The network debuted programming after its two predecessors, UPN and The WB, ceased independent operations on, respectively, September 15 and September 17, 2006. The CW's first two nights of programming--Monday and Tuesday, September 18 and September 19, 2006--consisted of reruns and launch-related specials. The CW marked its formal launch date on Wednesday, September 20, 2006, with a 2-hour season premiere of America's Next Top Model. The CW lineup has featured on a mixture of programming that originated on both UPN and The WB (including America's Next Top Model and Smallville) along with its own original programs such as Gossip Girl and 90210.
The network has struggled in the Nielsen ratings since its inception, leading to speculation in the industry (including a May 16 2008 Wall Street Journal article) that CBS, Warner Brothers, or both companies could abandon the venture if ratings do not improve. However, executives of both companies have since emphasized their commitment to the network, and have launched its third season with an aim to prevent ratings from sliding further. Additionally, according to Dawn Ostroff, there is a possibility of The CW launching its 2009-2010 season as early as July or August of 2009, well ahead of the traditional season start in September.
The CW is a successor to The WB and UPN, both of which launched in January 1995. However, both networks can be seen as descendants of the Prime Time Entertainment Network, a joint venture between Warner Bros. and Chris-Craft Industries, which launched in 1993. The two companies later became partners in The WB and UPN, respectively, and PTEN continued as a separate syndication service until folding in 1997.
Both UPN and The WB started just as the FOX network had begun to secure a foothold in the American viewing lineup. Both launched to limited fanfare and generally poor results. However, in the subsequent 11 1/2 seasons, both networks were able to air several series that became quite popular, such as 7th Heaven, Charmed, Everwood, Star Trek: Voyager, and Smallville.
However, towards the end of their opening decade, the networks were in decline, unable to reach the audience or have the effect that Fox had gained within its first decade, much less that of the Big Three of ABC, CBS, and NBC. In the eleven years UPN and the WB were on the air, the two networks lost a combined $2 billion.
CBS chairman Les Moonves explained that the name of the new network was formed from the first letters of CBS and Warner Bros, joking, "we couldn't call it the WC for obvious reasons." Although some executives reportedly disliked the new name, Moonves stated in March that there was "zero chance" the name would change, citing research claiming 48% of the target demographic was already aware of the CW name. At the network's first upfront presentation — May 18, 2006 — a new logo was unveiled to replace the provisional blue-rectangle logo used in January. The logo is a green-and-white insignia which has drawn comparisons to the logo of CNN, another company with Time Warner ownership interest.
Like both UPN and The WB, The CW targets its programming to younger audiences. CBS and Warner Bros. hoped that combining their networks' schedules and station lineups would strengthen The CW into a fifth "major" broadcast network. Unlike the "Big Four" broadcast networks, The CW does not offer national news or sports programming to their affiliates; however, some affiliates do broadcast local news and/or sports, and many air the nationally syndicated Orlando-based morning show, The Daily Buzz.
"The New CW" launched with a premiere special/launch party from CBS-produced Entertainment Tonight at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank on September 18 2006, after a repeat of the 7th Heaven 10th-season finale; the same schedule was repeated on September 19 2006 with Gilmore Girls' 6th-season finale. The network continued to air season finales from the previous season through the rest of the first week, except for America's Next Top Model and SmackDown!, which launched their new seasons on September 20-September 22 respectively, with full-night premieres. When America's Next Top Model launched on September 20, 2006, The CW scored a 3.4/5 (with hourly ratings of 3.1/5 and 3.6/6; The CW placed 5th overall) in the households and a 2.6 rating in the Adults 18-49 (The CW placed 4th in the A18-49) beating FOX's 2.2. The network's second week consisted of all season/series premieres for all other series from September 25-October 1, with the exception of Veronica Mars, which debuted its third season on October 3.
WWE Friday Night SmackDown stopped airing on The CW after the 2007-2008 broadcast schedule due to negotiations ending between WWE and The CW Network. The network later confirmed that the CW had chosen not to continue the WWE broadcast because the network had redefined its target audience as exclusively 18- to 34-year-old women.
