The CW Network Remixes Two Old Channels

The "new" broadcast network The CW debuts with some very familiar shows. That's because it's actually a combination of the old UPN and WB networks. It's aimed squarely at young people.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A new broadcast network takes to the air tonight. You replace the failed UPN and WB networks, and somehow you end up with a network called the CW. It's aiming for a young audience, with a mix of shows from its predecessors.

NPR's Nova Safo reports.

NOVA SAFO: It's a sunny southern California afternoon, and fans are lined up to meet TV stars at a promotional event for the new CW.

Ms. HILARY BURTON (Actress): Thanks very much. How long have you guys been out here? What time did you get here?

Unidentified Woman #1: Ten.

Unidentified Woman #2: Ten.

Ms. BURTON: Ten?

SAFO: Hilary Burton stars in One Tree Hill, a high school drama about the intertwined relationships and tribulations among kids and adults in one town. It was on the now defunct WB network.

Burton sees a definite shift in attitude between her old and new network homes.

Ms. BURTON: We've been trained, for the past couple of years, to kind of smolder at the camera, which, if you look at our old pictures, we do. In the photo shoot we just did, I mean, even if you look at our ad campaign around now, everybody's just kind of being goofy and having fun.

SAFO: As far as the fans are concerned it doesn't seem to matter what network their favorite shows are on.

Ms. BEA FADIA(ph) (Fan): I'm just really glad One Tree Hill got to season four.

SAFO: Bea Fadia is 14. She's way ahead of CW's targeted age group, 18-34 year olds. Executives dropped UPN's and WB's lower rated shows that attracted older viewers. They retained wrestling, a number of WB dramas, a Sunday night block of UPN comedies with African-American casts, and the solid ratings-getter, America's Next Top Model.

CW's President of Entertainment, Dawn Ostroff, says there are good reasons to keep a tight focus on the 18-34 year old demographic.

Ms. DAWN OSTROFF (President of Entertainment, CW Network): When you think about all the firsts that they're going through in their life, they're going off to college, they're getting their apartment, they're getting their first car, they're getting married, having children, buying a house - so there's so many big things happening to them that we can be telling stories about on our shows. And that the advertisers hopefully want to reach them and have them buy their products.

SAFO: To help advertisers do that, the network is experimenting with so-called content wraps, two-minute episodes that will run during commercial breaks. They're a cross between a short reality show and an infomercial.

Rick Haskins is responsible for the content wraps at the CW.

Mr. RICK HASKINS (CW Network): You cannot shout, buy Tide, anymore. What you can do is create an environment where Tide is working in a nice way, and having the consumer come to the conclusion, hmm, Tide's pretty good for washing clothes. Maybe I should go buy it.

SAFO: So far, three advertisers have bought content wraps. Brooks Barnes covers television for the Wall Street Journal. He says there's some reservation in the industry.

Mr. BROOKS BARNES (Reporter, Wall Street Journal): It's a big commitment to say I'm going to buy these for an entire night of air. And, we don't know how they'll work. We don't know how they'll look. We're just seeing a little of toes in the water at this point.

SAFO: The CW admits that the content wraps are just an experiment right now, but an experiment worth having. Dawn Ostroff says it's part of an overall strategy.

Ms. OSTROFF: We did a lot of research before we put together the brand, put together the network. We heard over and over and over again: you have a tremendous opportunity, you are a new network launching in this new millennium, do things that are different, be bold.

Ms. MAUREEN RYAN (TV Writer, Chicago Tribune): They're trying to sell themselves as something that's just this revolutionary, great, brand new idea. But they're victims of circumstance.

SAFO: Maureen Ryan is the TV writer for the Chicago Tribune. She says the new CW network will still have to face the same economic realities that plagued its predecessors.

Ms. RYAN: To tap two networks competing to reach that very young, hip, demographic, it just wasn't working. You know, there wasn't enough revenue to go around because more and more advertisers are turning a lot of their attention to the Web, to alternate forms of marketing. So the pie is sort of shrinking for all the broadcast networks.

SAFO: Despite the talk of something new, in the end, the CW will premiere with shows that have been around for a while. There are only two new programs on its slate, but that number could grow. Shows that don't keep young viewers' attention will likely be yanked off the air within months, because as executives are quick to point out, the 18-34 year old demographic is fickle.

Nova Safo, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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