The future for WGN-TV, The CW, and My Network TV

Screenshot of WGN-TV's logo and slogan from the 1980's. (YouTube)
Screenshot of WGN-TV’s logo and slogan from the 1980’s. (YouTube)

After Monday’s announcement of The CW shifting to WPWR, where does these channels stand?

Back in 2008, WGN-TV aired a retrospective of its 60th year in broadcasting. Hosted by Jim Belushi, the special looked back on the station’s local programming such as Garfield Goose, Ray Rayner, and Bozo. Airing on a Sunday night, the special did better in the ratings than The CW fare it pre-empted and pulled in far more revenue.

Hint, hint.

Eight years later, Tribune’s WGN and The CW are ending their association with each other after a decade. Surprised? Maybe. But the relationship was like pairing up Karen Carpenter with Alice Cooper, an uneven match from the start. CW and WGN never were really compatible to begin with, more people associating long-gone shows like those mentioned above with the station, than with any CW program WGN has aired. In fact, the same can be said when WGN was affiliated with predecessor TheWB, though a few WB shows (notably 7th Heaven and Buffy) drew great numbers for them.

So WGN is returning to its roots as a true independent, which it was known for 39 years. The station already has a strong news presence, making up nearly half of its daily schedule (with a weekend expansion in the works) and has rights to the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks – in an era where most non-NFL sporting events are on cable. WGN will be fine without the CW, thank you very much (and sorry Baby Boomers, Bozo is NOT coming back, nor it should.)

Boston is also getting an independent in 2017, as WHDH loses its NBC affiliation to WNEU, a station NBC owns and is currently a Telemundo outlet.

The CW now heads to WPWR, marking the first time a Fox-owned station had an affiliation of the network, part-owned by CBS and Time Warner. CW’s ratings are expected to take a hit, but not without precedence: when CBS lost key affiliates to Fox in the epic New World deal in 1994, ratings for the network declined due to the move to several UHF stations (not to mention the loss of NFL football.) It would take years for CBS to bounce back, though some CBS stations involved in the switch (Detroit, Atlanta, etc.) are still struggling.

While the affiliation immediately raises the profile of WPWR, there are challenges: according to the Los Angeles Times, WPWR is only averaging a scant 0.3 rating and 1 share in total-day household ratings – a far cry from May 1994 when as an independent, WPWR was pulling an 8 share – its highest number ever, thanks to Roseanne reruns and Star Trek: The Next Generation, which aired its series finale that month. Its alliance with the Chris-Craft/United station group (owners of WWOR in New York and KCOP in Los Angeles)  led to major program purchases such as Baywatch and Warner Bros’ Primetime Entertainment Network, home of Babylon 5 and Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. Along with Chris-Craft, WPWR joined the newly-launched UPN network in 1995.

WPWR was a success story under program director Neal Sabin, who turned the station from a little-watched outlet to a major moneymaker and continued to be successful even after he left to run WCIU when it became a general-market independent station. When the FCC loosened the ownership rules, Chris-Craft was swallowed by Fox and so was WPWR, sold for $425 million – the highest amount ever paid for a UHF station. WPWR now was a sister station to WFLD – an outlet it used to often beat in the ratings. Fox cut costs at WPWR, canceling public-affairs shows and a local children’s program. Fox began using WPWR to dump programming it didn’t want anymore, such as Jerry Springer and reruns of King Of The Hill and The Office.

The MNT era of WPWR-TV.
The MNT era of WPWR-TV.

When UPN merged with The WB in 2006, it left WPWR and many former UPN affiliates with My Network TV – created by Fox as a replacement. The first programming attempt – English-language telenovelas such as Desire and Fashion House, were both critical and ratings disasters. Nearly a year later came low-budget, second-rate programming. In 2009, MNT threw in the towel and became a programming service, airing off-network drama repeats. With little original programming, WPWR’s profile cratered further.

Despite Fox failing to invest in “My50” after all these years, give them credit – they did convince Mancow Mueller to put his radio morning show on its air for two years although the program was a critical and ratings failure.

As of May 2016, the only “A-product” first-run program on WPWR is Family Feud. Yes indeed, the station has a lot of work to do. Fox acquiring better product for WPWR – and not just second and third runs of programming already on WFLD would be a nice start. Having Feud in prime access (6 p.m.) is a plus.

So, where does this leave fans of Mentalist and Walking Dead reruns? It is unlikely Fox would move My Network TV programming to another station, so those reruns will likely wind up in late-night – which is already the case at KCOP, where they shifted MNT programming out of primetime since last September and is airing from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Other markets where MNT programming is being delayed to late-night include Seattle (KZJO, from 1-3 a.m.); Cleveland (WUAB, 11 p.m- 1 a.m.); Portland,Ore. (KPDX, 10 a.m.-midnight); Sacramento (KQCA, midnight-2 a.m.); Evansville, Ind. (WEVV/DT-2 from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.); Alexandria, La. ; Springfield, Mass.; and Lima, Oh.

