No Wrestling, No Problem

NEW YORK Rebuilding a network is never easy, particularly when one of that network’s most-watched franchises has relocated elsewhere. So there was every reason to believe that The CW without Friday Night Smackdown! would open this season at a disadvantage: fewer overall total viewers (from 2.9 million to 2.6 million season-to-date, according to Nielsen Media Research) and a smaller male audience. But by shifting its strategy to serialized dramas like Gossip Girl and recent entry 90210, The CW has found its niche and potential long-term future: young female viewers.

Based on results through Oct. 28 (from an early launch on Sept. 1), ratings for The CW among women 18-34 (1.8) and women 18-49 (1.5) are up by 20 and 7 percent, respectively, from the same period a year ago. Monday’s combination of Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill have lifted the night to yearly gains of as much as 143 percent from the sitcom block last fall. And the arrival of 90210 on Tuesday has attracted more key females.

“Like the WB before it, The CW stands to benefit by these young female-skewing dramas because the profile of its stars are rising,” said Brad Adgate, svp of research at Horizon Media. “But this is just one step forward in the long road to recovery.”

Aging 8 p.m. occupants America’s Next Top Model (Wednesdays) and Smallville (Thursdays) continue to erode. Recent 9 p.m. entries Privileged (Tuesdays) and Stylista (Wednesdays) are struggling. The Media Rights Capital time buy on Sunday has truly underdelivered, causing two dramas, Valentine and Easy Money, to shut down production. And results for relocated Everybody Hates Chris, The Game and encore telecasts of Top Model in place of Smackdown! have dropped the night’s ratings dramatically. Even veteran One Tree Hill, a perfect fit out of Gossip Girl, is a question mark because the main stars of the series have not officially committed for a seventh season.

“We knew going in there were hurdles to climb,” explained Dawn Ostroff, president of entertainment for The CW. “But when we discovered that our sweet spot was young women, we focused on building that demographic. And we passed on wrestling because it just did not fit in our future plans.”

“Like most networks, The CW has multiple challenges on multiple nights,” said John Rash, senior vp, director of media analysis, Campbell Mithun. “But this new defined direction could bode well for future tune-in.”

Looking ahead, hours in contention on The CW include dramas The Graysons (the story of Batman sidekick Robin in his pre-Caped Crusader days) and Light Years (described as Juno meets Gilmore Girls), a spin-off from Top Model, a dating/relationship hour from The Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss, and a new version of Melrose Place.

“The goal this season was to build our Monday to Wednesday block,” said Ostroff. “Now we can focus on putting the rest of the pieces together.”

Those pieces include rebuilding Friday, fixing the 9 p.m. hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, and deciding whether or not to continue Smallville. If the relationship with Media Rights Capital (the company declined to comment for this story) is not extended past year one, the future of Sunday is also iffy. All in all, there is still a great deal of work to be done.