CW to debut '09 season earlier

Would have bumped up '08 season if not for Olympics

Starting next year, the CW plans to get a jump on competitors by moving the start of its programming season into the summer.

The network plans to premiere its 2009-10 lineup the first week of August, or possibly in late July. As a result, the CW will fast-track some of its development and shoot pilots this November.

"The idea is to just get out of the fray and be able to launch at a time when we can bring viewers in, when there's not as much competition," said CW entertainment president Dawn Ostroff at the Television Critics Assn.'s semi-annual press tour. "If you look at cable, they launch in summer, and it works for them."

Ostroff says she would have also launched the upcoming season in August if not for NBC airing the Summer Olympics. Instead, the CW will roll out most of its shows Sept. 1, which is still three weeks before the typical premiere week.

She added that advertisers like the idea of her network getting out of the way of its more popular broadcast competitors. Plus, given that the CW targets young women, the network believes it can attract fall fashion and back-to-school advertising.

The move is the latest attempt by broadcasters to combat ratings erosion by changing their decades-old production and scheduling patterns.

Fox, which in recent years has struggled during the fall, has experimented with starting its season earlier than competitors. Fox also plans to roll out several top shows this fall during the first week of September.

For the CW, summer has been an Achilles heel, with the network going quiet and losing viewers without any original programming. Launching in August will give the network a head start but could also result in shows running out of episodes around April. Ostroff said the network will either air more repeats or fill the slots with different shows.

During the CW's press tour session, the network also announced that Shannen Doherty will reprise her role of Brenda Walsh on the network's much-anticipated "90210." Doherty will return to West Beverly Hills high school for a multi-episode arc.

Ostroff received several questions from critics wondering why the network is programming so many shows about the wealthy when the country is seemingly in a recession.

"When we're in what is perceived as a recession, having entertainment be escapist entertainment is what our viewers look for," Ostroff said.

Critics also asked about reduction of urban comedies on the network, with the remaining two -- "Everybody Hates Chris" and "The Game" -- shifting from Monday nights to low-rated Friday nights this fall.

"The shows wouldn't be on our schedule if we didn't believe in them," she said. "If you look at 'Gossip Girl' and 'One Tree Hill,' during the strike, they got our best Monday night rating ever. So it's hard to go back once we saw that we gained traction there."

The CW will launch its fall season with "Gossip Girl" and "One Tree Hill" on Monday, Sept. 1, followed by "90210" on Sept. 2 (joined by "Privileged" on Sept. 9); "America's Next Top Model" on Sept. 3 (accompanied by "Stylista" joining the night on Oct. 29). Thursday night's "Smallville" and "Supernatural" start Sept. 18. Friday night's "Chris" and "Game" debut Oct. 3.

The Sunday night block programed by Media Rights Capital will launch during the regular fall premiere week. The reality series "In Harm's Way" starts Sept. 21 at 7 p.m., then shifts to 6:30 on Nov. 2. The half-hour comedy "Surviving Suburbia" starts Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. The one-hour romantic comedy "Valentine" debuts Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. The one-hour drama "Easy Money" premieres Sept. 21 at 9 p.m.

Although the MRC premiere dates were announced in a separate press release, Ostroff said viewers will not discern any on-air difference between CW and MRC programming. If a show is canceled, the decision will be made by both companies.

"It will be totally seamless," she said. "We will be promoting to Sunday night. Sunday night will be promoting to the rest of our week."