The CW is aiming to go where few broadcasters dare travel these days: Saturday nights. The netlet plans to add a two-hour Saturday primetime block to its schedule this fall, programming a full seven nights a week for the first time in its 15-year history.
The CW chairman/CEO Mark Pedowitz announced the expansion on Thursday. The additional two hours will bump The CW’s programming output up to 14 hours a week. (And it might be noted, because The CW doesn’t air news or sports programming, that puts its entertainment programming output either on par or far ahead of the other four major broadcast networks.)
Saturdays will launch on Oct. 2 with night one of the “iHeartRadio Music Festival,” which airs at 8 p.m. ET (and will conclude on Oct. 3, with night two). The CW will announce its regular Saturday programming line-up when it reveals its fall 2021 schedule on May 25.
“Becoming a seven-night-a-week network has been a long-standing goal for everyone here at The CW,” said Rob Tuck, executive vice president, national sales for The CW. “In an extremely tight broadcast environment, the ability to expand our primetime by two more hours each week is a dynamic shift that will be gladly welcomed by our clients and the agencies. Following the recent industry trend which has seen considerable contraction on a linear basis, The CW will buck that trend this season by adding a new night of original programming, creating new opportunities for us going forward.”
A joint venture between WarnerMedia and CBS, The CW launched in 2006 with a six-night-a-week schedule that mirrored the final primetime footprint of predecessor The WB: Five hours on Sunday (a two-hour repeat block at 5 p.m. ET, and then primetime starting at 7 p.m.), and two hours on Monday through Friday. (UPN had aired two hours on Monday through Friday). The merged network didn’t air on Saturdays, just as The WB and UPN had never ventured onto that night either.
But as The CW struggled to find an audience in its early years, in 2008 it decided to lease its Sunday night block to production company Media Rights Capital. Those MRC shows quickly flopped, however, and The CW took back the night, airing repeats on Sundays until May 2009. That’s when The CW handed back all five Sunday hours to affiliates.
Flashfoward to fall 2018, when The CW — buoyed by a stronger lineup of shows, including several from the DC universe — returned to Sundays with a two-hour lineup, once again making it a six-night network. The CW has touted its multi-platform role, launching shows that have gone on to a long tail of success on AVOD and SVOD streamers (most notably, of course, Netflix). That’s allowed the network to bulk up its fare in recent years, and now those two additional hours can expand The CW’s footprint even more.
Now, at seven nights, The CW joins ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox with a full week schedule — albeit it, Saturday nights have been a bit of an asterisk for years with the major broadcast networks. (In comparison, Fox — which launched its primetime in 1987 — achieved a seven-night schedule in 1993, six years later.)
Long ago, Saturdays boasted some of the biggest shows in TV. (CBS’ 1973 Saturday night schedule is considered perhaps the best lineup in history: “All in the Family,” “MASH,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show.” But as homes using television levels plummeted on Saturday nights, by the end of the 1990s the networks had virtually given up there. Now, the Big 4 regularly uses the night to air either college football (ABC and Fox), NBA games (ABC), MLB games (Fox), NHL games (NBC), repeats of shows or newsmagazines like “Dateline NBC” and CBS’ “48 Hours.” NBC now runs “Saturday Night Live” in primetime on the West Coast thanks to this loose scheduling.
As part of its deal to clear Saturday nights with affiliates, The CW has relinquished the Monday through Friday 3 p.m. ET hour-long spot, which most recently has been airing repeats of “The Jerry Springer Show.”
Originally a two-hour block nicknamed “CW Daytime,” it’s a holdover from predecessor The WB, which once scheduled the Kids’ WB block there. Eventually cut to an hour, programs like “The Tyra Banks Show,” “The Bill Cunningham Show” and “The Robert Irvine Show” aired there. Most recently, The CW has been running repeats of “The Jerry Springer Show” in that slot.
Betty Ellen Berlamino, The CW’s executive VP, network distribution, and Ann Miyagi, senior VP and general counsel, worked to secure the Saturday night clearance with the network’s key affiliates across the country.
“As The CW expands and thrives, so do our affiliate partners, and everyone sees the tremendous value and the clear excitement behind the opportunity to brand and identify as a seven-night network on both a national and local level,” said Berlamino. “The addition of more original programming to our Saturday primetime line-up coupled with our stations’ ability to now program the Monday through Friday daytime block is a win-win for all parties.”
(Photo: The CW “Walker” star Jared Padalecki. No, this does not necessarily mean “Walker” will air on Saturdays, it’s just a photo.)