CW downsizes, sheds comedy division
By James Hibberd
March 4, 2008

The CW is combining its drama and current programming departments and eliminating its comedy division.

In what's being described as a companywide restructuring, the net laid off 25-30 employees Monday afternoon. The goal is to concentrate scripted programming into one department, sources said. Comedy head Kim Fleary and her lieutenant, Steve Veisel, are among the departing employees. It's not yet clear who will lead the combined scripted department. Michael Roberts and Thom Sherman, who currently serve as executive vp current and drama, respectively, are staying on. The unscripted division will remain unchanged.

The news came Monday afternoon, hours after
the network announced the renewal of six series for next season -- including soapy teen freshman drama "Gossip Girl."

"The CW is restructuring some programming and marketing functions as part of an effort to streamline both areas," the network said. "In programming, the current and drama development departments will work together in a combined group that will include current programming in addition to scripted development."

Also, certain operations of the CW Plus station group, such as the marketing department, will be folded into the network. Some of the eliminated positions are from the Kids WB morning block, which the CW announced they would cease programming last fall. Other positions are open spots at the network that will not be filled.

The CW has struggled in the ratings this year. The network's sophomore season faced tough competition in the fall, with increased DVR penetration impacting broadcast ratings across the board and modest overall viewer response to the CW's latest freshman efforts.

Once such scripted shows as "Gossip" and "Smallville" went into repeats because of the writers strike, the CW's viewership sank further. The financial impact of the writers strike is said to have been a contributing factor in the layoffs.

Insiders emphasized that the CW remains in the comedy business, noting that Monday the network renewed "Everybody Hates Chris," and that fellow comedy "The Game" also is expected to return. Fleary and Veisel will stay through mid-summer, shepherding the network's comedy development slate for next season, which includes nine projects. The network also plans to "selectively" develop comedy series in the future, sources said.

But the restructuring underlines the fact that the CW will be focusing its efforts in the areas it has had the most traction -- unscripted programs like "America's Next Top Model" and serial dramas like "Smallville."

It also comes on the heels of
CW's decision not to renew the Friday night wrestling staple "WWE SmackDown!" which leaves it with another night to program this fall. The CW will likely add more reality programming to fill the extra shelf space.

Since the network launched in 2006, it's held onto a two-hour Monday night comedy block inherited from forebear UPN. Although UPN was successful with its urban comedy lineup, fellow CW predecessor the WB struggled in the genre (with the exception of "Reba"). The CW aimed for broader appeal, adding this fall's "Aliens in America." The single-camera comedy underperformed compared with the rest of the lineup and was notably absent from the list of CW renewals.

The CW did pick up "Gossip," the eighth year of "Smallville," the fourth season of "Supernatural," the sixth season of "One Tree Hill," a fourth round of "Everybody Hates Chris" and -- for cycles 11 and 12 -- "America's Next Top Model."

Aside from "Aliens," the critically praised supernatural dramedy "Reaper" also wasn't picked up. The CW might be waiting to see how the show performs when it returns to air for eight new poststrike episodes March 13.