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The CW kicked off its annual upfront presentation in New York on Thursday with a performance by electric hip-hop group LMFAO, a clear message about making some noise.
The spectacle of lights, sound and acrobatics provided a lead-in for an onstage changing of the guard at the younger-skewing network. Veteran entertainment chief Dawn Ostroff shared with Madison Avenue buyers her plan to move back to New York, where her husband has been living for the past 18 months. Her successor, Mark Pedowitz, who has taken on a broader role as president of the CW, was trotted out on the Time Warner Center’s Jazz at Lincoln Center stage to express his excitement about growing the 5-year-old network.
“We want to let everyone know we’re here, and we’re not going away,” Pedowitz told The Hollywood Reporter following the presentation. That programming philosophy is what appealed to him about H8R, a new reality series hitting the CW’s schedule in the fall. Joining it are three new dramas, Hart of Dixie, Ringer and The Secret Circle. The latter three will be supported by a proven launch pads in 8 p.m. shows, Gossip Girl, 90210 and The Vampire Diaries, respectively.
Dixie, a fish out of water story about a Manhattan doctor (Rachel Bilson) who moves to small Southern town to run a medical practice, comes from Gossip Girl/The O.C. creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. The Secret Circle, from Vampire Diaries‘ Kevin Williamson, is a witch drama based on a book series by Vampire author L.J. Smith. The Ringer centers on a twin sister (Sarah Michelle Gellar) who assumes the identity of her identical twin only to find out that that life is far less idyllic that she had imagined.
Until two weeks ago, the Gellar vehicle, which has a film noir feel in the Veronica Mars vein, was being developed for CBS. Ostroff said that she kept hearing how much the heavily serialized series felt like a CW show during the development process, and was thrilled to add it to her lineup once that became a possibility. She said she loved the idea of having Gellar — and her fan base — on the network, noting the advantage that her star power brings to marketing.
“It broadens us a little bit,” added Pedowitz, a self-proclaimed “Buffy fan,” of the show’s more mature tone. Though he acknowledged to a gaggle of reporters following the presentation that the network is trying to move away from serialized dramas, he said he and Ostroff loved the show too much to pass on it.
Pedowitz, who claimed it’s too early to see his imprint on the network schedule, said he will continue to look at more scripted shows to add throughout the year. “Never underestimate my ability to get deals done,” said the business-minded lawyer by training. The statement was a testament to Pedowitz’s plan to avoid having to run repeats so much of the year.
Of the three reality series — Re-Modeled, The Frame and H8R — the latter was the real stand out, with the room erupting in laughter as stars including Kim Kardashian and The Jersey Shore‘s Snooki tried to win over their haters. The show, hosted by Extra‘s Mario Lopez, will pair at least two stars with their haters each week.
The remainder of the presentation was devoted to creative advertising options for the buyer audience. Known for its ingenuity in the digital space, the network rolled out its latest ad offering: a partnership with Facebook, dubbed CW-ingo. The play on Bingo connects the network’s 40 million with brands in a game to be played while viewing CW fare.
While the CW brass stopped strategically short of presenting its on-air viewership — down nearly 10 percent in the 18-34 demo — the net offered some other stats: up 55 percent in online viewers; 175 percent in viewing time; and for those skeptical media buyers, 94 percent of ads served there run to completion.
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