Three-year old network forges ahead to find identity

Like many of the characters on its shows, the CW is still working to carve out its own identity.

Its critics might describe that identity as “retro Fox,” thanks to last year’s “90210″ update and this fall’s “Melrose Place.”

CW entertainment prexy Dawn Ostroff sees it differently.

She points out that major movie studios and other networks often resurrect and revamp old TV shows and comics (or offer sequels or prequels of past hits) to capitalize on a known entity. Offering a modern spin on two iconic Fox soaps is a smart business decision, she says.

“We’re a young network,” Ostroff notes. “We’ve only been on the air three years, so anything we can do to give us a leg up or have brand awareness for a show (is a good thing). Franchise awareness really helps us.

“If a show is right and we can do a good job remaking it, we approach it as: ‘We have one thing already working in our favor, so how do we make an even stronger show?’ If we can do that, then we’re attracting a whole new audience who has never seen the originals, and hopefully we’re bringing in viewers who used to watch the originals. It’s like double-dipping for us.”

Overall, the CW’s goal is to build on the momentum it found in spots on last year’s sked.

Ostroff says Monday nights saw double-digit growth in women 18-34, and “America’s Top Model” remained in Wednesday’s top two in the same demographic.

“I think we can see the momentum continue and have better flow,” she says. “Putting ‘Smallville’ on Friday night will bring more of our viewers from Monday-through-Thursday into Friday. So our biggest goals are continued growth, continuing momentum and better flow for our schedule.”

SPOTLIGHT: MELROSE PLACE

Though the CW is resurrecting “Melrose Place,” it’s not a clone of Fox’s original. Characters played by Laura Leighton and Thomas Calabro will return, but the complex will be full of new tenants including Katie Cassidy, Michael Rady and Ashlee Simpson-Wentz.

“It’s as if the show had kept going on, and it was 10 years later. Where would the original characters be, and who would the new people who’ve come in be?” says Ostroff. “That’s how we approached it.”

The reboot kicks off with a seasonlong murder mystery connecting today’s residents with some of the original characters.

NEW FOR 2009-2010

THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE

Loosely based on creator Ashton Kutcher’s real-life experiences as a model living in an agency-subsidized apartment building, “The Beautiful Life” focuses on the fast-paced and competitive world of modeling and the fashion industry through the eyes of aspiring models played by Sara Paxton and Ben Hollingsworth.

THE VAMPIRE DIARIES

Vampires invade the CW with “The Vampire Diaries,” based on L. J. Smith’s 1991 pre-”Twilight,” pre-”True Blood” and pre-”Buffy” trilogy. Two vampire brothers (Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder) are drawn together by modern-day teenager Elena (Nina Dobrev), who is the spitting image of the woman they both loved.

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