This season’s one surprise: The CW

To hear people talk the past few months, the CW was fast headed toward its demise if it didn’t turn around from its disastrous second season last year. And almost no one was betting it would.

Few are saying that these days.

The CW still has its problems, but three weeks into the new season the network is showing a good bit of traction, thanks in large part to a huge bump in ratings for “Gossip Girl” and solid ratings for rookies “90210” and “Privileged.”

Perhaps even more significant is that there’s a growing perception the CW is now an identifiable brand – a network geared to young women.

“With ‘Gossip Girl,’ the buzz has finally begun to translate into better ratings, which for them is really good news,” says David Scardino, entertainment specialist at RPA in Santa Monica, Calif.

“And from Monday through Thursday, they have great audience flow, which I think has really helped a lot.”

Part of the CW’s problem the past two seasons was that it was a messy mix of UPN and the WB, the two networks that were merged to form the CW. This season, the CW shed “Friday Night Smackdown,” the wrestling show that hung around from the UPN days and mostly attracted viewers outside the CW’s core audience.

The CW’s schedule now flows night to night for most of the week with shows geared to young women, including “Gossip” on Monday, “90210” on Tuesday, the reality show “America’s Next Top Model” on Wednesday and the long-running “Smallville” and “Supernatural” on Thursday.

That schedule is not without bumps, and one is Friday with African-American comedies like “Everybody Hates Chris.” The night is down slightly from last year, though that’s not surprising considering that was the night when “Smackdown” aired.

The other is Sunday, which the network leases out to an outside production company, Media Rights Capital, which targets adults 18-49. Those shows barely register a blip.

Still, the CW’s ratings have been pretty good so far in a season that has not been kind to the Big Four, which have all seen ratings fall.

Based on the first two weeks, the CW is up 27 percent over the same time last year in women 18-34, to a 1.9 rating, based on live-plus-same-day Nielsen ratings, and it’s up 15 percent in women 18-49, to a 1.5 rating. The network is down in most other demographics.

“They should be relatively pleased,” says Scardino. “At a minimum, they had to avoid the double-digit declines we saw last year. So far, it looks like they’ll do that.”

The CW’s most promising nights are Monday and Tuesday.

On Mondays, among people 12-34, its rating has more than doubled, to a 2.3, with “Gossip,” which had a lot of buzz its first season but not much in the way of ratings, and “One Tree Hill.”

On Tuesdays, it’s about flat to last year. But “90210” and “Privileged” have both leveled off at about a 1.9 rating and a 1.3 in 12-34s, respectively. “90210” posted a dramatic decline from its premiere episode in early September to its second episode, but it has been consistent ever since.

Wednesdays are not doing as well, though, with “Model” dipping in its 11th cycle, and it struggles on Thursdays, as it always has, against tough competition like ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and CBS’s “CSI.”

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