Some History on The Can’t Win Network (The CW)

People in the business have jokingly referred to The CW as “The Can’t Win,” network.  It’s a long running joke that came about before the CW ever even aired an episode.  In fact it was pretty much the day that Dawn Ostroff was named the President of the new network.  To have an idea of just how bad a decision that was let us  first take a look at what happened.

Time Warner was getting pressure to dump its network from the likes of Carl Icahn and Ted Turner.  Terrible Ted had started his war against the idea of the WB years before.  He would also famously state “sell the network, and I’ll use that money to buy a real network.”  He hated the original idea that was basically:  Build a network with pilots that other networks fail to pick up.  This would end up changing to a network aimed entirely at the 18-34 demographic (male and female) and family oriented programming but would only truly succeed with the 12-24 demo (the tween demo).

CBS was getting pressure after the Viacom mess to get rid of UPN.  UPN was a network that like the WB was made for a place for their failed pilots to go and share space with the newest STAR TREK series:  STAR TREK VOYAGER.  However like the WB who found good counter programming in family oriented shows,UPN found great counter programming with African American shows and 18-34 female aimed product.

The WB had seen a steady drop in ratings and viewers after losing BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER to rival UPN.  They picked up some incredibly lame brained product along with a few nuggets like GILMORE GIRLS and SUPERNATURAL.  However their tentpoles were coming to an end.  The days of DAWSONS CREEK and 7TH HEAVEN were at an end.  ANGEL had been prematurely canceled.  Numbers were down.

Meanwhile at the UPN things were on the rise.  AMERICAS NEXT TOP MODEL was a true hit for the network and combined with ENTERPRISE the new STAR TREK show the network was seeing their numbers go up.  Meanwhile shows like VERONICA MARS weren’t hits but they weren’t misses either.  However the network was still losing money.

Somehow somebody somewhere came up with the idea of merging UPN and WB.  It’s a 50/50 deal.  50% of expense and 50% of profit is split.  Yet, somehow the idiots at Time Warner, who were just happy to be getting out of the WB but still retain profit from shows like SMALLVILLE, allowed the contracts in the merger to give all the power to Les Moonves and Nancy Tellem.  They have power over anything that airs on The CW.  So they kept their girl Dawn Ostroff in charge.

The problem is nobody won.  Google the merger and you’ll see idiotic quotes from everyone from Bruce at Time Warner studios to Les at CBS making absurd claims of “we’ll be profitable in the first year!”  That of course never happened.  In fact the CW continues to lose more money every year of its existence.  It is bleeding viewers just like the other networks.  In addition viewers lost.  They lost the family oriented programming and the African American programming (which just this season came to its conclusion).  The viewers lost.  Shareholders of CBS and Time Warner lost.  Everyone lost.

Dawn Ostroff picked and choosed which shows from both Networks to bring over under the supervision of Les Moonves.  Les also wanted to move a CBS show over, but Dawn balked at the idea.  She wanted to make sure that the CW was not a castoff network like UPN had been before it.  So Les and Nancy oversaw the choices made for the first season of The CW.  Dawn was able to save VERONICA MARS despite low numbers (but numbers the network would kill for today), but a lot of shows were lost.

Since then the CW has steadily lost viewers.  The only show that truly grew viewers this past season was SUPERNATURAL.  GOSSIP GIRL had an early season spike, but that quickly eroded away.  Meanwhile SUPERNATURAL slowly grew from a 1.1 to a 1.2.  Dawn continues to allow shows that shouldn’t live to live.

Yes all the networks (except CBS) are losing viewers compared to last season.  However, my argument is that the CW should be gaining viewers.  When you’re so small you should be growing not shrinking.


27 responses to “Some History on The Can’t Win Network (The CW)

  1. Nick, do you know whose in charge of marketing and advertising for the CW? They, along with Dawn, need to be fired ASAP! It’s appalling to see the drop in quality of the cw’s promos versus the wb’s. There’s no depth, no creativity….which can be applied to The CW’s entire existence, but more so in commercials.

  2. But at this point, three years in, where they just seem to be doing the same thing over and over again, do they really have any sort of chance of gaining viewers?

  3. Charles, that would be Rick Haskins. I don’t think that the problem is Rick, I think he does what he can with the budget and people above him. The whole green CW thing was not his decision. I actually believe Rick is very competent.

  4. Julia, they aren’t doing the same thing over again. They’ve now eliminated the African American aspects of the network. They’ve banished the super hero show to Fridays. They got rid of SMACKDOWN! their most successful show from the season before, and not their most successful show has been sent to die on Friday. They’re definitely doing new things to drag the network down!

  5. Why do they want to drag the network down? Why is it that they seem to run CBS very well, but not the CW? Why can’t the CW pick up some decent shows and why did they move Smallville to Fridays?

  6. FringeFan, well the CW claims that SMALLVILLE is likely their only show that can be successful on Friday. We’ll see about that.

    CBS gave Dawn control and they definitely were involved with what shows were run. Last May Dawn almost lost her job, but held on. This Spring she was able to again hold onto her job but this time “get a real chance to prove her plan can work.” She was given more control than before with the Fall schedule. So we get to see her drag it down.

