CW hands Sunday-night schedule to outside studio

Times Staff Writer

The CW television network, looking to fix a longtime weak spot in its schedule, said Friday it would farm out Sunday night to independent production studio Media Rights Capital.

The deal would enable the money-losing CW to save programming costs and focus on its weeknight lineup aimed at 18- to 34-year-old females, with such glossy shows as "America's Next Top Model," "Gossip Girl" and "One Tree Hill."

At the same time, however, the move could also broaden the network's Sunday audience because Media Rights Capital plans to aim its new shows at the 18- to 49-year-old demographic. Although younger viewers usually command top dollar, a broader audience might help CW attract a wider mix of advertisers.

Media Rights' two comedies and two dramas will be announced Tuesday along with the rest of CW's fall schedule at the industry's annual "upfront" presentations in New York.

"The idea was to come up with a block of programming that feels close enough to what they already have to keep a nice blend but also to provide an expanded audience," said Keith Samples, television president at Media Rights.

In September, CW loses its Friday-night stalwart "WWE SmackDown," so the network will still have to come up with shows for five nights, or 10 hours a week of prime-time programming. The network's ratings are down 23% in the 18-to-49 demographic, according to the latest Nielsen weekly data, and slightly worse among its target audience.

The network, owned jointly by CBS Corp. and Time Warner Inc., has languished Sunday nights dating to its previous incarnation as the WB. CW was formed in 2006 when the WB and UPN networks merged. Though a wider weekend audience would be "welcome," CW has no plans to expand its overall focus, said spokesman Paul McGuire.

Typically, a TV network pays a license fee to a production company for the rights to a show and seeks to earn a profit by selling advertising time when it airs. But by handing its Sunday time periods over to an outsider, CW is surrendering a longtime network tradition of programming its own airtime.

CW and Media Rights declined to disclose the terms, except to note that CW would still handle ad sales for the Sunday slate and that Tribune Broadcasting, the network's largest affiliate group with 16 stations, consulted on the arrangement. Tribune Broadcasting is owned by Tribune Co., publisher of The Times.

"As the CW network begins expanding its audience reach on Sunday, our local stations will certainly benefit," Ed Wilson, Tribune Broadcasting president, said in a statement. He declined to comment further.

Tribune would like CW to broaden its overall programming lineup to appeal to a wider audience, particularly older viewers more inclined to watch the local 10 p.m. news.

Samples offered few hints about the upcoming Sunday-night programs but said CW wouldn't skew too much older. "There won't be a spinoff of 'The Bucket List,' " he said, referring to the Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson movie last year about terminal patients fulfilling their last wishes.


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