Ostroff to Pick and Choose CW’s Prime-Time Schedule

Jan 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The creation of The CW comes at a crucial time in the series development process, as January is usually the month when networks sift through scripts they have bought and decide which lucky few get made into pilots.

It also means the start of CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. Television’s co-production arrangement, which has studios of both companies sharing equally the profits and costs of any future CBS Paramount- or Warner Bros.-developed series that end up on The CW.

Dawn Ostroff, currently entertainment president of UPN and the newly named president of entertainment for The CW, will be working concurrently with her development team at UPN and with development executives at The WB to decide which projects go forward through the pilot stage. In May Ms. Ostroff will be part of the executive team that determines which pilots get series orders. From there, she is expected to pare down and meld the two networks’ development staffs into one team for The CW. The remaining executives from The WB and UPN will move into a new, yet to be determined headquarters for The CW.

But The CW won’t be starting from scratch when it comes to programming its 13 hours of prime time, since series already familiar to a significant portion of The CW’s potential audience will form the lion’s share of the new network’s lineup, Ms. Ostroff said.

“Obviously we’re fortunate enough to have the best of both The WB’s and UPN’s schedules to help us build a schedule to go after our target demographic of adults 18 to 34,” she said, noting that her goal for the fall is to “put together the strongest schedule with the best audience flow, while filling in open time periods with new development.

WWE’s “SmackDown” is virtually ensured a space on The CW schedule. At UPN’s Television Critics Association press tour session earlier this month Ms. Ostroff said she thought the show would be back for the fall, while Warner Bros. Television Group President Bruce Rosenblum said at the National Association of Television Program Executives convention last week the wrestling series would “probably” return on Friday nights, subject to Ms. Ostroff’s final decision.

The Jan. 24 press release announcing The CW mentioned 10 programming assets from the two networks: UPN’s “America’s Next Top Model” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Girlfriends,” “Veronica Mars” and “SmackDown,” and The WB’s “Beauty and The Geek,” “Smallville,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Supernatural” and “Reba.”

Despite the release, no decisions have been made about what will return for the fall, Ms. Ostroff said. “The dust is just settling,” she said.

The new schedule raises some major programming questions. For the first time Ms. Ostroff will be scheduling Sundays, something she never had to do at UPN. There’s also the question of how to handle UPN’s traditional urban-skewing comedy blocks and incorporate The WB’s teen dramas.

While there will be a loss in the aggregate audience and ad revenue going from two networks to one, the benefits of combining the best of both schedules is clear, said John Rash, senior VP and director of broadcast operations for ad agency Campbell Mithun.

“‘Everybody Hates Chris’ doesn’t have to face ‘Smallville,” and ‘Smallville’ doesn’t have to face ‘Chris,'” Mr. Rash said. “Those aren’t minor dynamics.”

The mention of “Chris” in the release didn’t telegraph anything to David Stapf, president of CBS Paramount Network Television, one of the new network’s sister studios and the producer of the single-camera comedy.

“I didn’t read it as an official pickup,” Mr. Stapf said at CBS Paramount’s booth at the NATPE convention last week. “I read it as positioning the network with tentpoles that are actually tentpoles.”

Despite the fact that there will now be one less network buyer, talent agencies have expressed support for The CW. One potentially strong network is a better place for his clients’ projects than two weaker networks, said John Ferriter, senior VP and head of network alternative packaging for the William Morris Agency.

“Both networks have certain shows that appeal to a similar demographic, but for years they’ve been cannibalizing each other,” Mr. Ferriter said at the NATPE convention. “If you take the best of each, you potentially have a pretty solid network. It wasn’t long ago that The WB had ‘Popstars,’ which was very similar to ‘American Idol’ but didn’t sustain. But you take the same concept and put it on a stronger network like Fox, it’s a very different situation.”

Because of fiscal constraints, setting up projects at The WB and UPN was difficult, Chris Silbermann, a partner at the Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency, said at NATPE.

“We couldn’t get deals to finance them,” Mr. Silbermann said. “Selling to [The WB] was ridiculously frustrating. It’s good to have some resolution.”

Going forward, Mr. Silbermann is still optimistic about his agency’s upcoming midseason project at The WB, the comedic drama “Pepper Dennis,” which he said will get more support if it attracts viewers and could transition over to The CW if it gets a fall pickup.