Upstart CW Sets Stage for Next Act

Dec 11, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Coming off two weeks of surging ratings, The CW Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff is plotting ways to build on newfound momentum.

The network has a development deal for a new comedy executive produced by Kelsey Grammer, and is about to announce plans to stream entire program episodes on The CW’s Web site.

Ms. Ostroff’s current lineup is built on familiar programs such as “7th Heaven” and “America’s Next Top Model” from predecessor networks The WB and UPN. Since The CW’s launch in September, her team at the fifth-ranked network has rushed to prepare original CW programming and compete with other networks on the Web.

“We will be streaming very soon,” she said. “It’s been harder for us legally because we’re so late to the game.”

This season the network has been tracking about the same as UPN and The WB in most age groups. In recent weeks, however, The CW has begun picking up steam. “Top Model,” “Gilmore Girls,” “7th Heaven,” “Veronica Mars” and “One Tree Hill” have all hit season or all-time highs, in either adults 18 to 49 or target demographic 18 to 34. The “Top Model” finale on Wednesday matched the show’s previous finale high from 2004, fueling the network’s best ratings performance yet.

“We just feel we are starting to gain some traction,” said Ms. Ostroff, who also led former “Top Model” home UPN.

Repeats Helping The CW

The major networks are currently running holiday-season repeats for their top shows, helping The CW’s efforts to lure viewers. Some attribute the increases to former WB and UPN viewers finally starting to find the channel.

“These shows have been around for a long time,” said Brad Adgate, senior VP of Horizon Media. “The ratings could be an aberration. That people are just now coming to the realization that there’s The CW network might be the only logical explanation.”

Starting in February, The CW could get an additional ratings boost when Nielsen Media Research begins including viewing by college students, most of whom are in The CW’s target demographic.

The Grammer project will be called “Dash for Cash” and will take place behind the scenes of an “Amazing Race”-like reality series. Steve Stark, president of Mr. Grammer’s production company, will also executive produce. If greenlighted, the series would be Mr. Grammer’s third program on The CW, along with former UPN series “Girlfriends” and its recent spinoff “The Game.”

Mr. Grammer will also direct the season finale of The CW’s Monday-night comedy “Everybody Hates Chris.”

Given the relatively young median age of The CW’s audience (32), some critics have chided the network for not previously streaming its content aside from two series on MSN.com. Though details such as launch date and a list of content are not yet available, Mr. Ostroff did say The CW’s online outlet will likely use the network’s name.

“We don’t want to confuse people any more,” she said. “We want to call everything we can `The CW.”‘

The network has worked to establish brand loyalty since CBS Corp. and Time Warner’s Warner Bros. surprised the television industry in January by saying they would combine The WB and UPN.

Those networks had struggled to reach profitability, competing for viewers and advertising as the lowest-ranked networks. Eliminating that competition made The CW a profitable proposition from day one, even after News Corp. scrambled to field its own new network, MyNetworkTV, whose soap opera format has failed thus far to resonate with audiences.