UPDATE: Hey everyone! Final word is in: One Tree Hill was Renewed! Get up and celebrate!
One Tree Hill is Renewed
…so congratulations to everyone.
In their first year as a network, The CW has been forced to weather failure after failure. Between the failure of Veronica Mars to find an audience, the failure for 7th Heaven to turn its “Series” finale success into a final season of high-rated television, and the absolute decimation of its Comedy Lineup after being moved to Monday Nights, the network has struggled to define a new identity for itself . However, perhaps more than anything else, The CW’s largest failure is the fact that of its new pilots at the beginning of the season, none of them became anything even close to a success. So, they face a unique challenge this time around: they need to find pilots which give them an identity that will make them a successful network next season. Do they have what it takes?
The 2006/2007 Pilot Season
The CW, merging two networks together and all, didn’t have a whole lot of wiggle room during last year’s Upfronts, and the result was only two new shows making the Fall Schedule: ‘Runaway’, starring Donny Wahlberg and Leslie Hope, and ‘The Game’, a spinoff of the comedy Girlfriends. While The Game has stayed on the air thanks to, likely, its pull amongst African-American demographics, neither show has made an impression from a ratings or critical perspective.
Runaway (Pictured), in the meantime, was a disaster for the network. Airing only a handful of episodes, the show was just another serial drama which failed to engage viewers. For better or for worse, people don’t watch The CW for serious serial drama, but rather for more light-hearted fare owing more to soap operas than to ‘24’ (Which needs to avoid the soap opera stuff itself, but that’s another issue again). It was a misguided attempt to “get serious”, which is the exact opposite of the image the network was trying to portray…or, rather, the image they should have been portraying.
That was the problem with the lack of engaging pilots: it didn’t allow the network to forge an identity. While NBC is using the success of Heroes to launch a certain brand image, The CW has no such show to extrapolate an image from.
The only success that The CW saw came out of midseason replacement ‘The Search for the Next Pussycat Doll’, which did well after ‘Gilmore Girls’ on Tuesdays but did even better in repeats (A strange phenomenon on television) after ‘America’s Next Top Model’ on Wednesdays. However, the concern with this is that while the show had fans, from a reputation perspective it did little for the network. If it is trying to become like the Big Four, it needed to prove itself capable of sustaining different types of shows, but if anything the success of “Pussycat” shows that the network has its niche quite deeply carved, and the niche it should be embracing.
The Returning Shows
The other problem that The CW faced was that many of its existing shows were underperforming or nearing their final end. ‘7th Heaven’ and ‘Gilmore Girls’ are both ending, officially, at the end of this season, but their declines were not the only ones.
‘Veronica Mars’ (Above), as much as I love the show, failed to connect with a wide audience. Even shortening the mysteries didn’t help the show, and nor has stand-alone episodes which have seen the show sink to its lowest ratings ever. The show, as it exists now, just doesn’t seem to be a good fit for the network.
Even if we remove ‘Veronica Mars’ from the equation, the rest of their slate didn’t exactly light up the board on a nightly basis. ‘Smallville’ and ‘Supernatural’ deserve credit for surviving against a tough Thursday lineup but still underperformed, ‘One Tree Hill’ held decent numbers out of ‘American’s Next Top Model’ but was inconsistent, and the comedies withered but didn’t die on Monday Nights (Can you blame them when faced with ‘Heroes’/‘24’?). Perhaps most surprising was the failure of ‘Beauty & The Geek’, a success on The WB that just didn’t translate to The CW. Why? Well…we don’t really know.
If anything, what it showed us is that The CW, a network aimed at teens, seems to have its most success with shows which are (Gasp!) aimed at teens. This explains why 7th Heaven struggled, why the aging ‘Gilmore Girls’ became less relevant, and why the wit of ‘Veronica Mars’ was missed by a large portion of the target audience.
The 2007/2008 Pilot Season
While it is entirely possible that things could explode for The CW once these pilots go to air, the network seems to have a slate that could actually help define the network as something different from an amalgam of two previously unsuccessful ones. For better or for worse, the network has found its niche: Teens being Teens, and People who Look Like Teens Fighting Crime/Monsters/Death.
On the Teens being Teens side, you have shows like ‘One Tree Hill’ (Sure, they’re graduated, sort of, but come on they act like 15-year olds) and maybe even parts of ‘Veronica Mars’. However, the network is taking this general pulse and giving it a show of its own: ‘Gossip Girl’, which is basically a sure thing at this point. It has all the pedigree the network could want: its from Executive Producer Josh Schwartz (Pictured; he created something called ‘The O.C.’ ring any bells?), it’s about teenage girls who gossip and call people names, and it promises sexy, dangerous times that could raise controversy.
IMDB: Gossip Girl
Now, does this show appeal to me? Not really, but I’ll probably watch the pilot anyway. The point stands, though, that I am outside of The CW’s core demographic (Except for ‘Friday Night Smackdown!’, but that’s a different story). For their young female viewers, a show like this could become the next O.C., a guilty pleasure for some and a pure pleasure for others. A Sex & The City for the teenage set, if you will. Basically, the show is everything The CW needs: it’s simple, it’s on target with their demographics, and it brings with it name recognition in both its producer and the series of books it’s based on.
Wikipedia: Gossip Girl
On the side of the People fighting Crime and Evil and all of this, The CW has found success with both ‘Smallville’ and ‘Supernatural’ on Thursday nights, and they hope to expand on these principles. A revamped ‘Veronica Mars’, featuring the lead character enrolling in the FBI, would fit into this category and allow for more procedural storytelling without the same contrived college plots. It also provides a concept which could, theoretically, keep some older viewers around and watching. While it isn’t exactly a new show, it is definitely an interesting one to watch leading up to Thursday.
However, the real definining show for this side of the coin is ‘Reaper’, a comic drama about someone who is forced to do Death’s bidding. The pilot has a lot going for it: an engaging star (Bret Harrison (Pictured), late of “The Loop”, which airs its short 2nd season this summer on FOX), a concept which fits in with ‘Supernatural’ quite well (20-something slacker does the devil’s dirty work), and the directing prowess of Kevin Smith (You know, that Kevin Smith. Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma, etc.).
The show is ripping off a number of different things (Off the top of my head, Dead Like Me and Family Guy), but I think it’s in tune with what CW viewers are looking for: young engaging leads who fight evil or do evil’s bidding in occasionally humorous sometimes scary ways. It can have eye candy, suspense, comedy, drama, and maybe even some adultery just to spice things up.
Now, I really can’t tell you how much quality these two shows will bring to the table, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter. While other networks are going for a “First be best, then be first” scenario, The CW cannot afford to do that. They need to, for better or for worse, flood their schedule with shows which forge an identity. They can play with it at midseason a bit (Out of the other pilots presented to the network, I think that the Tom Wheeler project about grad students solving crimes has the most potential on this front), but they need to present a cohesive image.
The Bottom Line
The CW is searching for an identity. They don’t need good shows, they need shows which are on target with their audience. As a result, the two dramas they are likely to be picked up each represent a strong step in the right direction. After a year in which they failed to get a single pilot off the ground, this is basically a second start out of the gate for The CW. With a rebranded Veronica Mars, a teen-focused drama and a mystical comic drama to round things out, The CW can put together four nights of well-organized television. Great television? The jury is still out.
For the latest in CW Scheduling information (There’s been a tenative schedule floating around), see this post: The CW Update.
We’ll see how this compares to what The CW announces on Thursday, May 17th, when they reveal their full Fall Schedule.