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Published: Wednesday, 7/19/2006

CW seeing green: New network gets creative with ads in bid to keep viewers

BY ROB OWEN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Actresses Lauren Graham, left, and Alexis Bledel listen as new producer David Rosenthal answers questions about
the upcoming season of Gilmore Girls on The CW.
Actresses Lauren Graham, left, and Alexis Bledel listen as new producer David Rosenthal answers questions about the upcoming season of Gilmore Girls on The CW.
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PASADENA, Calif. - It's unclear what exact shade of green is found in the logo and marketing materials for new network The CW - lime green? Kermit green? John Deere green? - but this much we know: Green will be everywhere as this new network rises from the ashes of UPN and The WB on Sept. 18.

Dawn Ostroff, CW Entertainment president for The CW (a joint venture of CBS and Warner Bros.), said the network's biggest hurdle will be getting viewers to find it.

"I do think it's going to be confusing at first, " she said, noting that in 28 percent of the markets, WB viewers will have to learn to watch their favorite shows (Gilmore Girls, Smallville, Supernatural) on what was once the UPN station.

Viewers won't have that problem in Toledo. Buckeye CableSystem will be putting the CW's content on cable network WTO5, currently the WB affiliate.

When they do tune in to The CW, they'll find a network that's wooing viewers ages 18 to 34 with the slogan "Free to be," and with something different in its commercial breaks.

On some nights, in some shows, rather than airing national ads, The CW will feature "content wraps," short-format programs that feature an advertiser's products rather than a straightforward commercial.

Ostroff said these advertising messages are designed to engage the viewer in a different way. She gave Tuesday, with Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars airing back to back, as an example of what might be a "girls' night." A content wrap on that night might chronicle a blind date: In the first commercial break, viewers meet the girl. In the second, they meet the guy. In the third, the couple goes on a date. Viewers would follow what happens next at The CW Web site. An advertiser's product will be featured in each of the chapters of this mini-story.

"Advertisers are looking for a more subtle way to reach viewers, " Ostroff said. "We're making it more like a program and a reason for viewers to stay invested all through the night."

Local ads will continue to air adjacent to these "content wraps."

As for the network's ratings, Ostroff tried to set realistic expectations about how many viewers will tune in. It's not as simple as combining the individual viewership of UPN and The WB.

"I don't know if we'll have twice as many [viewers by combining two networks targeting young viewers], but I think we will have more viewers [than either UPN or The WB had on its own]," she said. "We think by the end of the season we'll be in the plus column, doing better than we were doing [individually]"

As for the CW programming sessions, one was pretty testy and another a virtual lovefest.

The big question going into the Gilmore Girls session was whether someone would have the guts to ask new executive producer David Rosenthal, who replaces series creator Amy Sherman Palladino, whether his personal history makes him an appropriate overseer for the series.

As reported in a 2001 New York Observer profile that's been quoted all over the Web, Rosenthal took a bit of a siesta from life, family, and career five years ago when he wrote an angry play about wanting to have sex with Heidi Klum.

There's no way I was going to have the guts to ask the question, at least not until the scrum after the press conference, but another reporter did bring it up and was immediately shot down.

"My personal life is not an issue here," Rosenthal said.

"It has nothing to do with anything," star Lauren Graham added tersely. "Next!"

When you bring someone with that kind of baggage onto a quasi-family show like Gilmore Girls, I think it is a legitimate question. That Rosenthal was not forthcoming on the topic is no surprise, but he also had little to say in general about the series, which ended its season on a fan-infuriating note as Lorelai (Graham) slept with Christopher, the father of her daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel), but not the man she's been intended for since the start of the series, diner owner Luke (Scott Patterson).

"That's the stuff of good drama," Rosenthal said of the cliffhanger he has to write his way out of. "[Palladino] left us with a very full plate."

What that plate is full of, Rosenthal did not elaborate, except to say that Lorelai's decision to sleep with Christopher is "a big deal" that the writers intend to explore fully.

As for the future of the series beyond this year, Rosenthal said he's not writing Gilmore Girls like it's the final season even though the contracts of Graham and Bledel are up at the end of this year. Both stars have indicated in the past they're ready to move on, but during the TCA session, they left room for negotiation.

"I support David and I hope we have such a great season it feels like there's reason to keep going," Graham said. "I don"t want to be in a situation where I feel sorry for me. I've seen that happen to actors and to shows where the thing is done, let it be over, but I don't know if we're in that situation yet."

When the show comes to an end, Rosenthal said he would consult with Palladino, who's said she knows how the series should end for years (supposedly with two words, Graham said).

Graham said she's excited for the "structure change," as Bledel called the departure of Palladino. Graham said last season's Luke-Lorelai estrangement over his daughter "wasn't some of her favorite stuff to play," nor was the Rory-Lorelai estrangement from the year prior.

"I am a huge fan of Amy and Dan [Palladino's writer husband, who also departed the show], but I also think there is room to grow," Graham said. "I've been in situations where I disagreed with them; it's never perfect and it should be some kind of collaboration, a back and forth, because we have ownership of who these people are."

