Slamming for Time Slots

Feb 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

It may be only 2 weeks old, but The CW is well on its way to defining itself creatively.

Just by combining the strongest shows from The WB and UPN, the new network is sure to draw attention with its almost completely recognizable fall schedule, a 13-hour lineup that is expected to have few spots open for debuting shows. That strategy makes sense. Focusing on familiar programming will be crucial for a network trying to create a new brand in a crowded marketplace.

But relying on proven shows alone would make it harder for The CW to create its own identity. The new network can create even more buzz by strategically launching a select number of inaugural series off established veterans.

TelevisionWeek applies this theory with our own proposed schedule for The CW, which shows that relying on existing performers off UPN and The WB leaves room for only one new drama and

one new comedy for the fall. We suggest playing the new drama on Tuesday following WB stalwart “Gilmore Girls” and the comedy on Sundays at 8:30 p.m. (ET), between WB comedy “Reba” and UPN drama “Veronica Mars.”

The big question now is what those new shows will be. The CW’s fall debuts will come out of the combined development slates of The WB and UPN, both of which have high-profile projects. But even well-regarded scripts once considered shoo-ins for a pilot pickup are finding they no longer make the new network’s cut.

Dawn Ostroff, UPN president and the newly named president of entertainment for The CW, has already pulled the plug on one of The WB’s pilots, the dark thriller “The Cult.”

Calling the script “extraordinary,” one Hollywood talent agent said considering The CW’s limited number of open time periods and “The Cult’s” focus on a number of mysterious deaths surrounding a TV show, the project “was not the creative direction” Ms. Ostroff wanted to take, especially with “Supernatural” adequately filling that programming niche.

Ms. Ostroff also has “some big pieces of business” of her own, another agent said, noting that UPN had been developing projects with executive producers such as Kevin Williamson (“Dawson’s Creek”) and Darren Star (“Sex and the City”), and a spinoff of the sitcom “Girlfriends” from writer Mara Brock Akil.

But at least three pieces of The WB’s development are expected to get a close look from The CW. Besides a project focusing on DC Comics character Aquaman, The WB has been developing a sitcom with former UPN star Brandy, also being written by Ms. Brock Akil, as well as a comedy half-hour with Nick Lachey from writer Danny Jacobson (“Mad About You”).

The Brandy project “makes more sense than anything [Ms. Ostroff’s] got,” the agent said. “Brandy will cross over to any brand she will be dealing with.”

Still, The CW’s focus will be on existing series, the agent said.

“I don’t think new development is going to supercede a tried-and-true brand,” he said, adding that having a few extra shows beyond midseason replacements is now industry standard. “If something brilliant comes along, we’re all dealing in a world where there are scattered schedules.”

But the basic questions surrounding new development still will hold true for The CW, a third agent said.

“What does the new stuff look like, and when putting together the schedule, how much room do they have?” the agent asked. “The CW is like any other network.”

Business as Usual

In terms of scheduling for the rest of the current season, it is business as usual at The WB and UPN as both networks enter their final February sweeps. The WB is focusing mainly on seminal events for established characters within regularly scheduled series, while UPN is sprinkling in notable recording artists, comedians and sports figures as guest cast on its shows.

No one would fault either network if they scaled back their midseason shows and focused mainly on promoting existing series that have a good chance of making it to The CW, but UPN and The WB are moving full steam ahead with new programming.

Despite attention-grabbing competition on the other networks, UPN is launching what appears to be its final new series, the feel-good reality show “Get This Party Started,” in the middle of sweeps, while The WB is giving high-profile launches in the spring to its dramas “Pepper Dennis” and “The Bedford Diaries.”

“Pepper,” which stars Rebecca Romijn as an aspiring Chicago television reporter, is getting the plum post-“Gilmore Girls” 9 p.m. (ET) time slot on Tuesdays starting April 4, with current time-period holder “Supernatural,” one of The WB’s few hits this season, moving to 9 p.m. Thursdays on March 16.

These scheduling moves serve a dual purpose, the agent said, noting they give “Pepper” and “Supernatural” solid platforms and allow both shows to become stronger if they are picked up for the fall.

The prospect of “Pepper” making it on The CW’s inaugural schedule is likely a long shot, though if it breaks out during The WB’s last hurrah, it could become a fall contender.

“Supernatural’s” move to Thursdays gives it a complementary new lead-in-“Smallville.”

“People could look at those two shows and could see they would pair well together,” the agent said of the new Thursday dramas. “To try that now completely makes sense. And ‘Pepper Dennis’ is more of a natural fit with ‘Gilmore Girls’ anyway.”

“Pepper,” which centers on a contemporary young woman, is still a scheduling and promotional priority for The WB because the show’s target audience is so similar to what The CW is expected to seek, another agent said.

“Rebecca Romijn was a big get for The WB, and would have been a big get for UPN,” the agent said, noting that The WB is still committed to spending ad dollars to let viewers know the show is coming. The launch of “The Bedford Diaries” on March 22, however, is not as high a priority, he said.

“It’s more one they are going to throw up and see what sticks,” the agent said.