If this was going to be a make-or-break season for The CW, it got off to an ideal start when 90210 opened nicely and Gossip Girl came back strong. That combination may have quieted—at least for now—all the scuttlebutt that The CW's long-term viability was in serious doubt.
But if Madison Avenue continues to buy into the network's new focus on the female 18-34 demo, and the network can find some way to monetize all the viewing it says is happening away from the live airing, CBS and Warner Bros. may have to give it a fighting chance.
Network President Dawn Ostroff talked to B&C's Ben Grossman about silencing critics, whether the buzz about the 90210 actresses' waistlines was good for the network and what it's like for a network chief to farm out Sunday nights.
There was talk before the season—even coming from sources inside Tribune [which owns a major CW station group]—that The CW was facing a pivotal year. Did a good start help cut out that chatter?
I think people are really pleasantly surprised to see how well we've done. The parent companies have continued to be very supportive. We are not only building a network, but assets for our parent companies, and the ratings give us help solidifying what we are about.
So given the questions about the network's viability, was the success this season personally gratifying?
Totally gratifying. I know people are watching these shows. I've been in the business a long time, and you can tell when something is becoming part of pop culture, and Gossip Girl and 90210 are there. But it's all progress, it's not like we're slapping ourselves on the back saying we've arrived.
It looks like 90210 is going to become a new asset.
We are excited about the show for many reasons, and it really has its own identity from Gossip Girl. But we were sort of surprised at how much of a connection the viewers who grew up on the original show have with it.
The show has gotten a lot of buzz for the network—it even got attention for how rail-thin its stars are. Was all that press a case of any publicity is good publicity?
Honestly, we weren't thrilled with that. We don't want these girls to set an example for the country by any stretch.
The CW launched early and got traction. Seems like that was the right move.
It sure does. I think it was a great decision to launch early. We know we have to zig when everyone else is zagging. It is imperative for us to get away from the clutter and all the ad campaigns we have to fight against in the fall.
The network tinkered with whether or not to stream Gossip Girl. Where are you now on that strategy and what have you learned?
The great thing about being us is that it gives us a little bit of license to experiment at a time the whole industry is going through this big seas change; we can take a few more shots.
When we took the streaming off our site to see if the needle moved, what we learned was instead of getting their Gossip Girl episodes on air, they were getting them illegally on other sites. We saw a marginal lift in the rating, but not anything worth us losing the fans coming to our own site.
With Media Rights Capital now programming your Sunday nights, what's it like having an entire night that isn't yours?
Obviously we were hoping it would do well. That being said, that night is a night were we are outsourcing the night. It is definitely different. But we don't wish anybody to not do well. We'd like to see it work.
How have the changes at Tribune affected you?
They’ve been very supportive in a lot of ways. They’ve used the newspapers to help us launch the new season, they’ve been great in brainstorming with us, we’ve been working very hard with them.