In this first of a five-part series I hope to complete before the fall upfronts are announced in May, I will take a look at the five major networks of American television: ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and the CW. I want to take an extended look at the nightly schedules, the ratings, what works, what doesn't and what's on the slate for the fall that could benefit the networks greatly, in my opinion.
This week, I'm analyzing the youngest of the main networks, The CW. Created in 2006, The CW was, in essence, a combination of UPN and The WB. At the time, the networks were struggling to stay afloat and decided to combine to create one big network, fusing the most successful shows of each network with new programming. From UPN came their slate of urban sitcoms, headed by Chris Rock's childhood story, Everybody Hates Chris, as well as WWE Smackdown and their most successful reality franchise, America's Next Top Model. From The WB came veterans 7th Heaven, Smallville and Supernatural. Most notable was the dream team pairing on Tuesday of UPN's Veronica Mars and The WB's Gilmore Girls. What made ratings gold on paper ended up making a ratings bomb. Neither Veronica Mars or Gilmore Girls would survive to the network's second season.
Unfortunately, the difference five years makes is substantial. Ratings were never strong for The CW, especially compared to ABC or CBS, but numbers have only diminished. America's Next Top Model, One Tree Hill (ending this May) and Supernatural are the only programs that have survived since the network's inception, each suffering from viewer loss in five years, while current network veterans like Gossip Girl and 90210 are finding trouble providing lead-ins for new programs like Hart of Dixie and Ringer. What does that mean for The CW's future? Is the network salvagable beyond its current slate dedicated to the teen demographic?
First, a few interesting facts:
-The CW has only created three shows that have lasted three seasons or more since 2006: Gossip Girl (five seasons), 90210 (four seasons) and The Vampire Diaries (three seasons).
-The CW has cancelled roughly twenty-five shows since 2006, including Reaper, Melrose Place, Hellcats and Aliens in America.
-Of the thirteen programs The CW carried over from UPN and The WB, only five survived after the first two years of its inception.
-The CW has remade three different series based on previous programs: 90210 (from Beverly Hills 90210), Nikita (from La Femme Nikita, which in turn was based on a 1990 French film) and Melrose Place (from Melrose Place on FOX). Only Melrose Place didn't make it past its rookie season.
8pm Gossip Girl (Season 5)
9pm Hart of Dixie (Season 1)
Latest ratings for Monday, February 27th
Gossip Girl: 1.17 million / 0.5 18-49 demo
Hart of Dixie: 1.40 million / 0.5 18-49 demo
Gossip Girl's Season Ratings Changes
Season 1: 2.35 million / 1.2 18-49 demo
Season 4: 1.64 million / 0.9 18-49 demo
Gossip Girl's Highest Number This Season
1.39 million (Jan. 30)
Hart of Dixie's Highest Number This Season
2.01 million (Oct. 24)
The CW has placed so much faith in Gossip Girl from the beginning. It is without a doubt the show they hope attracts enough buzz to their network that people start watching all their own programming. It has launched the career of Blake Lively into a mainstream actress, appearing in films like Green Lantern and The Town. It has also launched the movie careers of Leighton Meester and Penn Badgley, although on a much smaller scale than Lively.
So why do the ratings suck?
At its peak, Gossip Girl averaged almost 2.5 million viewers over the course of its second season. Even by CW standards at the time, those numbers weren't the greatest. By the end of its third season, Gossip Girl was in danger of cancellation by most TV experts. But every year, The CW renews the series. It has finally hit the golden number of 100 episodes, meaning it has reached syndication status. But rumors swirl that the producers have not been given notice by the network that they're considering cancelling the series. Does this mean it can survive on scant numbers of a sixth season and beyond?
Unfortunately I am unable to come across other demographic numbers that The CW covets. Allegedly, Gossip Girl scores bigger in teen and 18-34 numbers.
Meanwhile Hart of Dixie has made a little star out of Rachel Bilson. Following her four seasons on The OC, Bilson waded through the waters of film before landing the drama pilot last year. Routinely, Hart of Dixie has outperformed veteran Gossip Girl. Last week alone, it grew by 230,000 viewers, a big jump from Gossip Girl's 1.17 million viewers. Unfortunately it doesn't have age to benefit it. It's too far from a syndication deal to justify a renewal for Season 2. And ratings just aren't strong enough, despite the growth out of Gossip Girl.
Factor in that The CW has just ten 1-hour timeslots to fill per week. They have eliminated Sundays while Saturdays were never an option. That's ten programs at any given time. Unfortunately Hart of Dixie just doesn't have the attention it needs to survive. The CW must gamble every year, and I don't think they will gamble on the medical soap opera for another year. I wouldn't bank on Gossip Girl either, but The CW seems intent on keeping it on the air for at least one more year.
