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A New Script

How CBS and Time Warner Brass plan to build The CW 1/27/2006 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Dawn Ostroff’s life took a dramatic turn on Jan. 24.

That’s when the rest of the world found out what the UPN president had known for a while: The WB and UPN would become one network, and she would be a big part of it.

Now that the secret is out, the CW entertainment president plans to assemble a team of executives and develop a strategy the new crew can execute in a reasonable time. Next, she’ll identify pilots for the new network’s first development slate. Perhaps just as important as the quality of the product is the brand, which has to be crafted from scratch and then sold to two sets of constituents: advertisers in May, the viewers leading up to the fall launch.

And it all has to happen fast. May and the upfronts are only three months away. Between now and then, Ostroff, who was promoted to UPN president in February 2005, will try to build a schedule that will specifically target the 18-34 demo, something both The WB and UPN shows did with only modest success.

The schedule for now is up for grabs. As much as 10 hours of the 13-hour prime time schedule will be made up of current UPN and WB hits. Ostroff likes her Monday UPN lineup, which includes Girlfriends and One on One, so a slate of African-American–targeted comedies is a good bet. New CW ad-sales chief Bill Morningstar, who will join from The WB, which skewed to a younger audience, likes the idea of an all-African-American night. “I think it is a really smart programming strategy,” he says.

Female-friendly Nights

Morningstar says he can envision a female-friendly Tuesday and Wednesday. For instance, a Veronica Mars/Gilmore Girls night makes sense, but don’t expect Ostroff to commute the death sentence for 7th Heaven, which she knows lost $16 million this season.

Thursdays could begin a shift to a male audience. With Smallville the top-rated 18-34 show in its time slot, keeping it on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET would make sense, with thriller Supernatural a nice fit at 9. That would mean moving comedy Everybody Hates Chris to another night. Wherever it goes, Ostroff’s chief developmental task will be finding a companion piece for the sitcom. She says she may be looking for a single-camera comedy to go with Chris.

The male-centric Thursday would be helpful for promoting Friday night—a relatively safe bet to be filled with a two-hour WWE Smackdown!, which worked well on a night in which The WB struggled.

Sunday is decidedly up in the air, with an all-reality night a possibility up against ABC’s powerful lineup and NBC’s football in the fall. Ostroff has such assets as America’s Top Model and Beauty and the Geek in her reality arsenal, although Top Model may work better on one of the female-themed nights.

Although a network’s shows drive a brand, no new network has a second chance to make a good first impression. The first decision will be what to call the network. A name and logo were unveiled last week, but it was hard to find an executive from either camp who would guarantee that one or both would still be around in the fall. “A lot of this was put together [quickly], and we hope 'The CW’ will be the name of the network,” says Ostroff, adding, “but anything could happen.”

Whatever the logo looks like, the message will have to be crystal clear in a cluttered market: The CW is selling a network targeting 18- to 34-year-olds. And with a decidedly young target, marketing brass will have to be nimble about going to wherever the demo spends its time. “Whether it’s People magazine or someone’s blog, we’ll need to be there,” says CBS Marketing Group President George Schweitzer.

While the shows will bring a modest built-in audience and upgrading affiliates in certain markets will help, Schweitzer is also bullish about the combination of CBS’ media properties and Warner Bros.’ sales prowess. “Between our media power and their entertainment-marketing experience on the theatrical side and with home video,” he says, “there is a lot going on.”

Parental Help

The new network will tap its parents’ assets for help. Field reps for CBS’ recently acquired College Sports TV network will be asked to do viral marketing for The CW, including setting up screenings for programming.

Morningstar, who has been with The WB since its inception in 1995, will have the chance to go back to what his network got away from: pinpointing the young demo. “We’ll go in under the traditional networks from a competitive standpoint and chasing viewers and marketing. There is a huge generation coming in, the babies of baby boomers.”

Morningstar estimates that The WB and UPN combined took in about $900 million in upfront ad revenues this year but adds that it’s too early to guess how much of that the new network can retain come spring.

Ad buyers see an opportunity for the new network to re-focus on the target audience that The WB had let slip away when it tried to broaden its audience recently. “It’s imperative it stays 18-34,” says Steve Grubbs, CEO of media-buying agency PHD North America. “That’s where the opportunity is.”

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