In a stunning move, Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting Co. announced it has picked up The CW affiliation from Fox-owned WPWR, beginning this fall.
The news was first reported by Robert Feder Thursday morning.
No exact date has been set for the change, but it is expected to set off a chain reaction of programming moves within the Chicago market. For one, WCIU-Channel 26.1 is expected to be re-branded as “CW26”, while current prime-time programming – WLS-TV’s 7 p.m. newscast and the upcoming Tamron Hall show is moving to WCIU’s secondary-channel (available over-the-air on channels 26.2 and 48.1) now known as The U Too, becomes “The U”, WCIU’s current branding.
WCIU also inherits a three-hour Saturday E/I block and a daytime hour filled with Jerry Springer reruns, reuniting the now-defunct trash talker with the station after it departed syndication last September. WCIU is also airing Springer’s new court show Judge Jerry this fall.
In a statement, Weigel vice-chairman Neil Sabin said: “About 25 years ago WCIU became The U and changed the television landscape in Chicago. Now we are embarking on an ambitious plan to once again elevate WCIU and The CW Network’s presence here as a lively and local destination for entertaining and engaging television.”
Executive Vice President of Network Distribution Chris Brooks said: “We are thrilled to partner with Weigel Broadcasting and WCIU, The CW’s new home in Chicago, where viewers can continue to enjoy The CW’s popular, critically-acclaimed primetime programming. The CW has continued to grow with popular shows such as Riverdale and The Flash and our relationship with WCIU is a perfect opportunity to add to that momentum in Chicago.”
The CW was formed in 2006 after a merger between UPN and The WB, who both launched in 1995 (WCIU did carry Kids’ WB programming from 1995 to 2004.) Originally a WB affiliate, WGN-TV became a CW affiliate with the network’s launch but dropped the network in September 2016 to focus more on local sporting events, with The CW moving to WPWR – previously branded as My50 as it is a My Network TV affiliate (Ironically, WGN is losing rights to all four pro sports teams this fall, and now doesn’t have the option to return to The CW.) The CW is a joint venture between CBS Corporation and AT&T’s WarnerMedia.
Even though WCIU’s main channel is transitioning to CW26, morning show The Jam and much of its syndicated lineup including Judge Mathis, The People’s Court, and off-network sitcoms such as The King Of Queens, 2 Broke Girls, and Seinfeld are expected to remain intact (with the exception of Face The Truth, as it was canceled last week.) The U at its new home at 26.2/48.1 is also expected to have much of its programming maintain intact, including true crime shows and local high school sports.
One major sticking point for the relocation of The U: The U Too isn’t carried on DirecTV, something Weigel officials need to address before moving forward.
As for WPWR, there is no word on why the station and The CW parted ways after just three seasons as Fox officials declined comment. CW programming ran in-pattern from 7 to 9 p.m., with My Network TV off-net reruns airing at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. Ratings have been a problem at WPWR since Fox took over in 2002, and may have played a role in The CW bolting for WCIU as WPWR was also the only station in Fox’s portfolio as a CW affiliate. Fox recently separated from its longtime studio as the latter was sold to Disney for $71.3 billion nearly eighteen months ago, leaving WPWR and sister station WFLD as part of a new entity known as Fox Corporation.
There is also no word yet on how WPWR would be re-branded, though many Fox-owned My Network TV stations have rechristened themselves as an extension of their sister stations (for example, WDCA in Washington re-branded as “Fox 5 +”, after WTTG’s “Fox 5”; Minneapolis’ WFTC re-branded as “Fox 9 +”, as an extension of KMSP’s “Fox 9”, and so on.) As for prime-time programming, there is no word on what would replace the departed CW fare.
The affiliation shift proves distribution is still important to The CW despite more and more viewers shifting to streaming from linear TV. Last year, The CW moved its programming in Cleveland from Winston Broadcasting’s WBNX to Gray’s WUAB as WUAB is the higher-rated of the two. Like WPWR, WUAB was a dual CW/My Network TV affiliate but moved the My Net programming to sister station WOIO’s MeTV digital subchannel on January 29.