In a surprising move, The CW announced Thursday it is expanding their prime-time lineup to Saturdays starting in October, giving the network its first full seven-day-a-week schedule in its history.
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No decision on what programming would fill the first and second hours of prime-time, but The CW did announce it is airing the IHeartMedia Music Festival on Saturday, October 2 and Sunday, October 3. The 2021-22 lineup will be unveiled in a virtual upfront presentation May 25.
The CW already programs Saturday mornings, but it’s a three-hour time buy from Litton Entertainment for E/I fare.
“As The CW expands and thrives, so do our affiliate partners, and everyone sees the tremendous value and the clear excitement behind the opportunity to brand and identify as a seven night network on both a national and local level,” said Betty Elen Berlamino, who is The CW’s executive vice president of network distribution.
In order to expand to Saturdays, The CW had to get approval from its key affiliate partners, including Nexstar (who operates The CW’s two largest stations – WPIX New York and KTLA Los Angeles, respectively), Sinclair Broadcasting, and Weigel Broadcasting, owner of CW affiliate WCIU here in Chicago and WCWW in South Bend, Ind.
Currently, WCIU airs syndicated repeats of off-Fox adult animation sitcoms on Saturday nights as they have for the last decade or so, dating back to when they were an independent station. WCIU joined The CW in 2019 after the network had an unsuccessful three-year stint at Fox-owned WPWR-TV and beforehand, a ten-year run at WGN-TV.
The move is a bit bold given homes-using-television levels on Saturdays have been low for decades. Once the home to top-rated series such as All In The Family, Mary Tyler Moore, The Carol Burnett Show, and The Golden Girls, HUTs have declined steadily since the mid-1980s as the broadcast networks gave up programming the night some time ago, with the exception of college football on ABC and Fox, and an occasional SEC game on CBS. The low HUT levels were one of the reasons predecessors The WB and UPN passed on programming Saturday.
Even Fox had trouble programming Saturdays at launch in 1987; affiliates KMSP in Minneapolis and KPTV Portland, Ore. dropped the network entirely after feuding over the night’s lackluster programming (both returned to the fold in 2002.) Fox however, did find success later with Cops and America’s Most Wanted. While The WB and UPN never made it to that seven-night-a-week plateau, Fox did so in 1993 after six years in operation. Later in the year, they shocked the world by stealing away the NFC football package from CBS.
MyNetworkTV – formed in 2006 by stations left behind in the WB-UPN merger, briefly programed Saturdays with its telenovela recaps, but lasted only a few months as they quickly dropped out of the genre and handed the night back to stations. MyNetworkTV became a weeknight programming service in 2009, mainly airing off-network crime dramas.
In exchange for the affiliates agreeing to clear their schedules for Saturday network prime-time programming, The CW decided to end programming a weekday hour block, giving it back to stations to program locally. Since 2018, the hour (whose time slot varied by market) has been filled with reruns of Jerry Springer’s talk show, replacing Robert Irvine’s failed show. A separate rerun package airing in syndication from NBCUniversal is expected to continue (the series went out of production as Springer moved on to Judge Jerry.)
In 2018, The CW returned to Sunday evenings after a nine-year break.
While you can argue no one watches television on Saturdays, expanding to a full week in primetime gives The CW increased clout with advertisers and marketers, knowing they’re in business every night of the week, even though linear TV is steadily losing viewers to other options, including streaming. Sports pre-emptions aren’t much of a problem these days as most teams’ games air on regional sports channels although WPIX does air Yankees and Mets games on a few Saturday nights.
And while syndicators lose a spot on prime-time Saturdays, they gain a weekday hour, which is more beneficial for their business as they mostly produce game, court, and talk shows – fare stations generally don’t run on Saturday nights.