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Upfronts 2010: The CW Unveils Fall Primetime Schedule

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Related: How The CW Stays Undead

The CW, the little network with big stars (as evidenced by the crush of autograph seekers barricaded behind the network's upfront green carpet), is expanding, adding a fifth night of original content next season for ten hours of original programming. It is the biggest menu of originals in the four-year-old network's history.

Dawn Ostroff, The CW's president of entertainment, said the network has grown "one hit at a time" and when executives weighed new contenders against returning content, including last year's break-out drama The Vampire Diaries, there was nowhere to go but into Friday. Next season, instead of reruns on Friday, The CW will have the 10th and final season of Smallville at 8 p.m. followed by Supernatural at 9 p.m.

New drama Hellcats, about a law student who joins her college's cheerleading squad in order to get a scholarship and stay in school, will air Wednesday after America's Next Top Model. And second new drama Nikita, starring Maggie Q, joins the Thursday night line-up where it will get a lead-in from Vampire Diaries.

Unscripted makeover show Plain Jane debuts in July while Shedding for the Wedding, a reality series about couples trying to lose weight for their wedding, is targeted for midseason.

At it's May 20 upfront presentation at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, Ostroff and ad sales chief Rob Tuck touted The CW's young, digital savvy viewers ("trend-setting 18-34-year-olds," as Ostroff described them) who watch CW shows online. The network, said Ostroff during her upfront remarks, is "TV for Generation D," as in digital.

"The CW reaches viewers in the new paradigm," said Ostroff, adding that the network has "3.3 million unique viewers a month" with "over 600 million streams initiated to date."

The CW attracts a fraction of the audience its broadcast competitors do. So the strategy is super-serving a young coveted demographic. The network's sweet spot is women 18-34 and with a viewer median age of 33, it boasts the youngest audience among its broadcast competitors by almost a dozen years.

Earlier this year, The CW doubled its online commercial load from 10 to 20 30-second spots per hour-long show, on par with its linear TV ad load. 

"Our audience doesn't distinguish between TV and digital," Tuck said. "We brought the idea of selling digital convergence packages along with TV ads to the ad community beginning in January, and they were responsive, and then we geared up the discussions in March. The biggest concern was how to measure and charge for streaming viewership -- and we think we've solved that."

The CW uses DoubleClick for viewers 2+ data and marries that with Nielsen's monthly VideoCensus report for demographic information. Shows stream 72 hours after they've aired on the network. The CW upgraded its video player in order to insert spots and that has made the sales process that much easier.

Hellcats, which stars Ashley Tisdale (High School Musical) and singer/actress Aly Michalka, is a Mean Girls with pompoms and as such is an intuitive fit for The CW. The cut-down for Nikita showed Maggie Q kicking a lot of (male) butt, including in a string bikini. The show could appeal to male viewers, which are a minority on The CW. But Ostroff said Nikita "tested through the roof with women."

"We have been trying to develop a female empowerment, action/adventure show since the day we started The CW," said Ostroff. "It's just hard to get a script you feel proud of, that's smart and credible and doesn't go off in a goofy [direction]."

To wit: The CW does a quantitative and qualitative brand study every year. This year, the study showed a lot of frustration among young women, explained Ostroff, a consequence of the faltering economy and high unemployment rates.

"They feel like their lives are on hold," said Ostroff. Maggie Q's Nikiita, she added, is a "tough girl who takes control of her life. I think something about that really resonates with women right now."

The CW's 2010-2011 Primetime Schedule

8:00-9:00 PM              90210 (New Night)
9:00-10:00 PM            GOSSIP GIRL

8:00-9:00 PM              ONE TREE HILL (New Night)
9:00-10:00 PM            LIFE UNEXPECTED (New Night)

8:00-9:00 PM              AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODEL
9:00-10:00 PM            HELLCATS (New Series)

8:00-9:00 PM              THE VAMPIRE DIARIES
9:00-10:00 PM            NIKITA (New Series)

8:00-9:00 PM              SMALLVILLE
9:00-10:00 PM            SUPERNATURAL (New Night)