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.