Is this is indeed a blow to My Network TV? Perhaps. If it does fold, we could see the rise of the independent station once more – after all, finding programming (albeit non-sports) for primetime isn’t as hard as it looks. Moreover, it could give producers a chance to develop programming for primetime again, like it did in the ’80’s and ’90’s. It’s a long shot, but it’s a thought.

The Independents Club: Here is a selected list of true independent stations and the programs they are currently airing in prime-time. Weekend programming (Saturday and Sunday) is not included.

WCIU, Chicago.  Airs a local newscast from WLS-TV at 7 p.m.; sitcom reruns of Rules of Engagement, Family Guy, and 2 Broke Girls

WCUU. Chicago. A sister station to WCIU (known as The U Too, available on Channel 26.2), this station airs Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Hot in Cleveland. Has rights to Chicago Wolves hockey and the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, plus a few high-school football/basketball games and ACC contests.

KCAL, Los Angeles. In March 1990, the station became the first in the country to airs an all-news block in primetime; still does today.

KDOC, Los Angeles/Anaheim. Has Law & Order: Criminal Intent, double runs of Everybody Loves Raymond, and Family Guy.

KTXA, Dallas. Owned by CBS, the station double runs Rules, 2 Broke Girls, and Mike and Molly. Former UPN affiliate. Airs Mavericks games on occasion.

KOFY, San Francisco. Airs The Office and Cougar Town, an hour-long newscast produced by KGO-TV, and Corrupt Crimes and Just For Laughs. A former WB affiliate.

KICU, San Francisco. Now re-branded as “KTVU Plus” (Fox owns both KTVU and KICU), they double run three shows: Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, and Seinfeld.

WPCH, Atlanta. Branded as “Peachtree TV”, the former WTBS Superstation now airs movies followed by Seinfeld

KTVK, Phoenix. An hour of Hot In Cleveland; 90 minutes of local news, followed by Entertainment Tonight. Former ABC affiliate.

WADL, Detroit. A local newscast sandwiched between Law & Order: Criminal Intent

WMOR, Tampa. Reruns of Anger Management, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and The Office. Was a WB affiliate until 1999 when Sinclair’s WTTA acquired the affiliation.

KUSI, San Diego. TMZ, Extra, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and a newscast.

KJZZ, Salt Lake City. Airs Jeopardy!, Millionaire, Steve Harvey, and a double-run of Friends. Formerly aired Utah Jazz games (hence the call letters.) Currently owned by Larry H. Miller Communications (who also owns the Jazz), a sale is pending to Sinclair, owner of CBS affiliate KUTV. Former UPN and My Network TV affiliate.

Joining this list soon: WGN, Chicago, WHDH, Boston.


7 thoughts on “The future for WGN-TV, The CW, and My Network TV

    • In addition to the stations listed that air MNT out of prime time, it airs in the Cedar Rapids, IA market from midnight to 2AM on KCRG/DT-2.

    • It should be noted that, like WCIU and KOFY, KDOC in Los Angeles airs an ABC O&O-produced newscast in primetime.

    • The new Boston NBC affiliate is actually WNEU

    • Don’t forget the newly independent WTTV 4.2//WTTK 29.2, which runs syndicated fare and would have been the Indianapolis CW affiliate if WISH hadn’t bought the CW contract from Tribune. Arguably, WISH is a CW success story, but it’s likely that the local programming serves as tentpoles for the network instead of the opposite arrangement.
      WTTV 4.2 runs what I think is a decent primetime weeknight lineup of Law & Order, Seinfeld, and Johnny Carson. (They run the same Carson episode in the same time slot as Antenna TV, but from what I can tell, WTTV 4.2 does not use any Antenna TV branding, and carries no other programming from Antenna TV.)
      At one point, 4.2 was also carrying any “WGN Chicago” syndicated sports that weren’t picked up by WISH or WNDY, but I think this year WISH and WNDY picked up pretty much the full package. I am not a sports fan but think it would be great if 4.2 picked up the local sports that WRTV 6.2 is dropping at the end of the summer, when “HTSN” shuts down in favor of plugging in a national Grit feed.

    • I forgot to include WJXT, the former CBS affiliate in Jacksonville, Fla. Weeknight primetime lineup: “Hot In Cleveland”, “Rules Of Engagement”, “The Big Bang Theory” and its 10 pm newscast.

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