"Gossip Girl" and "90210": The CW's Day at TCA - Ed Martin Live at TCA

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Maybe they should change its name to The GG.

It seemed as if every moment of The CW's morning at the Summer 2008 Television Critics Association tour throbbed with the influence of the two-year-old network's first true signature show, Gossip Girl. From the sessions for 90210 and Privilege, two new scripted dramas with canvases largely populated by wealthy and attractive young people, to the presentation of a new reality series about young people competing for a job at a fashion magazine that caters to the wealthy and the attractive, to a press conference with CW Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff, The CW's day at TCA felt as if it were all Gossip Girl all the time.

In her opening remarks to TCA members, it took Ostroff less than one minute to make her first reference to GG, which she described as one of the network's "building blocks" for the future. Certainly, it has been instrumental in identifying The CW as a destination for the very young. Thanks to fancy freshman GG and veteran workhorses America's Next Top Model and One Tree Hill, the median age of the female-skewed CW is now 34, a full decade younger than nearest competitor Fox, Ostroff happily noted.

Critics enjoy picking on Gossip Girl because its television ratings are very small, even though its demographics are young and desirable. Some of them have been joking that there are more people staying here at the Beverly Hilton Hotel than there are watching the show every week. That said, traditional ratings appear to be deceiving, in a negative sense. Consider the growing issue of GG's much-discussed laptop viewer base, which would seem to indicate that the show is mightier than it appears under standard scrutiny.

"Gossip Girl is one of the big mysteries of the television universe," Ostroff asserted. "We have a show that everybody is talking about. We do research all over the country. We can't go anywhere without having women talk about Gossip Girl. The press is writing about all of [its] actors. Last week on the cover of The New York Times there was an article about Gossip Girl and the effect [it] has on the retail market. Bloomingdales in the article is quoted as saying that when something appears on Gossip Girl it sells out in [that store]." Ostroff also referred to a recent story on NPR that quoted an influential advertising executive as saying that 'Nielsen does not have enough people in [its] sample to accurately measure the viewing habits of this country. People are viewing content in many different ways.'

"Every viewer must be counted, and no viewer should be left behind," Ostroff declared.

She then referenced Optimedia's rating system. It counts "ratings for television, downloads, iTunes and mobile," Ostroff explained. "The No. 15 show in their system was Gossip Girl, whereas in Nielsen we're [not in the top 100]. We're saying there needs to be a way to count all of these viewers because clearly people are watching Gossip Girl. They're just not necessarily watching it at home the day that it's on [TV] or a few days after."

Asked about the overall "health" of The CW, Ostroff again turned to GG. "To have a show like Gossip Girl in our second year on the air [has] been really great for us," she said. "I mean, everywhere we go we see our talent out there. Just yesterday I was watching Good Morning, America and they did a [story] on how to get that Gossip Girl look."

If the response at TCA is any indication, it would appear that The CW has another hit in its continuation of the 90210 franchise. The kids in the cast of the show are not well known, but the scrum that followed their session was one of the largest of the entire summer tour. The dozens of salivating reporters who mobbed each and every young cast member have not seen the show's first episode, or even a clip from it. But they are already pre-selling them as the next generation of television superstars and magazine cover subjects. The opportunity to meet these young actors - plus the announcement that Shannen Doherty would reprise her role as Brenda Walsh from the original Beverly Hills, 90210 in multiple episodes (joining her former co-stars Jennie Garth, Tori Spelling and Joe E. Tata) -- whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

The cast of The CW's "90210" at the Television Critics Association tour.
The cast of The CW's 90210 at the Television Critics Association tour.

Also noteworthy during The CW's presentation at TCA was the fascination and exasperation members have with Media Rights Capital. Reporters wanted to learn more about the deal that The CW has struck to "lease" its Sunday night programming space to MRC. Others simply wanted to know what MRC is.

Bizarrely, there was not a press conference with executives from MRC to introduce the company and explain what it will be doing with its Sunday real estate. There were executives from MRC and talent from some of its upcoming shows at the CBS/CW/Showtime mega-bash Friday night at Boulevard 3 on Hollywood Blvd, but TCA members didn't know who any of them were. (Also, the club was packed with big CBS stars like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Rob Morrow, Neil Patrick Harris and the canine competitors from Greatest American Dog; top Showtime talent including Michael C. Hall, David Duchovny and Mary-Louise Parker; and an actual Gossip Girl, Leighton Meester; so few if any critics were scoping out the talent from MRC's inaugural lineup: In Harm's Way (a reality series about people who work at dangerous jobs), Valentine (a one-hour comedy about a family of Greek gods who seek to bring people together) and Easy Money (a drama about a family that runs a high interest loan business).

The MRC shows all sound interesting (more interesting, perhaps, than some of the stuff that the Big Four will unveil this fall), and they are all scheduled to debut on September 21. Ostroff said they would be promoted like CW shows and that viewers will not notice any difference between The CW and MRC. But critics were left to wonder how The CW will promote MRC's product, since it missed the valuable opportunity to introduce them to potential viewers via the TCA tour.

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