With ratings comeback, has CW finally turned the corner?

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Last week, the CW scored its best ratings in nearly five months.

Ordinarily, this might not sound like huge news. But CW is a network that was considered as good as dead just a year ago. And earlier this year, its attention-grabbing youth soap ‘90210’ wilted when competing directly against Tuesday editions of Fox’s smash ‘American Idol.’

But thanks to ‘Gossip Girl’ -- another soap about rich, fashionably attired young people -- as well as two old reliables, the reality contest ‘America’s Next Top Model’ and the thriller ‘Supernatural,’ CW looks this spring to be holding its own, if not exactly rebounding. It may even, in its own gradual way, be turning into the destination for women 18 to 34 whom its executives have long dreamed of reaching.


The CW averaged 2.1 million total viewers last week, according to data published Tuesday by Nielsen Media Research. That is 5% higher than the network’s prime time average so far this season and the best overall numbers since November. One move that helped: pushing back ‘90210’ by an hour to 9 p.m., the better to get out of ‘Idol’s’ way. Last week, ‘90210’ did its best numbers among young-adult viewers since last fall (however, it still competed head-to-head against ‘Idol’ for about 20 minutes.)

Recovery aside, though, no one is going to mistake CW for a ratings giant. While network executives are crowing about an 8% uptick among adults ages 18 to 34, overall viewership is still down 20% this season compared with the same period a year ago (the numbers fluctuate widely in percentage terms because of rounding and the fact that the audience is relatively small). This has been a tough year for broadcasters everywhere, but CW was especially challenged by a disastrous decision to farm out its Sunday night lineup to an independent producer, Media Rights Capital. The MRC shows bombed and were pulled late last fall.

But the qualified successes of ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘90210’ have given CW a foothold on a desirable marketing demographic and quieted, at least for now, talk that co-owners CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. might shutter the network. ‘I think the built-in assumption and the expectation is that the CW is here to stay,’ Bruce Rosenblum, president of Warner Bros. Television Group, told the trade Television Week earlier this year.

Moreover, the future looks increasingly bright for any network targeting young adults as the audience for ‘Idol’ continues to age -- and diminish. That creates an opportunity for CW to expand its reach among the small but loyal groups of women who turn up for ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘90210.’

In that respect, its next high-profile project can’t hurt: A much-buzzed-about pilot that could revive the youth soap ‘Melrose Place.’

-Scott Collins