Both the WB network and the UPN network have programming that is skewed towards a young demographic, and both have been faltering towards the bottom of the broadcast network ratings heap for some time now. Today, it was announced that in a surprise move, the two networks would merge into one new network, the CW Network.
The "C" in the name comes from CBS Corp., which owns the UPN network. The "W" in the name comes from the Time Warner Co., the parent company of the WB network. Each of the parent companies will own 50% of the newly formed network, and both will share in the operating duties, including programming.
The new network will be carried on the twelve stations already owned by UPN, as well as on the 16 stations owned by the Tribune Co., a Chicago media giant that currently owns 22.5% of the WB network. In exchange for the Tribune Co. giving up its shares in the WB, they are receiving a 10-year broadcast commitment by the CW Network. These 28 stations will guarantee the new network will be seen in 20 of the top 25 TV markets in the country right off the bat.
Though the current outlets guarantee coverage in almost half of the areas already serviced by the WB and UPN, executives of the new network say they hope to lock in the remainder of the country's markets by the time the CW Network debuts this fall. Part of the delay comes from the fact that not all stations currently affiliating with the WB and UPN are owned by CBS Corp. or Time Warner. Individual deals will have to be made for each market to decide which channels will carry the new network. In some markets, where there is both a WB affiliate and a UPN affiliate, one of those channels will lose their broadcast network affiliation.
Not only will the markets have to merge, but the programming will, as well. Current WB hits, such as "Charmed," "Smallville," "One Tree Hill" and "Everwood" will have to find a place on the schedule with UPN hits like "Veronica Mars," "America's Next Top Model" and "Everybody Hates Chris."
This will leave less room for fledgling series on the individual networks to find a place in the new network's schedule -- and even less chance for new series to get greenlighted for the air.
Current plans are for the CW schedule to run programming approximately 30 hours a week. Most of the programming will be primetime based, spanning six nights of the week from Sunday to Friday. Executives say they will also experiment with afternoon programming, possibly more children's programming or talk shows, to run on weekdays and Sundays.The only Saturday scheduling will be five hours of children's programs in the morning hours.
Whether this new merger will result in better ratings, will have to be seen. It certainly acts as a lifeline for the UPN network, which was in danger of being shut down before the current season yielded its few breakout hits like "Everybody Likes Chris." But there's no guarantee that showing the same shows on one network, instead of two, is really going to translate into a significant ratings boost.