Upfronts Analysis: The CW 2009-2010 Fall Schedule

UpfrontsCW

The CW 2009-2010 Fall Schedule

May 21st, 2009

Everyone likes to point to NBC as a network in crisis, and I really can’t contest that point; however, while Jay Leno may be a bad plan, it is at least actually a plan. The CW, by comparison, has been floundering for the past few years and has no strategy to really change that fact. Each year seems to be as much of a struggle as the last: while a few flagship programs perform well, and the network has more cultural awareness than one would expect considering the anemic ratings, there is something wholly dissatisfying about a network which identifies itself either entirely based on demographics or, worse of all, based on repeating its current (non-)success ad nauseum.

This results in a schedule summed up beautifully by Lilly Hill in yesterdays CBS Upfronts edition of the TV on the Internet podcast: “It sucks.” After giving away Sunday nights to the affiliates, and not even programming one half of Friday nights, it’s a schedule that lacks this past season’s one promising new addition, gets rid of the principle of comedy entirely, and one which offers little in new or exciting ventures for advertisers or viewers to be excited about. NBC may be struggling, but one feels as if their lineup for the upcoming year at least combines an awareness of critical opinion, audience patterns, and future programming oppotunities.

My comparison, it appears The CW has actually let its core demographic of teenage girls create their schedule through rigged focus groups designed to give them the answers they want, and not the answers they really need.

Full schedule and analysis after the jump.

The Canceled Shows

I’ll open with this, primarily so I can paint the picture of what the network is losing. Privileged was not a great show by any means: it struggled during the middle of the season, and the initial promise of its setup was pretty well exhausted by the time it got to its abrupt season finale. However, it was a show that demonstrated promise with a strong female lead, well executed if cliche romantic pairings, and two young teenage stars who were delivering some strong performances and carrying storylines that wouldn’t have worked on other shows. The show had a real heart to it, and even if I wasn’t dying to know what happened with the show’s quite lame cliffhanger, the idea that they won’t be able to complete it pains me. Here was a show that had room to grow, talent in front of and behind the camera, and appeal to The CW’s core young female demographic without exploiting them at the same time, and it’s cut from the schedule.

Reaper was always going to have a tough time, being male-oriented on a female-oriented network and getting held for midseason and slotted against American Idol. But, fascinatingly, it actually outdrew 90210 some weeks, and in terms of Nielsen ratings performed pretty well for a CW show. Unfortunately, it was done in by the fact that it lacked cultural buzz: while a show like Supernatural or Smallville has built loyal fanbases willing to but merchandise, post online and do everything else, Reaper never quite caught on, partially due to early first season struggles creatively and of course last season’s Writer’s Strike. The show just never caught on, even though it too held a lot of promise.

I’m sure they canceled other shows, but I don’t particularly care (although some sadness with Everybody Hates Chris and The Game, if not for the quality of the shows, then for the death of both the half hour and the “comedy” on The CW), so let’s get into what they kept instead!

The Returning Series

There aren’t many changes on The CW’s lineup, but there’s one major change: while seminal “hits” Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, 90210, America’s Next Top Model and Supernatural are all sticking around, Smallville is making the move to Friday nights at 8pm for its final season. The show is more or less a shell of its former, campy self, which is saying something quite unfortunate: it seems fitting to place such a creative dead zone on the television schedule equivalent of a dead zone, at the very least.

What’s fascinating about the schedule is that there is actually an hour of primetime that they could be programming but aren’t: not only are Sundays being handed over to the affiliates (a financial move that makes sense), but the network is actually scheduling America’s Next Top Model repeats in the 9pm hour on Fridays. This is, effectively, an affront to scripted programming, and even to original reality programming: how the network will be able to justify this I’m not entirely sure, as economics can only go so far in explaining why a network in search of an identity will repeat a reality show in the DVR/online era. While the network has picked up a drama for midseason, which could logically fill that slot, to go into the Fall purposefully repeating a show is a sign of weakness that even NBC wouldn’t tolerate.

The New Series

All of this might be fine if the new shows were any good, but they are perhaps the most soulless, groupthink new series I could possibly imagine. I feel as if calling them new is almost entirely false, as they represent some of the worst trends possible in scripted television.

