Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Is There Branding in Television Networks?

The UPN and WB television networks are merging for this upcoming television season. The new network is called CW and features the most-viewed shows from the two old networks.

Does the CW stand for a certain type of programming?

I spoke with Ellen Gray, the television critic of the Philadelphia Daily News, recently about the changes that the new CW network will (or will not) bring to television in this upcoming season.

In recent times, I had been thinking of WB as the teen angst network, as their shows consisted of "Smallville" (Superman's teenage years), and "One Tree Hill" (two estranged brothers growing up in a small North Carolina town called Tree Hill ). I was thinking of UPN as being the network for African-American TV shows, with the hilarious "Everybody Hates Chris" (Chris Rock's pre-teen years), and "Girlfriends" (four successful African-American women take on Los Angeles).

However, I was reminded that was not always the case. The networks "tried to have distinct identites" at the beginning, according to Ellen Gray. She reminded me that WB started with (and continues to have) family-friendly shows like "7th Heaven" (which will continue on the CW). The next step in its evolution was to target "young girls" with shows like "Gilmore Girls."

UPN, Gray reminded me, premiered with the two-hour pilot episode of "Star Trek: Voyager," and tried to build its audience from there. It has also tried to brand itself as the place to watch professional wrestling. (When Ellen Gray pointed that out to me, it brought back memories of those laughable ads where pro wrestler The Rock was a guest star in an awful episode of "Voyager" in which his character wrestled one of the Voyager's crew members.)

The traditional television networks do not have brands, either, Gray reminded me. CBS is no longer the network that only older people watch. CBS has had a "fair amount of success" thanks to "Survivor" in reaching a younger audience. NBC does not necessarily attract a younger audience anymore and is in fact premiering a show this new season starring Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow called "Twenty Good Years" about two men who ponder the last 20 years of their lives.

The CW, it turns out, will be more of the same as most of the programming will come from the two previous networks and only two new shows will be debuting. "Runaway" seems to be a mix between "The Fugitive" and "7th Heaven," as a family on the run from the law as the father was convicted of a crime he did not commit. "The Game" is a spin-off of "Girlfriends" in which a three women date NFL players. (Does anyone remember the English show "Footballers Wive$"?)

There is no cohesive schedule to the network. Monday seems to be family night, featuring "7th Heaven," Tuesday is the night for the younger girls with the pairing of "Gilmore Girls" and "Veronica Mars," Wednesday seems to be miscellaneous with "One Tree Hill" and "America's Next Top Model," Thursday is the action/teen night with "Smallville" and "Supernatural," Friday is wrestling, and Sunday is the African-American night with "Everybody Hates Chris" and "The Game." Gray hesitated to call Sunday the African-American night, talking about how universal "Everybody Hates Chris" is, but maybe that Sunday at 7 PM would be a better slot for the show, but not surrounded by the other shows that night.

CW's advertising has been a mix of messages. The ads' tagline "Free to Be" is open-ended. "You're free to be whatever you want as long as you watch the CW," joked Ellen Gray.

So it seems that there is not a true brand to what the CW programs for viewing, which is true for all of television. It does seem as if CW might be undecided in its personality, though.

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