Sunday, 28 February 2021

The CW Network needs to build on its young audience

Still an experiment in putting together a viable television network, the CW continues to build on the same young adult audience that followed series like “Smallville” and “Everybody Hates Chris,” holdovers from the old UPN and the WB networks.

I hate to break the news to you, but the “Gilmore Girls” are gone, though “Gossip Girl” is far from the fitting replacement. Nevertheless, the network says the median age of its audience is 32, and Dawn Ostroff, the CW President of Entertainment, told an assembly of TV critics that her network is “the only broadcaster targeting 18 to 34 year-olds.” This might be news to CBS, which reportedly is targeting the same demographic if only to reduce the median age of its audience to something below that of the qualifying age to receive Social Security.

Moving into its second season, the CW, according to Ostroff, is “looking ahead, focusing on the future, and creating new hits that will further define our network,” especially with youth.

This state of affairs explains, of course, a show like “Gossip Girl,” based on the popular series of young-adult novels by Cecily von Ziegesar. The one-hour drama focuses on the privileged prep school teens of Manhattan’s swank Upper East Side, where socialite Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) suddenly ends her self-imposed exile to boarding school to return to Manhattan. Once the Upper East Side’s most notorious party girl, Serena’s reasons for returning are mysterious. Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) and Serena have always been best friends, but the relationship has been competitive.

When Serena was out of the picture, Blair enjoyed her time in the spotlight. Now their uneasy relationship is further complicated by Blair’s boyfriend Nate (Chace Crawford), a young man uneasy with all the privileges handed to him. With Serena on the scene, Blair will have to fight to hold onto Nate’s attention. The tension between Blair and Serena isn’t lost on all the others in the preppy crowd, since they all live for gossip and scandal, along with sex and drugs.

This isn’t a series that fits in the family hour. To the contrary, it sounds very much like a television version of “Cruel Intentions,” which involved seduction and manipulation of rich teens in New York’s upper crust society.

A one-hour drama more suitable to family viewing is “Life is Wild,” which chronicles the lives of a blended family that moves from the urban jungle of New York City to a game preserve deep inside South Africa. The series seems vaguely reminiscent of “Daktari,” a series that aired roughly 40 years ago about a veterinarian and his family relocated to Africa.

Similarly, “Life is Wild” stars D.W. Moffett as Danny, the vet who takes his second wife Jo (Stephanie Niznik) and their kids from previous marriages to a broken-down lodge called the Blue Antelope. Katie (Leah Pipes) is unable to forgive her father Danny for uprooting the family, and frankly he’s lost his mind.

The adjustment to life in the wild affects everyone, as Jo was a sought-after divorce attorney and Danny’s skills as a vet made him a favorite with wealthy New Yorkers and their pampered pets. Danny is eager to return the Blue Antelope to the thriving safari business it once was, namely because it is owned by the father of his deceased first wife. The children naturally spend their first days in Africa resenting the upheaval of their lives, but then they meet some locals and start to love the breathtaking vistas of the bush country, the wild animals and the vibrant culture.

When you have a series in which the Devil turns out to be a charming guy who is very solicitous in getting people to do bad things, you have to wonder if it isn’t about TV network executives. “Reaper,” one-hour show blending suspense and humor, allows the Devil (Ray Wise) to be more persuasive than scary, more tempting than frightening, except when things aren’t going his way.

Satan has his hands full when he acquires a 21-year-old slacker named Sam (Bret Harrison) as his personal bounty hunter. An evident underachiever, Sam had the misfortune of being raised by parents who sold his soul to the Devil before he was born. This explains why Sam never had to excel in school or hold down a decent job, unlike his younger brother (Kyle Switzer) who doesn’t enjoy the easy ride.

In his new capacity as Satan’s bounty hunter, Sam has to track down evil souls and return them to Hell. At first, Sam refuses to accept his bizarre fate, but he quickly discovers that the Devil’s temper could result in extremely bad circumstances. Besides, Sam becomes fascinated by Satan’s charm and his flattering insistence that Sam is full of untapped potential.

His new line of work is dangerous and frightening, even with the goofball help of his friends and co-workers at the Work Bench, a home improvement store. Sam has to go to great lengths to hide his new identity from a pretty co-worker (Missy Peregrym) that he is unable to ask out due to his lack of self-confidence.

A fish-out-water comedy emerges in the American heartland when a Pakistani Muslim exchange student comes to live with a family in rural Wisconsin. In the Tolchuck family, lanky 16-year-old Justin (Dan Byrd) is just trying to make it through the social nightmare of high school in Medora, with the help of his well-meaning mom Franny (Amy Pietz) and aspiring entrepreneur dad Gary (Scott Patterson).

Though bright and funny, Justin is also shy, awkward and resigned to the fact that he’ll never be one of the cool kids. Franny comes up with a plan to help Justin, by signing up for an international exchange student program, which she expects will deliver a handsome, athletic Nordic teen, who in turn will bestow instant coolness on her son.

The student who arrives at the Tolchuck home turns out to be Raja Musharaff (Adhir Kalyan), a 16-year-old Muslim from a small village in Pakistan. Raja is thoughtful, responsible and wise, and yet the family is freaked out by the Muslim in their midst. After the initial shock wears off, Justin is won over by Raja’s humor, gestures of friendship and by their common status as outsiders. Despite the cultural chasm between them, Justin and Raja develop an unlikely bond that just might help them survive the minefield that is contemporary high school.

If things don’t work out, the CW has a reality show in the wings called “Farmer Wants a Wife,” and the contestants are urban girls chasing a bucolic dream.

Tim Riley writes television and movie reviews for Lake County News.







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