    The same idiots who claimed profitability for the network 3 years ago are saying this is the year. Sure.

  7. Thank-you Nick, interesting stuff that I didn’t know.

    It really is hard to believe that it is even possible for the network to do this bad, they have a lot going for them very strong national coverage and CBS and Warner ownership, the only net with two affiliated production studios.

  8. I think Nick is right, and that the CW uses incredible PR to cover up the fact that they are doing poorly. But the idea that they are “giving back” Sunday nights to the affiliates should tell us how terribly they really are doing – they clearly don’t have the budget to even do a full week schedule anymore.

  9. dsfjr1190 (David)

    Tiff said – “they clearly don’t have the budget to even do a full week schedule anymore.”

    Which explains their weekday encores of 90210 and ANTM.

  10. I think that the first moment i realized the CW network would probably not be successful was when they inexplicably don’t picked up de Aquaman pilot. That was one of the most talked about pilots of that season, and i recall of the leaked pilot trailer being watched more than 1 million times on YouTube in just 1 day. Instead, they opted for shows like Runaways, that was canceled in less than 1 month. Do you know the true history behind then not picking up Aquaman, Nick C?

  11. Raphael, the pilot scored well but they thought the whole “aquaman,” thing was weak. The allowed it to be made to appease the Warner side. Then they got the actor who played Aquaman to play Green Arrow on SMALLVILLE. They didn’t want it because it didn’t fit their target with the other shows they had going that season.

    It was a lousy move.

  12. Is it possible the CW could fold? I say this because they’re scrapping Sunday nights Also, when is your True Blood season 2 review coming?

  13. Fringefan, I’d bet on it folding. It is losing money and the studios don’t make more than they lose (with the exception of Warner and only because of SMALLVILLE).

  14. dsfjr1190 (David)

    What about SUPERNATURAL, Nick? Is that profitable? Well as profitable as anything can be on The CW, I mean…

  15. dsfjr1190(David), it’s profitable for Warner. The only reason Warner profits at all is SMALLVILLE, they sell $50M worth of DVD box sets for every season they make the show. It’s also in syndication. They don’t really have another property that comes close to even half those numbers.

  16. What I don’t get is why the CW put Smallville on Fridays? I mean it’s their highest rated show. What gives?

  17. But you’ve said it yourself – isn’t the entity to blame really Time Warner, for both losing all executive control after the merger and allowing Dawn to keep doubling down on her dubious bet?

    As far as when the CW goes to the great beyond? I’m not sure anymore. 6 months ago, I would have said 09/10 was it, but now that the economy is slowly coming back (and advertising along with), I could see the CW suffering through 11/12.

  18. Nick, correct me if I’m wrong (and I may well be) but didn’t you say on TVbtN once a while ago that CBS was keen on the CW merger because UPN was finally having some success and they didn’t want it to impinge on CBS’s ratings? Or something? Thinking about it, that doesn’t seem to make much sense. It’s possible I read it somewhere else altogether or am just confused/idiotic. If I’m not though, and the more I type it seems less and less likely, care to reiterate/elaborate on that part of the story?

  19. Tom, the economy is coming back, but advertising numbers for the CW won’t be improving over last year. Estimates are a 15% loss over last year from advertisements. I’m expecting an increase in expenses. I think they’ll lose over $100M next year. That should be enough to toss it.

    Remember they couldn’t afford to program on Sundays!

    Is it Time Warner’s fault? In the beginning sure they made mistakes and let Les Moonves walk all over them in the contracts. However the last 3 years it is all Ostroff and to a lesser extent Moonves and Tellem.

  20. Jack, that would never have been stated by me. UPN was having some success and they didn’t want to lose income on the Studio side. Remember they were claiming that by merging they would be profitable from day one! They were just dead wrong. I don’t think CBS would care if some day they were outpaced by the CW. It will never happen, but I don’t think they’d care.

  21. Oh, damn it. Guess I am an idiot.

  22. Jack, you’re not an idiot. I am. I just said that CBS wouldn’t be upset if the CW passed them in ratings! Of course they’d be upset! What the hell was I thinking when I wrote that?

    Was I thinking?

  23. So Ted Turner the guy behind TBS, CNN, & Cartoon Network never liked the orginal idea behind the WB? How could he be so short sighted?

    Wasn’t a network that took cast off TV shows and pilots an idea that was brought up on tvbythenumbers awhile ago?

  24. Pingback: Entertainment Link-Off: Don’t Fear the Reaper « The Lowdown Blog


  26. George11, I just read that Jenny Wade (one of the actresses on BP) said on twitter that it’s officially dead at the CW.

    They are, however, shopping the show to a few other networks, including ABC and NBC. Considering the number of new shows those networks picked up, though, I’m not holding my breath.

  27. Wow thanks Nick. I have always wondered the story about the “two weakest networks” and have never completely understood it, until now.
    Is it expected for the CW to tank in the next few years if things stay the same?