What Appeals to Young Women? – The CW Network May Have the Answers by Gregory Hilton

"New York" magazine says "Gossip Girl" is "The best show ever."
What Appeals to Young Women? – The CW Network May Have the Answers by Gregory Hilton–
I recently witnessed a large group of young women bolt out of my class just before 9 p.m. Our group discussion that evening was forced to an early conclusion because these girls would not miss an episode of the TV series “90210.” The program is a remake of “Beverly Hills 90210,” and it has just been renewed for a second season on the CW Network. CW was formed in 2006 and is the nation’s fifth largest broadcast network.
CW is unique in that its target audience is women between the ages of 18 and 34. They are considered the most desirable market for advertisers, and many 30 second spots for luxury brands are now on CW.
To keep its female-only focus, CW has jettisoned shows such as “Reaper,” which was canceled on May 19th, and “Friday Night Smackdown!,” a wrestling program which was doing well in the ratings. The audience numbers for “Reaper” were fine by CW standards, and the program was about a man who works for the Devil by retrieving souls that have escaped from Hell. The main reason it was canceled was because it tended to attract male viewers. Every other network concentrates on ratings, but CW’s focus is on “the right demographic.”
Young women are a tough market because they often fast forward through commercials and similar to their male counterparts, they have short attention spans. CW has responded with short commercials.
The CW niche can not be ignored because they are currently producing as many scripted hours of television as NBC. According to every survey, the number of people watching television and the amount of time they spend doing it continues to rise to historic levels. However, at the same time, the three major networks are continuing to lose significant audience share. The major networks are similar to CW in that they are narrowing their audiences to specific demographic groups. They have cut back on programs appealing to a multitude of demographics.
My female students told me in advance about the importance of “90210” and I agreed to let them leave early. My next surprise came when the girls ran out of the class. I expected the boys to follow rapidly but they were in no hurry to exit. None of these young men expressed an interest in seeing “90210”.
Television became our discussion topic, and this time I was the one taking notes. I had not seen or even heard about any of the programs they mentioned, but I was fascinated by their observations and the loud message about the state of our popular culture. I have now done some research on these CW dramas, and the young women portrayed favorably are overwhelmingly pretty, affluent, white, sexually aggressive, smokers who engage in a variety of risky behaviors. There are few admirable role models on the CW programs I reviewed.
The boys praised CW for having an hour long format and great music, but they said the shows were clearly aimed at girls with a focus on fashion, romance and few of the action scenes they enjoy. A drama with weekly installments also did not appeal to them. My students are obviously not a scientific sample but according to these young men it is impossible to schedule anything on campus at 8 pm on a Monday. That is the air time of the most popular CW program, “Gossip Girl,” which won practically everything at last year’s “Teen Choice Awards.”
CW describes the program as “steamy, fashionable and trendy”, and its motto is “You’re nobody until you are talked about.” According to “People” magazine, “The cast members have become a mainstay in young celebrity Hollywood which has made the CW even more entrenched as the breeding ground of the young and beautiful of the showbiz industry.”
The “Boston Herald” calls it “every parent’s nightmare,” while “Access Hollywood” says “The fun of ‘Gossip Girl’ is the scandal. Viewers are introduced to privileged lives that other teenagers covet, with characters drowning in money and misbehaving at an early age. Audiences can’t get enough of the naughtiness, and the show’s network, the CW, is eating up the attention.” It is now being seen in 147 global markets, and a spin-off series set in the 1980’s is now being planned.
“Gossip Girl” is about a select group of students attending an elite private high school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. They are in the top echelon of society and have formed a fashionable social clique. The program tells us about their “breakups, hookups, freakouts and breakdowns.”
“90210” is set around the fictional West Beverly Hills High School. The mother of one teen is a TV star and another girl is a drug addicted starlet. The girl who is a virgin is not very popular with other students. There is rivalry among both mothers and daughters regarding desirable men and boys.
“Melrose Place” is another CW remake and it features a group of young adults living in a trendy West Hollywood apartment complex. One of the main characters is a bad boy with smoldering good looks who grew up as a rich kid but has been cut off from his family’s money. Another character is a medical student at UCLA who is living a double life as a high-end call girl. Singer David Cassidy’s 22 year old daughter plays a bisexual public relations agent who dates both men and women.
The long running “America’s Next Top Model” is a reality show where young women compete to be a top model. It is hosted by former supermodel Tyra Banks and is CW’s most popular program. Viewers see the girls coached in runway walking, acting and applying make-up. I would have thought the ratings would be higher among boys because the girls are seen participating in lingerie and swimwear photo shoots.
Most of the girls are heavy smokers. Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel reviewed the program for “Harper’s Bazaar” by slamming it as “trash that is funny for five minutes if you’re with other people. If you’re alone, it’s not funny. Those girls will never be top models. There is no justice in the fashion business.”
“The Beautiful Life” will debut on CW this fall and it is about young models living and working together in New York City. The star is Mischa Barton, 23, who was previously on the Fox Network’s “The OC,” which has a plot similar to “90210.” Another new show is “Parental Discretion Advised”, about a young girl seeking out her birth parents because she wants to become an emancipated minor.
CW has cancelled the show “Privileged” which was popular with critics but had low ratings. The show was set in Palm Beach and it was based on the book “How To Teach Filthy Rich Girls” by Zoey Dean.
The CW business model may be a success, but the jury is still out. The great decline of NBC began with the ending of the sitcom “Friends,” and the network is still struggling to recapture this market. CBS is trying to appeal to the same audience with “How I Met Your Mother,” and NBC will try to reclaim it with the upcoming romantic comedy “100 Questions.” The show is about a young woman who joins an online dating site and, in answering 100 questions posed by her dating counselor she recounts 100 different anecdotes that involve her interactions with friends.
One of my next assignments will be reviewing the programs appealing to young men.

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