T Dog’s Think Tank: The incredibly bumbling, stumbling CW

In the Chicago area, a lot of people wonder how the mayor, the governor, and the Cook County Board President keep their jobs. In television circles, people pretty much feel the same way about CW network chief Dawn Ostroff.

Ostroff recently held an executive Q&A with reporters during the network’s portion of the TCA Press Tour. And in the true tradition of a Chicago politician, she dodged questions about the fledgling net – from the Media Rights Capital deal on Sunday Nights to CW’s future – while being quite arrogant in the process, according to this post on TV Barn. From what I read, the session was about as tense as Fox News’ presentation on Monday. Obviously, Ostroff must have gotten pointers from lout Karl Rove on how to handle the crowd.

She admitted the last two years have been “very challenging” for the sixth-rated network, saying that “we made a lot of progress.” Um, what progress? Your ratings were down for the second straight year. Yeah, that’s some progress. You guys lost to Univision, which by the way – last time I checked, is beating the prime-time competition in New York and Los Angeles, and that includes CW.

While the net is going forward with its newly found love for young women, the net is casting off shows they feel don’t appeal to the demo, like ratings winner Friday Night Smackdown, which usually wins its time period among adults 18-49. But the net also canceled Girlfriends without a series finale, alienating fans of the show – the very same female demo CW is courting, although the audience for Girlfriends was African-American.

While I thought it was time to retire Girlfriends, sending it off without a series finale was just crass. Doing a disservice to a loyal fanbase is just wrong. And it’s just another reason why audiences hold network television in such low regard. Too bad advertisers and network exces themselves don’t see it that way.

Ostroff pretty much refused to answer questions on why the network is abandoning the African-American audience by canceling Girlfriends and shifting the remaining two sitcoms – Everybody Hates Chris and The Game to the Friday Night Death Slot. In fact, she’s abandoned sitcoms all together for dramas – most of which don’t have any diversity, period. Better off that Gossip Girl be based in Salt Lake City rather than New York City. Oh wait, the naughty things they do in Gossip Girl you can’t get away with in Utah, unless you want to marry more than one person.

She talks about those wonderful buzzwords “branding” and “flow” in justifying dropping the male-skewing Smackdown. Translation: What they are essentially doing is blowing up the place and starting over. There’s a major difference. If we are talking about “branding” and “flow”, why she didn’t do that when the network launched in 2006? What did they do instead? Merge “the best” of The WB and UPN from the CW’s corporate parents, Time Warner and CBS Corp.

It comes to late for at least one station. Tribune-owned KSWB-TV in San Diego is dumping CW for Fox next month while CW moves to former Fox affiliate XETV. Tribune owner Sam Zell obviously isn’t pleased with CW’s ratings, and some Tribune stations aren’t even branding themselves with CW anymore (they are still promoting the network’s lineup heavily.) One even changed its call letters.

WGN-TV in Chicago never really incorporated CW branding into its station to begin with, keeping it out of its news and sports telecasts (The CW 9 News at Noon just doesn’t cut it.) Whatever branding they do use, they stick “The CW” at the end of the station’s byline. Most Chicagoans still resonate WGN with the Cubs, Bozo, and Garfield Goose – not Gossip Girl and America’s Next Top Model, and that’s a huge problem for CW.

And if Tribune – which holds CW affiliations in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago – the three largest markets in the U.S. – isn’t happy, what about Sinclair Broadcasting? Next to Tribune, they own the largest amount of CW affiliates. Sinclair owns nine CW stations in markets like Minneapolis, Raleigh-Durham, and Baltimore, among others. Other station groups are starting to gripe as well – if they aren’t already.

And the Tribsters aren’t waiting around for a back-up plan when and if CW implodes. Tribune stations are already looking into some prime-time programming ventures.

But it appears to me Ostroff is refusing to admit defeat – she’s standing around spinning the problems into something positive, like she is doing with Gossip Girl. Hello, it’s still not a hit – though there is some potential for growth. But the program hasn’t attained hit status yet – no matter what the media says, and if you wonder if CW is paying them under the table for media outlets to spin the story the way they want to (hey, it works well in Chicago politics…)

And now, she’s talking about the future – looking ahead to the 2009-10 season and considering starting the season in mid-summer.

Whoa, now hold on there… First, The CW might not even be around by then… Second – while a few shows have had success with new episodes during the summer months (Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Northern Exposure, and Seinfeld to name a few), HUT and PUT levels are too low to launch a new season of programming that early, unless you’re talking about reality shows. Talk about putting the cart before the horse.

The bottom line is, this is a make or break year for The CW. If the ratings fall even further, and they have to start providing make goods, then I think it’s time to pull the plug. Young women – like young men – are watching TV less and less and watching online video more and more. The CW should have had this plan when the network was created. It’s now too little, too late.

And if the network closes, Dawn Ostroff and other CW executives would be out of jobs. A possible scenario is they leave the television business, go into politics, and they all move to Chicago. With decision-impaired people in government residing here in the Windy City, Ostroff and her clan would fit right in.

God help us all.