Network downsizes comedy unit after renewals

Hampered by declining ratings and hit hard by the recent writers’ strike, the CW handed out pinkslips Monday and dramatically downsized its comedy business.

More than 25 staffers have been let go — including Kim Fleary, the CW’s exec VP of comedy development, and her No. 2, senior VP of comedy Steve Veisel.

While the comedy department was eliminated, the CW has merged its remaining drama and current programming units into one scripted series department. Drama exec VP Thom Sherman and current programs exec VP Michael Roberts remain.

News came the same day the CW gave fall pickups to several of its long-running signature skeins, as well as frosh entry “Gossip Girl.” But the late-afternoon reorg overshadowed that announcement.

In a statement, the CW said it was “restructuring some programming and marketing functions as part of an effort to streamline both areas.”

“As part of the restructuring, some open positions at the network will not be filled and a small percentage of jobs have been eliminated,” the net said.

At least 10 such positions come from the elimination of the Saturday morning programming block Kids’ WB, which the net will shutter at the end of this season (Daily Variety, Oct. 3).

Meanwhile, several marketing jobs were cut from the net’s CW Plus channel, which runs on cable systems in small markets without CW affils. Those operations will now be handled by the CW’s network marketing team.

CW’s alternative programming, which is already headed up outside of the network — by CBS alternative honcho Ghen Maynard — was not affected by Monday’s news.

Net insiders blamed the recent work stoppage for pushing the CW to make such extreme changes in its programming department. CW becomes the first net to dramatically alter is exec structure post-strike.

As for the comedy cut, CW execs noted the netlet isn’t out of the laffer game, having just renewed “Everybody Hates Chris.” But just like predecessor the WB, the CW has struggled with introducing new laffers, and is now opting to focus most of its attention on developing more signature dramas in the vein of “Gossip Girl” and alternative entries a la “America’s Next Top Model.”

“Chris,” “Gossip Girl” and “Top Model” were among the pickups greenlit Monday; WB holdovers “Smallville,” “Supernatural” and “One Tree Hill” also landed renewals.

In the no-brainer department, CW ordered two more cycles — the show’s 11th and 12th — of the Tyra Banks-fronted “Top Model.”

“Smallville” enters its eighth season next fall and will likely continue to be paired with fellow Thursday entry “Supernatural,” which begins its fourth cycle next season. “One Tree Hill” bounces back for its sixth season.

On the comedy side, CW’s lone pickup so far goes to “Everybody Hates Chris.” The critically acclaimed laffer was on the bubble — but the show was already sold into syndication, including a cable sale last week to Nick at Nite, making a fourth season more likely. It will now see that fourth season next fall.

The fall cycle of “Top Model” averaged a 2.9 rating/9 share among adults 18-34, while “One Tree Hill” has averaged a 2.1/5 in the demo this season (and a 3.1/7 with women 18-34). “Gossip Girl” also is strong with women 18-34, averaging a 2.4/6 (and a 1.6/4 with adults 18-34).

The “Gossip Girl” pickup — CW’s only freshman entry to secure a return engagement — makes it 2-for-2 for exec producer Josh Schwartz, whose other freshman entry, “Chuck,” has already been given a second-season order by NBC.

“The CW has been a great and supportive partner,” he said. “I’m glad the strike is over, the shows are coming back, and we can all get back to work.”

Among the other pickups, “Smallville” has averaged a 1.7/5 with adults 18-34, while “Supernatural” has pulled a 1.2/4 and “Everybody Hates Chris” a 0.9/3 in the demo.

Still up in the air are freshman entries “Reaper,” “Aliens in America” and “Crowned” (as well as upcoming newbie “Farmer Wants a Wife”). Returnees “Pussycat Dolls Present,” “The Game” and “Beauty and the Geek” also await word of a pickup; at the very least, “Beauty” and “Game” are expected to return.

CW has already announced the series end of “Girlfriends,” while “WWE Smackdown” moves to MyNetworkTV this fall. Fall entries “CW Now,” “Life Is Wild” and “Online Nation” have been put out to pasture.

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