CW drops Sundays in another blow to broadcast model

Members of Blue Man Group hold a lighted logo of The CW television network at the launch party for The CW television network at Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, California September 18, 2006. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The CW network is reducing its programing to five nights a week, confirming late Monday that it will return Sunday nights to its affiliated local stations to program as they choose. (They already program Saturday.)

It was hardly a surprise. The last time the CW -- which launched in 2006, a result of the melding of UPN and the WB -- aired an original program on Sunday night was a year and a half ago, with the short-lived fall 2007 drama “Life Is Wild.”

And its attempt to outsource the programing of the night to the company MRC this season failed miserably, forcing the network to quickly put together a lineup of “Jericho” reruns and MGM library movies.

Still, the move marks the first time a major broadcast network is dropping a whole night of programing. It is one of the strongest indications to date of the gloomy future of the broadcast model in the face of rising costs, audience erosion and increased competition from cable, a future made only bleaker by the severe economic downturn.

As recently as March, CW Entertainment president Dawn Ostroff denied the possibility of the network giving Sunday back to the affiliates, noting that she aimed to continue airing movies on the night.

But that wasn’t sitting well with the affiliates, who can buy the same movies themselves and sell all 16 minutes an hour of advertising inventory instead of the 3.5 minutes an hour they get from the network. Behind the scenes, the major CW affiliate groups were actively lobbying to gain control of Sunday night.

Several weeks ago the network started preparing for a fall transfer of Sunday night to the stations.

“It just makes more sense -- we’ll have more (advertising) inventory and the network will invest its dollars on Monday to Friday, where it has had success and momentum,” said Doug Gealy, president/COO of ACME Communications, which owns five CW affiliates.