On May 9 2008, it was announced that The CW was selling the Sunday slot from 5:00-10:00 p.m. ET; Media Rights Capital is being brought in by the network to produce shows during a slot that is often the most-watched night on broadcast television, but is consistently the CW's lowest-rated evening.
Following the network announcement, The CW immediately announced ten-year affiliation agreements with the Tribune Company and CBS Television Stations Group. Tribune originally committed 16 stations (including its flagship broadcast stations WGN-TV in Chicago, KTLA in Los Angeles and WPIX in New York; another committed station, KSWB/San Diego, joined Fox in August 2008) that were previously affiliated with The WB, while CBS committed 11 of its UPN stations (including WKBD in Detroit, WPSG in Philadelphia, KBHK-TV in San Francisco [now KBCW] and WUPA in Atlanta). These stations combine to reach 48 percent of the United States. Both groups also own several UPN/WB stations that did not join The CW in overlapping markets. As part of its agreement, Tribune agreed to divest its interest in The WB and did not take an ownership interest in The CW.
The network stated that it would eventually reach 95 percent of the United States. In markets where both UPN and The WB affiliates operate, only one station became a CW affiliate. Executives were on record as preferring the "strongest" stations among existing The WB and UPN affiliates. For example, the new network's first affiliate outside the core group of Tribune and CBS-owned stations, WJZY in Charlotte, was tied with Atlanta's WUPA as UPN's fifth-strongest station. In most cases, it was obvious where the new network would affiliate; there were only a few markets (for example, Philadelphia, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Boston and Charlotte) where the WB and UPN affiliates were both relatively strong.
Many of the affiliates were previously affiliated with the WB or UPN. Very few were independents prior to joining the CW. One of the first to be announced was the consistent #1 WB affiliate in the Orlando/Central Florida market, WKCF. After becoming a CW affiliate, they did not immediately become the #1 CW affiliate, but roughly after one year, WKCF resumed their role as the top CW affiliate, winning multiple awards for promotions and viewing, just as they did as a WB affiliate.
Although it was generally understood that The CW was a merger of UPN and The WB, the new network's creation was not structured as a merger in the legal sense. Rather, it was one new network launching at the same time two others shut down. As such, The CW was not obligated by existing affiliations with The WB and UPN; it had to negotiate from scratch with individual stations.
As a result, in several markets, the CW affiliate is a different station than either the former The WB and UPN stations. In Helena, Montana, ION affiliate KMTF became a CW station. In Honolulu, Hawaii, The CW did not appear until early December 2006 where it is carried on a digital subchannel of local FOX affiliate KHON-TV. In Las Vegas, Nevada, independent station KVCW signed for CW affiliation. The network has also affiliated with some digital channels, usually newly-launched subchannels of a local Big Four affiliate, in several other markets.
Due to the availability of "instant duopoly" digital subchannels that will likely be easily available on cable and satellite, and the overall lack of a need to settle for a secondary affiliation with shows aired in problematic timeslots, both The CW and MyNetworkTV launched with far greater national coverage than that enjoyed by UPN and The WB when they started in 1995. UPN for several years had gaps in the top 30 markets, and by 2005 managed to cover only 86% of the country. This resulted in secondary affiliations with other networks and the resulting diluted ratings when programs were shown out of their intended timeslots, or the lack of the program airing at all (a problem experienced by many Star Trek fans with Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise).
The WB and UPN were the first major television networks to close since the collapse of the DuMont Television Network in 1955, although other small broadcast television networks have also ceased operations over the years.
It became clear that Fox Television Stations, which purchased several UPN affiliates from former UPN co-owner Chris-Craft Industries in 2002, was impacted. Its UPN affiliates in five major markets would not be affiliated with The CW, due to the agreement with Tribune, and Fox made it clear it would not even seek the affiliation for its four UPN stations elsewhere. All UPN logos and network references were quickly removed from their stations. Shortly thereafter, Fox announced that it was starting MyNetworkTV, a programming service meant to fill the two nightly prime time hours that opened up on its UPN-affiliated stations after the start of The CW. Fox also offered the service to other stations.
