O.C. instead of trying to move it to your network, that would be in no one’s best interest. You’re already struggling with other network’s leftovers, there needs to be something new developed. Whether it means more competition reality shows, or more teen dramas, or more African-American comedies, you need something new.
I don’t think you’ve currently got the pilots to do all of this, so just start buying them off of other networks (Take CBS’ leftovers, it’s all in the family anyways). Find some way to define yourself as not the combination of two networks but rather something new. Your greatest problem right now isn’t the content of Veronica Mars failing, or Gilmore Girls struggling, or 7th Heaven plummeting, but your network image as a whole. Individual shows can fail, but you can’t fix a network’s image overnight.
Take the summer off, develop some drama and comedy pilots, and come back fresh in September. I might love Veronica Mars, and Gilmore Girls, but with their ratings dropping and your image failing, you need to clean house. Which, really, is just the reality of trying to make the Big Four into the Big Five.
All the best,
P.S. Note that if you cancel Veronica Mars before all of its episodes air, I will hurt you.