Tuned In: The CW relies on fan favorites to help viewers change stations

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Launching a television network is never easy, particularly in Pittsburgh, a traditional market not exactly known for cottoning to new TV trends.

"Gilmore Girls," starring Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel, returns Sept. 26 on a new network: The CW.
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So imagine the task facing The CW, a new network cobbled together, Frankenstein-like, from programming pieces of The WB and UPN. Not only do marketers have to convince the public this is not a country-and-western channel, they also have to school viewers in where to find their favorite shows, particularly former WB programs that once aired locally on WCWB (now WPMY) Channel 22, and will migrate to Pittsburgh's CW station, WPCW Channel 19.

Launching Wednesday with the season premiere of "America's Next Top Model," The CW will require viewers to switch from a former WB station to a former UPN station in 28 percent of the country, including in Pittsburgh, and vice versa in 68 percent of the country. That's the network's biggest challenge, said CW Entertainment president Dawn Ostroff in a phone interview last week.

To help facilitate that shift, the network brought back many favorites from both networks, even aging series that may have only one more year left in them (The WB's "7th Heaven" and "Gilmore Girls").

"How are we going to bring viewers into a new network? That was the No. 1 challenge," Ostroff said. "What seemed to be the most obvious answer is that these viewers are so loyal and passionate about these shows ... we knew the best weapon we had to bring new viewers into the new network was with established shows that have a loyal viewer following."

Ostroff said she doesn't regard that other new network, My Network TV (on WPMY Channel 22 in Pittsburgh) as a competitor, and initial ratings show it won't be. Last week My Network TV earned ratings just slightly better than Pax in that short-lived network's heyday (if there ever was such a time).

Ostroff said she doesn't expect The CW, which targets 18-to-34-year-olds (especially women), to generate the ratings equivalent of: WB ratings + UPN ratings = CW numbers.

"In all honesty, what we're looking at is slow growth, and by the end of the season to see a little growth over where The WB and UPN were individually," she said. "We know we're not flipping a switch and will have everybody come. It takes time to figure out where we are and to sample the new programming."

Over the summer, The CW plastered its signature green and "Free to Be" slogans on billboards in 10 TV markets with a large percentage of the nation's 18-to-34-year-olds. Not surprisingly, older-skewing Pittsburgh did not make the cut for that campaign. Even so, since Pittsburghers have historically shown an unwillingness to adopt new channels -- Fox, almost 20 years old, still under-performs the network's national average in Pittsburgh on WPGH -- wouldn't it seem wise to invest some marketing dollars in this market?

WPCW station manager Rich Davis said next week, a "significant amount" of advertising will trumpet The CW locally on radio, bus shelters, cable channels and Web sites.

"It's a multitiered advertising campaign designed to make viewers aware of what The CW is and primarily to migrate The WB shows over to The CW," Davis said.

Rich Haskins, CW executive vice president of brand strategy and marketing, said a revamped CW Web site launched Monday (www.cwtv.com) and a national ad campaign is promoting the network on movie screens in theaters in 100 markets. A two-page ad for The CW in a recent mailed-to-subscribers issue of Entertainment Weekly included a few lines about where to find the network locally.

The CW will premiere just two new series, "Runaway" (9 p.m. Monday, starting Sept. 25), about a family on the run for a crime the father (Donnie Wahlberg) did not commit, and "The Game" (8:30 p.m. Sunday, starting Oct. 1), a spin-off of "Girlfriends" about the wives/girlfriends of football players that stars Tia Mowry ("Sister, Sister").

For fans of The WB, the soon-to-croak frog network plans a blowout farewell, 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday, airing the pilot episodes of "Felicity" (5 p.m.), "Angel" (6 p.m.), "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (7 p.m.) and "Dawson's Creek" (9 p.m.). Pittsburgh's WPMY Channel 22 will air that network finale even though it has converted to a My Network TV affiliate (reruns of WB shows have been airing overnight in recent weeks).

New 'Today' set

Does anyone else think it looks like the "Today" show "family" is trapped inside an iPod on their sleek, white plastic new set? I just can't imagine that's going to wear well with time.

Channel surfing

Former WPXI meteorologist Julie Bologna, now at the CBS affiliate in Dallas, Tex., is co-author of a new book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Extreme Weather." ... NPR's "From the Top," hosted by pianist and Pittsburgh native Christopher O'Riley, will become a PBS series next year with O'Riley again hosting. Thirteen episodes of "From the Top: Live From Carnegie Hall" will be produced, featuring young musicians age 8 to 18 and also Bela Fleck, Dawn Upshaw and Joshua Bell performing at Carnegie Hall. ... KDKA morning traffic reporter Jim Lokay will be a contestant on an upcoming edition of the syndicated game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" ... A&E's "MI-5" returns for a new season tonight at 10, CBS's "The Amazing Race" runs again starting Sunday and "Survivor: Race War" began last night. Read reviews of all three in Tuned In Journal at www.post-gazette.com/tv.


This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about "Martha," "Starting Over" and "Yes, Dear." Read it online at www.post-gazette.com/tv.

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582.


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