CW bullish on future

Network looking ahead after rocky start

A year ago, the nation’s TV critics got their first look at the new CW network — and yawned.

The CW stuck to familiar fare cherry-picked from the WB and UPN in its first season. That helped steer auds orphaned by the weblets’ demise to the new channel, but did little to jazz critics or auds about the Green net.

Now, having had a year to develop shows that promise to define CW’s identity, network entertainment prexy Dawn Ostroff told reporters Friday that she’s done with looking back.

“The primary goal was to establish the CW,” she said during the weblet’s portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour. “Now that that’s behind us, I promise this is the last time that I’m going to be talking about our first season. From now on, we’re looking ahead, focusing on the future and creating new hits that will further define our network.”

Although the net has had a rough summer ratings wise, Ostroff is bullish on its fall contenders — particularly after the raves it received for shows such as “Reaper,” “Gossip Girl” and “Aliens in America” following the May upfront presentations.

“We want to be the entertainment destination for young adults,” she said. “We have to immerse ourselves in their lifestyles and their cultures, think what they think, go where they go, get involved with the things that they are involved with.”

In the case of “Gossip Girl,” many critics were alarmed that “the things that they are involved with” in this case included drug use, indiscriminate sex and underage drinking.

Ostroff looked to defend the show as taking place in a “heightened reality.”

In programming news, CW has sealed a deal with Tyra Banks to keep “America’s Next Top Model” on the net through the 2009-10 season. “Top Model” will return to New York next spring.

Also, Ostroff said the next edition of “Beauty and the Geek” would include a twist: One pairing will feature a hunky male and a brainy female.

And Laura Vandervoort (“CSI”) will play Supergirl in “Smallville,” while Katie Cassidy (“Click”) and Lauren Cohan (“Casanova”) have joined the cast of “Supernatural.”

Asked about CW’s Emmy snub last week (the TV Acad only handed out one nom to the net — continuing a pattern that started with the WB and UPN), Ostroff said the awards didn’t really impact her viewers anyway.

“The reality is that for our 18- to 34-year-old audience, I don’t know if that would really translate for us to more viewers,” she said. “That being said, we would love to have more nominations. I think it’s a shame that Lauren Graham was never nominated, and that ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ has never been nominated.”

Speaking of Graham, Ostroff said she believed that “Gilmore Girls” had run its course and that “it was just time to move on.” She said “Veronica Mars” also had been given more than a fair shake.

“I can honestly sit here and say I cannot look back and have any regrets,” Ostroff said. “We gave ‘Veronica Mars’ every chance.”

Meanwhile, in light of WWE wrestler Chris Benoit’s murder-suicide, Ostroff said the tragedy hasn’t affected its involvement with “Friday Night Smackdown.”

For one thing, Benoit was never featured on “Smackdown.” Beyond that, Ostroff said she believed the WWE remained “good partners.”

“They’ve been responsible with the programming they give to us,” she said.

Looking to keep the lights on next spring and into summer, Ostroff said she’ll employ her stable of benchwarmers to keep more originals on the air throughout the year. (That includes “One Tree Hill,” “Pussycat Dolls” and newcomers “Farmer Wants a Wife,” “Crowned” and “Eight Days a Week.”)

CW will spread out its fall launch, kicking off Sept. 18 with a two-hour “Beauty and the Geek,” followed the next night with a two-hour “America’s Next Top Model” and on Sept. 31 with the return of “Smackdown.”

On Sept. 23, unscripted newbies “CW Now” and “Online Nation” start; also that week, “Reaper” joins on Sept. 25, with “Gossip Girl” Sept. 26 and “Smallville” is back on Sept. 27.

Net’s Monday night sked returns on Oct. 1, while “Supernatural” is back Oct. 4. Sked rounds out with “Life Is Wild” on Oct. 7.

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