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Upfronts Watch: The CW: More Beauties, More Beasts

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In my upfronts post about ABC the other day, I talked about how the broadcast networks spend the week trying to distinguish themselves from each other, even though they are far more like each other than the much-more-specialized cable networks are. The CW is an exception. Its ratings are much more like cable (often below some cable networks, in fact), but also, as a network that targets young viewers and especially young women, it has the much more narrow brand identity that a cable channel like MTV or Bravo does. As the last of the networks to present, on Thursday, it revamped its schedule in a way that even more clearly focused on its specific specialties: soap, relationships and fantasy.

The network had a lot of changes to make: three new dramas for fall, two for midseason, and almost all of its returning shows moving. The resulting schedule focuses each night, roughly, on a theme. Monday is teen-soap night, with 90210 leading into the final half-season of Gossip Girl. (Sex and the City prequel The Carrie Diaries takes over in January.) Tuesday is doctor night, with Emily Owens, M.D., about a young doctor, joining Hart of Dixie, about a young doctor. Wednesday is fantasy/action night, with Arrow–a vigilante take on the comic-book hero Green Arrow–joining Supernatural. (Between this and Revolution, I have to wonder if there’s a Hunger Games–inspired drive to put characters shooting arrows on TV. The youth of today demand archery!)

Thursday is another fantasy-themed night, with the network’s flagship hit, The Vampire Diaries, welcoming Beauty and the Beast (not the first primetime drama with that title or premise). Friday, finally, is what the network calls “fierce female” night, returning longtime reality franchise America’s Next Top Model (sans many familiar faces) and Nikita. (Cult, a suspense drama involving, well, a cult, awaits an opening in the schedule later in the year.)

What’s worth watching? Even more than usual, I can’t guess this early–the few trailers The CW has out so far look very much like the existing shows the network’s pairing the new material with. (I do want to see Carrie Diaries, out of curiosity if nothing else.) Say what you want about The CW, the network knows what it is; the question is whether reloading on fantasy translates to any more viewers in reality.