8pm 90210 (Season 4)
9pm Ringer (Season 1)
Latest ratings for 90210 (Tues. Mar. 6th)
90210: 1.29 million / 0.7 demo
Latest ratings for Ringer (Tues. Mar. 6th)
Ringer: 1.24 million / 0.5 demo
90210's Season Ratings Average Changes
Season 1: 2.24 million
Season 3: 1.75 million
90210's Highest Number This Season
1.61 million (Sept. 13)
Ringer's Highest Number This Season (Non-Pilot)
1.98 million (Sept. 27)
The CW has found an unlikely asset in 90210, the 2008 remake of FOX's Beverly Hills 90210. It's one of the few consistent performers. Its latest numbers, from February 7th, posted a decent 0.7 rating in the adults 18-49 demographic. That bests most of The CW's schedule. Of course I should note that these ratings are good by The CW's standards. If a program pulled 0.7 on CBS, it would be pulled faster than you can say How To Be A Gentleman.
90210 was never considered a hit by anyone's standards in its first season, and to be honest, it still isn't. But it's consistent. Its fans have stuck with it. Ratings aren't perfect, but they're not abysmal. There's something to be said on a sinking network for a constant, and I feel 90210 is a constant. This far into its episode run, The CW would benefit from ordering a fifth season and pushing it into syndication.
Ringer, on the other hand, like Hart of Dixie, doesn't benefit from age. In its rookie season, Ringer was the pilot with a ton of pre-show buzz, thanks to the return of Sarah Michelle Gellar to television, following a self-imposed break to pursue wonderful projects like The Grudge 2, The Return and Suburban Girl. Look them all up if you don't believe they exist.
For its pilot, Ringer attracted 2.84 million viewers, a far cry from early predictions which pegged it to score at least 3.5-4 million viewers. From there, the numbers are dropping fast, leaving much to be desired at 1.24 million viewers and a 0.5 in the 18-49 demo. The experiment didn't work, and it may be back to the drawing board for The CW. If I had to bank on any of the new programs, Ringer wouldn't be it. It doesn't help that it's a serialized drama, hindering its future prospects in syndication.
8pm One Tree Hill (Season 9)
9pm America's Next Top Model (Season 18)
Latest Ratings for One Tree Hill (Wed. Mar. 7th, 2012)
1.47 million viewers / 0.7 18-49 demo
Latest Ratings for America's Next Top Model (Wed. Mar. 7th, 2012)
1.32 million viewers / 0.6 18-49 demo
America's Next Top Model Season Ratings Average Changes
Season 2 (2004): 6.1 million
Season 8 (2007): 5.4 million
Season 13 (2009): 3.3 million
Season 17 (2011): 1.8 million
It seems like a moot point to talk One Tree Hill. On April 4th, One Tree Hill will end its nine-year run, following a brief beginning on The WB from 2003-2005, then the remainder of its time on The CW since 2005, off and on running from almost-canceled to barely-renewed. It even survived a major time jump to create fresh storylines. Ratings are still decent, but nowhere near its heyday. But without a future beyond April, it's unnecessary to discuss it further.
America's Next Top Model (ANTM), meanwhile, is suffering huge this season. The series that once averaged over 5 million viewers a season, on UPN and The CW, has fallen hard to below 1.5 million average this season. Have audiences tired of the model franchise? Should Tyra Banks have stayed with her talk show? This season, the show has undergone a British Invasion, welcoming seven previous Britain's Next Top Model hopefuls to compete against American models. Perhaps audiences aren't keen on the British twist. Or maybe it just doesn't have the lasting power of Survivor, The Amazing Race or even The Bachelor.
Unfortunately for The CW, ANTM is one of those performers that they need right now, at least for one more season. It's one of the few shows they know could perform well for them. But I don't believe it'll last. If I can make one suggestion, it's that it may benefit from just one cycle per TV season, rather than two.
8pm The Vampire Diaries (Season 3)
9pm The Secret Circle (Season 1)
Latest Ratings for The Vampire Diaries (Thurs. Feb. 16, 2012)
2.86 million / 1.3 18-49 demo
Latest Ratings for The Secret Circle (Thurs. Feb. 16, 2012)
1.76 million / 0.8 18-49 demo
The Vampire Diaries Season Ratings Average Changes
Season 1: 3.60 million
Season 2: 3.17 million
The Vampire Diaries Highest Number This Season
3.51 million (Nov. 3rd)
The Secret Circle Highest Number This Season (Non-Pilot)
2.33 million (Oct. 27)
Since the (breaking) dawn of the vampire craze began with Twilight in 2008, the bloodsuckers have been running rampant in the media, and it's no more evident than The Vampire Diaries. Performing huge for The CW in its first season, peaking at almost 5 million viewers for its pilot episode, The Vampire Diaries isn't going anywhere anytime soon with ratings like these. Even at 2.86 million for its latest episode, a slight drop from its average, TVD is The CW's greatest asset, and it continues to serve as a launch pad for other supernatural fare, including sister series The Secret Circle.
Speaking of, The Secret Circle might be too much of a secret for viewers (haha), regularly squandering its big lead-in ratings. Its latest numbers dropped over a million viewers from TVD and lost one half of a ratings point in the 18-49 demographic. But to its credit, those ratings are still strong enough to sit atop the rest of The CW's schedule. Even if retention is lacking, it would likely perform no worse than anything else on the schedule if moved elsewhere, and it definitely will next season. The CW needs TVD to launch more programming before its age plays against it and ratings continue to plummet (see ANTM).