In those media markets where there were separate The WB and UPN stations, one local station was left out in the merger; most of those stations have signed with MyNetworkTV while others elected to become independent stations. Some stations (mainly digital subchannels, some WB 100+ cable channels, and struggling low-power stations) which received neither network's affiliation opted instead to sign off permanently and cease to exist.
Some affiliates have since signed deals with Time Warner Cable, but not all stations have landed within the analog listings. For example, WSTQ-LP in Syracuse, New York can only be viewed on channel 266.
Currently, the largest market without a known affiliate is the Johnstown / Altoona market, Nielsen's DMA #101. WPCW channel 19, in Pittsburgh, is the closest affiliate and is carried on both Johnstown and Altoona's cable systems; WPCW was originally targeted to serve that area before a switch to a Pittsburgh focus in the late 90's.
On February 2 2007 at 4:30 p.m., KFDM-TV made its CW affiliated available to Time Warner Cable in Beaumont, Texas on Channel 10 and also available on Digital 6.2. Although the Southeast Texas CW Logo is on commercials made by KFDM-TV, on the television shows the bug is just "the CW".
Although the company had originally stated that no stations would be affected at all by the closing, one Pappas station with CW affiliation has ceased operations. On May 29, 2008, KCWK, a Yakima, Washington-based station serving the south central portion of that state, went off the air and the station's offices were closed, leaving that area without locally based CW programming and forcing cable and satellite companies to carry KTLA from Los Angeles on their systems to provide the network to their viewers.
Though other Tribune CW affiliates have kept their affiliation, 7 of them have changed their station branding, de-emphasizing references to the network in favor of a stronger local identity. The stations' changeovers took effect by September 1 (the start of The CW's new season), although rebranding for some began as early as July, either on-air (in the case of KWGN-TV) or through early unveiling on their websites as part of a redesign of all of Tribune's station sites, including their non-CW stations. The following table lists the Tribune-owned CW affiliates who have undergone non-CW rebranding:
|DMA #||City||Station||Former Branding||New Branding||Other Notes|
|5.||Dallas, Texas||KDAF||CW 33||The 33||Prior to the change, while keeping the CW 33 logo, the station branding was briefly "KDAF 33".|
|9.||Washington, DC||WDCW||The CW Washington||DC 50||Prior to the change, the station was branded as The CW Washington, thus dropping The CW logo completely.|
|10.||Houston, Texas||KIAH||CW 39||Channel 39||Prior to the change, on July 15th, 2008, the station changed their calls from KHCW to KIAH.|
|16.||Miami, Florida||WSFL||CW South Florida||SFL||The "S" in the new "SFL" logo is in reference of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper logo.|
|18.||Denver, Colorado||KWGN||CW 2||2||The first station on this list to change branding, unveiling their "2" identity on July 7, 2008.|
|25.||Indianapolis, Indiana||WTTV||CW 4||Indiana's 4|
|30.||Hartford, Connecticut||WTXX||CW 20||txx|
As for the top-3 Tribune stations, WGN and KTLA have long used their callsigns in their identification, although they seldomly use CW references with those stations (their branding usually suffixes "The CW" after their station branding for entertainment programming). Recently WPIX which retains the "CW 11" branding changed its website address to "WPIX.com," signifying possible changes for that station, however, advertisments around New York City have inserted WPIX call letters under the current logo. Also, websites adresses were changed to WNOL & KRCW-TV's websites. WNOL has "NOLA38.com" & KRCW has "Portlands32.com", yet at this time, there hasn't been any on-air changes featuring those brands on those stations.
|5:00 p.m.||5:30 p.m.||6:00 p.m.||6:30 p.m.||7:00 p.m.||7:30 p.m.||8:00 p.m.||8:30 p.m.||9:00 p.m.||9:30 p.m.|
|Sunday||4Real||4Real||In Harm's Way (R)||In Harm's Way||Valentine||Easy Money|
|Monday||Local Programming||Gossip Girl||One Tree Hill|
|Wednesday||America's Next Top Model||Stylista|
|Friday||Everybody Hates Chris||The Game||America's Next Top Model|