Move to help network focus on Monday-Friday

CW will be out of the Sunday programming business entirely as of next season.

The web confirmed late Monday it is in advanced talks with its affils to give up five hours of network time, 5-10 p.m., on Sunday, which has long been a weak spot for CW and its WB Network predecessor. CW said it decided to make the move in order to focus all of its programming resources on its Monday-Friday slate.

CW said backing out of Sunday entirely would be good for the network as well as for its affils. The low Sunday numbers drag down the net’s weekly and season-long ratings averages, while affils are stuck with being off the primetime radar on the night and saddled with a weak lead-in to late newscasts.

Although local TV advertising sales have been hard hit by the economic downturn, stations would still rather have more control over the Sunday program lineup and the ability to keep more of the advertising time rather than be saddled with low-rated network fare.

It’s understood that most CW affils are in the process of cutting deals for an expansive movie package from MGM on a barter advertising basis. That means stations pay no money upfront and will be able to hang onto as much as six to eight minutes of the 14-15 minutes of ad time in each hour, compared with three minutes of time in the network-supplied movie. And the titles in the package for the upcoming season are said to be a higher caliber of pics than the titles CW has been supplying affils.

In a statement, CW said the Sunday shuffle “would provide a new revenue opportunity for the stations, while at the same time expand upon our successful weekday strategy from this year, which resulted in ratings growth among our target audience.”

Doug Gealy, prexy and chief operating officer of Acme Television, which owns five CW affils, said the decision to give the time back to the stations was the best move the CW could make under the circumstances.

“It’s an opportunity for stations to counterprogram what the networks are doing with local programming, movies and off-network and in some places there might be opportunities for local sports,” Gealy said. “If (CW) strengthens themselves Monday through Friday we’ll all be better off.”

Gealy also noted that the sudden availability of primetime real estate on CW affils will be a boon to the syndication biz. “Syndicators are going to be lining up to fill those time periods,” he said.

CW took a half-step toward exiting the Sunday scene this season when it cut a deal that called for Media Rights Capital to provide all the programming for the 7-10 p.m. primetime block and help with the ad sales. But that deal proved disastrous when the first of the modestly budgeted shows that MRC delivered — small-town drama “Easy Money” and fantasy dramedy “Valentine” –drew woefully low ratings despite decent reviews for “Easy Money,” which starred Laurie Metcalf and Judge Reinhold.

By late November, CW scrapped the MRC arrangement in favor of a hastily put together movie package deal with MGM, using mostly older and lesser-known titles that the Lion had available on short notice. Not surprisingly, those titles haven’t done much better than the MRC shows on a national basis for CW. Last week, for example, CW’s 8-10 p.m. airing of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” drew a mere 1.2 million viewers and .3 rating/1 share in the adults 18-49 demo.

CW also inherited from its WB Network predecessor the 5-7 p.m. block that was carved out in 2002 for network reruns, as a way to help the WB amortize its programming costs. In recent years, those hours have been filled with a hodgepodge of CW fare and programs from the vaults of the net’s parent companies, CBS Corp. and Warner Bros.

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