The first, Melrose Place, has been a lock since day one: with a “successful” 90210 reboot already in place, why not take the more scandalous soap opera of the era, ignoring those teenagers altogether, and bring it to a new audience. I’m not a fan of reboots in general, but this one feels particularly exploitative: with the network’s young female audience, it seems odd to be placing a show that feels like it would fit more on a network like ABC in terms of demographics, and forgive me for not being excited about a trashy primetime soap opera (even if the presence of cast members like Stephanie Jacobson and Michael Rady gives me pause). Of course, I’m not the show’s demographic, but part of me is weary of the network catering to whatever demographic the show belongs to.

The second, The Beautiful Life, is another awful trend: turning a reality series concept into a television series. Starring Mischa Barton and High School Musical’s Corben Bleu, the show is about young models living together in New York City, essentially a cross between The Real World and 8th & Ocean (And yes, I am ashamed to admit I remember MTV’s short-lived show about the modeling world). The show is just a black hole of merit: it doesn’t have an intriguing cast, it doesn’t present any new ideas, and it depicts the kind of subculture that while scandal inducing isn’t actually new or interesting to watch. While Gossip Girl may turn scandal into drama, it does it with tongue firmly in cheek: unfortunately, I have three seasons of The O.C. to prove that Mischa Barton is not capable of such a delicate balancing act.

The third, The Vampire Diaries starring Ian Somerhalder, is similarly pathetic: “Twilight is huge! True Blood grew a devoted fanbase! Let’s make a vampire show too!” That’s pretty much it, let’s be honest, as far as this thought process goes. I am, again, not the demographic for the show, but is bandwagon jumping really what The CW wants to be doing right now? Hitching itself up to every emerging trend in existence is not a long-term strategy, as it keeps the network from building solid anchors: Smallville launched just as comic book movies were really starting to trend, and has survived for quite some time, but there existed a devoted Superman fanbase to tap into. This only has fans of other series to count on, and the value of that on a dramatic level is pretty well nil.

Their midseason drama is the only one that sounds interesting, which is probably why they kept it until midseason so as not to distract from the pretty people in boring drama trend they’ve got going on. Even then, Parental Discretion Advised has an awful title and a fairly boring premise (girl discovers biological parents), but it beats the rest of their lineup on an originality level.

Although it’s been reported for a week or so now, the Gossip Girl spinoff featuring a young Lily wasn’t ordered to series, which fascinates me: I was at least interested in a teen drama not set in modern times to hit the network, offering at least a tiny bit of diversity in time period if not in subject matter, but the 80s just aren’t hip anymore.

How these shows have been scheduled makes perfect sense: Melrose is a more mature version of 90210, A Beautiful Life is about models, Supernatural and Vampire Diaries both deal with the supernatural, and Smallville can handle itself on Fridays with such a devoted fanbase. It’s just that, in pairing these shows up into such similar nights, The CW is only further displaying their lack of an original idea, a problem that won’t help their new lineup in the least.

Here’s the full schedule.

MONDAY

8:00-9:00 PM GOSSIP GIRL

9:00-10:00 PM ONE TREE HILL

TUESDAY

8:00-9:00 PM 90210

9:00-10:00 PM MELROSE PLACE (New Series)

WEDNESDAY

8:00-9:00 PM AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL

9:00-10:00 PM THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE (New Series)

THURSDAY

8:00-9:00 PM THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (New Series)

9:00-10:00 PM SUPERNATURAL

FRIDAY

8:00-9:00 PM SMALLVILLE (New night)

9:00-10:00 PM AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL (Repeat)

3 Comments

Filed under Upfronts

3 responses to “Upfronts Analysis: The CW 2009-2010 Fall Schedule

  1. The CW happened upon Gossip Girl by accident, and Supernatural and (possibly) Smallville (its only other good quality shows) are just an inheritance from the WB. I don’t think the CW is going to last long if they keep canceling the good ones (Privileged) and bringing in new trash like Melrose Place, 90210, etc. If this continues into the near future, when Gossip Girl goes, I’m gone, too.

  2. Traci

    Whoever wrote this article is pretty clueless when it comes to the Vampire Diaries…..the books that the show is based in should have been made into a movie or a series long before the twilight series was even written.

    Do some research before you write these articles, I am getting so tired of reading these types of reviews about the VD’s ……this article is pathetic!!!

  3. Marie

    I agree with Traci. TVD is nothing like Twilight. The female lead in TVD is much stronger then in Twilight. And the male leads are more believable. And for those of you who don’t know TVD book series was out way before Twilight.

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