She was quick to add, "If you write anything that makes me sound negative with Amy and Dan, I will be upset. They gave me the best job I've had, but they really like to run things in a certain way that was specific to the two of them, that was more hands-on. Things are different. We have scripts early and I've gotten to meet the writers in a more everybody-sit-down-and-talk-about-what-your-feeling-is way. That's different. But every show runner has the way they do it and some of them don't really want anyone else's opinion and some do. It's a more open-door world."

Read between those lines.

'Veronica Mars'

The atmosphere at the Veronica Mars press conference was a lot friendlier, with members of the press offering themselves up to play extras on the series.

The press conference began on a high note as star Kristen Bell, who proved herself smart, funny, and charming in prior press tour appearances, saw the picture of herself as Veronica in a white tank top, leaning toward the camera, which led her to quip, "Oh honestly, I am so over it. Can we get a new picture?"

Series creator Rob Thomas acknowledged that season two of Veronica Mars became too convoluted and he's going to rectify that in the upcoming "do or die" season by breaking it into three uninterrupted mysteries of nine, seven and six episodes each.

The first one will surround the rapist at Hearst College, introduced last year.

Tina Majorino, who plays Mac on the show, will be upped to series regular status, and somehow Dick Casablancas will have made it into Hearst College as well. The town sheriff will also become a series regular, while Duncan Kane (Teddy Dunn) will not return.

Weevil (Francis Capra) will turn up in the third episode of the new season and viewers will learn he went to prison for assault, but not the murder of Thumper which remains (and apparently will continue to remain) unsolved. Weevil is now working at a car wash.

The cliffhanger of what's in the briefcase will be resolved in the first two episodes of the season and Charisma Carpenter will be back for at least one episode.

The CW has ordered only 13 episodes of Veronica Mars so far, but if the ratings are decent, Thomas expects an order for the final nine.

"If we're struggling in our third year, I don't imagine the fervor of our fans and the kind of [positive] response from the press will buy us another year," Thomas said. "We're in a make or break time now."

Thomas and Bell said they were nervous about whether or not the series would get renewed for a third season this past May, but Bell said she had faith.

"I know, and don't tell this to all the other kids, but we are Dawn's favorite," Bell said, referring to the CW Entertainment presiden. "I had confidence she would do what was right, what we all knew was right, which was getting us back on the air."

Positioning 'CSI'

With ABC's decision to move "Grey's Anatomy " to 9 p.m. Thursday this fall, CBS is positioning "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, " also airing at 9 p.m. Thursday, as the underdog in that competition, even though "CSI " ranked No. 3 for the 2005-06 TV season and "Grey's " ranked No. 5 in household ratings.

"We expect it to be dinged a little bit by 'Grey's,' " said CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler. "It's going to be very competitive. But as we know from the past, two big hit shows or more can occupy the same time period. "

CBS Corporation president Leslie Moonves was less daunted by the challenge to "CSI. "

" 'Grey's Anatomy' is a great show, they're both going to do fine, " he said.

Fans will care less about the competition than about what's happening with the characters, particularly now that it's been revealed that Grissom (William Petersen) and Sara (Jorja Fox) have embarked on a sexual relationship.

Fox said the description of her character from season one suggested she was a love interest for Grissom. Executive producer Carol Mendelsohn said, in her mind, the characters had a relationship when they were together in San Francisco, but not intimate in Las Vegas, at least in the early going. She said at this point, the other CSIs are unaware of the relationship.

"One of the greatest gifts of being on this show is that we're starting our seventh year and there's still so many intimate stories that we could tell about these characters, " Fox said.

She acknowledged that fans are split on whether or not they want to see these two together intimately, but Mendelsohn said she heard mostly positive reactions about "two professionals who are so good at their jobs, have found each other and are now engaged in an intimate and mature relationship that's not salacious.

"You didn't see them ripping off each other's clothes, " she noted.

With three iterations of "CSI " on the air, Mendelsohn said they sometimes step on one another's toes when it comes to telling stories. Original "CSI " discovered one of its stories for this year was already being done by "CSI: NY. " Producers now lay claim to ripped-from-the-headline stories as soon as they hear about them.

"A woman was unfortunately killed in a car wash the other day, so I immediately e-mailed [executive producer Jerry] Bruckheimer and said, 'We're saving that story for 'CSI,' because the second I read a story and I think we may do it, I just don't want the other two shows to have it. "

As for CBS's decision to position "CSI " as the underdog in the battle with "Grey's Anatomy, " star Marg Helgenberger has no worries.

"CSI has always been underestimated from day one by everyone but the fans, " she said. "I remember when we first started off and we really started gaining steam that we were referred to as the little engine that could. Remember those days? All of a sudden we are a monster, and now we're back to being the underdog. Go figure. "

Channel surfing

w●"24 " has a new president: Echoing the Bush dynasty, Wayne Palmer (D.B. Woodside), brother of the late, great David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert, now on CBS's "The Unit "), will be President of the United States as the new season begins in January. Regina King joins the cast as a heretofore unseen Palmer sibling, an advocacy lawyer. The Hollywood Reporter says Nona Gaye will join "Law & Order: Criminal Intent " as an assistant district attorney while Courtney B. Vance and Annabella Sciorra will depart. CMT will air a marathon of "Hee Haw " reruns the weekend of July 29-30. ABC has canceled "How to Get the Guy. "

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen, the TV editor for the Post-Gazette, is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Los Angeles.

Contact him at:

rowen@post-gazette.com



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