8pm Nikita (Season 2)
9pm Supernatural (Season 7)
Latest Ratings for Nikita (Fri. Feb. 17, 2012)
1.60 million / 0.6 18-49 demo
Latest Ratings for Supernatural (Fri. Feb. 17, 2012)
1.68 million / 0.7 18-49 demo
Supernatural Season Ratings Average Changes
Season 1: 3.81 million
Season 4: 3.14 million
Season 6: 2.42 million
Supernatural's Highest Number This Season
2.01 million (Sept. 23)
Nikita's Highest Number This Season
1.89 (Nov. 11)
What to do on Friday nights. The television graveyard of Saturday nights is starting to decay and smell its way into the Friday night schedule for any program not broadcast by CBS. A few years ago, The CW picked up UPN's WWE Smackdown for broadcast on Friday evenings until it became too much of a nuisance for them to air, thanks to its inability to improve ratings for any other part of its schedule. Imagine that! Smackdown was one of its best performers, a guarantee on Friday nights, routinely notching the top spot as most-watched in the 18-49 demographic on Friday nights, and The CW said "Let's move this before we win any more Friday nights! How dare we!"
And so Smallville and Supernatural were shipped off to Fridays, where they would perform adequately for the night until Smallville ended its run last year. Now Supernatural has been paired with mediocre performer Nikita, neither show going above 2 million viewers, except for one occasion at the start of the season for Supernatural. What does that mean for either show's future? It means that once again, age will play a factor in the decision of which shows to renew and cancel in May.
No matter what, Supernatural is still a decent performer for The CW and will continue to be for whatever time it has left. It'll likely stay on Fridays, where next season it'll be paired for a new show, or perhaps Ringer, should The CW actually renew it. It's The FOX Rule of Fridays: renew it for no reason and ship it off to Fridays to die a slow, painful death. Nikita, meanwhile, is not setting fire to the ratings. Sure, it's only a few notches below Supernatural, and performing better than Gossip Girl, 90210 and America's Next Top Model, but when you factor in the minimal amount of air time remaining, Nikita may not get a reprieve next season. It's a serious toss-up. It likely can't and won't benefit any other show if moved to a different night.
What's On The Development Slate For The CW?
-Arrow (featuring Colin Donnell, Colin Salmon, Katie Cassidy & Willa Holland)
An updated take on the DC comic about an archer with various trick arrows with special functions. Apparently The CW hasn't gotten the memo that all these updates aren't clicking with viewers. NBC wisely passed on Wonder Woman in 2011. The CW should do the same.
-Beauty & The Beast (featuring Kristin Kreuk, Jay Ryan & Nicole Gale Anderson)
A detective teams with a "genetically altered afghanistan war veteran" to solve crimes. Hmm, that Arrow show doesn't sound so bad.
-The Carrie Diaries (featuring AnnaSophia Robb as Carrie Bradshaw)
A prequel to Sex and The City, based on Carrie in high school. Hmm, that Beauty & The Beast show doesn't sound so bad. In all seriousness, it sounds good on paper, but the edginess of HBO will be all gone on The CW. And SATC fans won't migrate to a teen drama. Still, could it be worse than Sex and The City 2?
-Shelter (from Exec. Producer JJ Abrams)
A drama following the staff and guests of a Maine inn. Yeah, that's going to attract the teenage demographic. Unless they're all sleeping together. In which case, yes, yes it will attract the teenage demographic.
A sixth season of Gossip Girl
A Fifth season of 90210
Multiple seasons of The Vampire Diaries
A Seventh (and final?) season of Supernatural
Ringer will end after one season
The second cycle of ANTM?
Nikita might get a midseason reprieve, but I doubt it
Rachel Bilson will be broken-Harted in May
The Carrie Diaries, if it isn't plagued by development hell, will be the center of attention on The CW's fall schedule, while First Cut (a drama set in a hospital) will likely take Hart of Dixie's place.
The Last Word: The CW is so far in the hole, it's wearing a permanent miner's hat, complete with that little light on top. It can clearly see things aren't getting better, but they are making the most of what little they have, which means canceling certain shows (Nikita) and keeping others (Gossip Girl), against better judgments. If they can find at least two more hits to go along with The Vampire Diaries, they could easily turn things around. But the stigma surrounding The CW (it's all about the young'uns) is a liability, especially when MTV is currently the network to go for teen programming.
-CBS has renewed daytime talker The Talk for the 2012-2013 season. For those of us wondering "I wonder what Hell looks like?"
-FOX canceled Terra Nova after one season of 13 episodes. But a glimmer of hope shines in the distance. Who could be the savior? Netflix!... yeah, that's going to happen. Hope you enjoyed it while you could, Terra fans.
-The Lindsay Lohan-led edition of Saturday Night Live on Saturday scored 7.4 million viewers, with a 2.9 in the 18-49 demo, its best ratings this season not boosted by an NFL game. So television viewers still want to see you, Lindsay. And who suggested TV your place to be? Your move, Ms. Lohan...
That does it for the first part in Analyze the Network. Next week, it's spring cleaning at FOX. Could they cancel over half of their schedule? It's very possible.
Until then, stay tuned.