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Analysis: The CW's 2012-13 schedule is simultaneously intuitive and counter-intuitive
'Arrow,' 'Beauty and the Beast' and a 'Supernatural' move shake things up
Through upfronts week, Sepinwall has been doing daily analysis on each network's schedule, but I'm handling The CW because, as he puts it, "I don't understand the CW."
The funny thing is that the schedule that The CW announced on Thursday (May 17) morning is probably the most instantly digestible lineup of the week and not just because The CW only programs 10 hours of primetime. It's almost as if The CW decided that this was the year to encourage Sepinwall and other people outside of the Females 18-34 demo to understand The CW, if not watch it.
The CW's 2012-13 schedule is simultaneously marvelously intuitive and amusingly counter-intutive.
Why counter-intutive? Because CW President Mark Pedowitz has been saying since he took the job that CW viewers aren't being measured by Nielsen, that they simply don't watch TV in the traditional ways anymore. And the numbers agree. If people actually do, in fact, watch The CW's programming, they're not doing it in homes, apartments or dorm rooms monitored by Nielsen. They're almost exclusively watching through ancillary platforms. If that's the case, though, what possible advantage could there be to programming both of your shows about out-of-their-elements female doctors on the same night? By Pedowitz's standards, your typical CW viewer doesn't have a clue what night or in what hour "Hart of Dixie" airs on the cathode ray box. They only know when the show pops up on iTunes, OnDemand or on CWTV.com. If any network should be saying, "Flow is dead. Long live the new programming anarchy!" it should be The CW.
In that spirit, The CW turned its schedule upside-down. The netlet programs 10 hours and only one show will be returning to the hour it aired last season: That would be "The Vampire Diaries." Otherwise, there are shows in new hours, shows on new nights and five new shows premiering between fall and midseason. The CW is saying, "Our viewers aren't wedded to time periods, so we can juggle things with impunity and nobody will be offended."
And yet, for all of that, The CW's announced schedule is all about logical, semi-logical or faux-logical pairings of shows. It's about simultaneously pretending that The CW's viewers don't watch traditional TV at all and also pretending that the watch it in the most traditional and idealized way imaginable.
I kinda dig that.
Before going into the night-by-night analysis, one interesting note:
The CW has always known that its programming gets lost in the avalanche of network fall premieres. Typically, that has caused The CW to launch a week or two early, but somebody finally noticed that that actually only creates illusory successes. "Ringer" draws 2.7 million viewers for its premiere? That's cause for guarded optimism! "The Secret Circle" draws nearly 3 million viewers and a 1.3 rating in the 18-49 demo (yes, that really happened)? It's a hit! Then everybody brings their programming back and those shows start to dwindle. And then because those shows started so early, they vanish for weeks or months and -- Shocker! -- viewers don't return in quite the same way. This year, though, The CW is planning on launching in October, which will get shows out of the major premiere weeks and will, crucially, perhaps cut down on some of those lengthy hiatuses in the winter and spring. That also feels very smart.
Here's the night-by-night breakdown:
Monday: "Gossip Girl" shifts to 9 p.m. and "90210" moves to 8 p.m. The CW has done this block before, but this is different, because these will be the last 13 episode for "Gossip Girl" and maybe the buzz-friendly, audience-light drama will add a few viewers for its closing episodes, which should allow Blair to break up and reunite with Chuck at least five times. The CW will then launch the "Sex and the City" prequel "The Carrie Diaries" in January at 9 p.m. In a perfect world, this would probably also be the last season for "90210" as well and The CW would be ready to use "The Carrie Diaries" as an 8 p.m. launching pad in the fall of 2013.
Tuesday: Doctors in love! Not with each other. You get "Hart of Dixie," which has potential to grow with a summer of repeats, airing at 8 p.m. It's a cute little show that improved in its first season and it almost couldn't be better matched with the horribly titled "Emily Owens, MD." "First Cut" wasn't a good title either for this "Felicity"-esque medical drama about a young woman starting as a first-year resident at the same hospital as her med school crush, but "Emily Owens, MD" is dreadful as a title, especially after the punny "Hart of Dixie." Mamie Gummer is well situated for stardom and she and Rachel Bilson are paired well.
Wednesday: The CW only cares about young female viewers. Except for when The CW programs a night of manly action (aimed at young female viewers). The network has high hopes for "Arrow" and the superhero drama should be able to get sampling in a time slot that doesn't have any sort of direct competition for viewers looking for high-octane thrillers. "Arrow" will lead into "Supernatural," which has become the oddest of survivor stories. Two years ago, The CW basically shipped "Supernatural" from Thursday to Friday and figured it would die a dignified death. Instead, "Supernatural" held up amazingly well in the programming tundra and the netlet rewarded the show by moving it back into "real" primetime. That's unique. It's another night that makes sense.
Thursday: Pretty brunettes who love monsters. That's a good thematic pairing right? "The Vampire Diaries" into "Beauty and the Beast" makes sense as a union of supernatural romances. Then again, "The Vampire Diaries" into "The Secret Circle" made sense as a union of LJ Smith adaptations from Kevin Williamson. And "The Vampire Diaries" into "Nikita" kinda made sense in terms of kick-butt females, or whatever similarities The CW tried to promote that year. Apparently "The Vampire Diaries" isn't a great launching show. Until it is.
Friday: OK. This is the one night that doesn't work, at least not on the surface and that's funny, because the "Nikita"/"Supernatural" pairing was pretty easy to justify. The CW's press release said that "America's Next Top Model" and "Nikita" both feature "fierce females." Ugh. But what does make sense is that "America's Next Top Model" used to be The CW's biggest show and then it became yet another programming eyesore. If you think that Tyra Banks' baby has even an iota of remaining juice, shifting it to one of primetime's few slots without anything resembling a competition reality show isn't a bad idea. And if "ANTM" regains its mojo, maybe "Nikita" benefits. If "ANTM" doesn't regain its mojo, it'll just be another year on the bubble for "Nikita," but at least that doesn't make anything worse for the cult action drama.
The CW also has "Cult" for midseason and I don't have an instant sense for where it would fit...