CW's Dawn Ostroff on Luring Those Elusive Yound Adults

Entertainment Prez Gets Ready to Launch Fifth Broadcast Network

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Want to look inside Dawn Ostroff’s head? Mostly it’s busy with thoughts of pilots, scheduling, marketing and the TV upfront, except during a small window at the beginning of each day when it is very quiet.
Dawn Ostroff

Ms. Ostroff's close friend Dana Walden, president of 20th Century Fox Television, knows firsthand about that interlude. “When we worked together, I was telling her how stressed out I was and the next day arrived a basket of meditation tapes, and when I called her to say thanks, she confided that every morning she starts out her day meditating. I thought it was really interesting and unusual Zen activity for such a driven, busy executive.”

Making TV history
Ms. Ostroff, still officially entertainment president at CBS Corp.'s UPN, might as well take a deep breath. She's in the midst of making TV history by merging two broadcast networks, UPN and the WB, into the CW. Ms. Ostroff was handed the same title at CW without debate by top brass at CBS and Time Warner, which will co-own the venture. Her opposite at the WB, David Janollari, announced his exit in January.

Beyond the tough task of selecting shows -- already WB’s “Charmed” won’t make the cut -- Ms. Ostroff is creating a new brand.

“Everyone has a lot of fire in their bellies,” said Ms. Ostroff, 45, “and we have the backing of Time Warner and CBS Corp.”

Ms. Ostroff has intimate knowledge of the young adult psyche. “Things have changed so much since [the WB’s] ‘Felicity’ was on the air. ... Fame and opportunity are really important to [young adults]. Technology has really taken over.”

'First priority'
“Our first priority is making the network a real home for this demographic,” Ms. Ostroff said. When asked to describe a typical viewer, she said: “The 18-34s are people who like to try a new product, they go to the movies the first night they open, they’re into pop culture. They are not risk takers, but they are open to new things.”

Among the shows under consideration are the obvious top performers from both networks: “Everybody Hates Chris” and “America’s Next Top Model" from UPN, and “Gilmore Girls” and “Beauty & the Geek” on the WB.

This week Ms. Ostroff is unveiling her drama-oriented pilot selections to advertisers and agencies. She explained why she greenlighted a pilot called “Aquaman”: “It’s based on the Marvel comic. [The WB’s] ‘Smallville’ had an Aquaman character, and we saw a real [ratings] spike. I got the script a few weeks ago, and I’m so excited that Ving Rhames is one of the leads.”

“Palm Springs” is a soap from Kevin Williamson, who was the brain behind one of the WB's biggest hits, "Dawson's Creek." Two other pilot pickups include “Split Decision,” based on a 15-year-old-girl in high school in the vein of the Gwyneth Paltrow movie “Sliding Doors,” and “Runaway,” about a man falsely accused of murder and his family caught up in his fugitive status.

Her UPN high point
Asked what her high point at UPN was, Ms. Ostroff responded that it was the satisfaction of turning around the perception of the network. She cited particular pleasure in seeing “America’s Next Top Model” beat out its bigger broadcast brethren on occasion in the 18-34 demo -- a highly sought-after group by advertisers -- and finding a show that was as big with the advertisers as it was with the critics, “Everybody Hates Chris.”

And how will the Dawn Ostroff imprimatur on CW look like? “It will have a flow to the schedule,” she said. “We can have an audience that flows from night to night. The shows are all there, there’s a built-in following.”

Now she gets to create the network from scratch. That’s worthy of deep thought.

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