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May 20, 2010

CW upfront review: 'Plain Jane' steals show

Upfronts_blogCW's upfront opens with Katy Perry and her band performing two songs. During her hit "Hot N Cold" she makes the usual appeal to the crowd to get on its feet. For about 10 seconds, nothing happens. Then, in the slowest ovation in concert history, one-by-one the ad sales crowd rose up. Holy $#*! (since that's apparently how we spell that word now), she actually convinced an upfront crowd to stand.

Perry's song "California Girls" will be the CW's summer marketing theme. Other than that, the point of Perry's performance was to pump up the crowd, and it works. We all like to think we're purely logical creatures, but if a network puts us into a happier state, then roll outs out its sales pitch, we're wired to feel more positive about its brand.

"The CW is more than TV, it's TV for Generation D -- as in 'digital,'" said CW entertainment president Dawn Ostroff. "We have the most engaged audience of any network and deeper relationships with our viewers and our shows."

This is familiar CW patter. It's not about our ratings, it's about getting people to talk about us (except when they talk about our ratings). But this year the network has a business plan that backs up its buzz focus. The CW is the first broadcaster to sell its entire fall lineup as on-air ads bundled with online streaming ads, converging the two mediums into a single ad sales focus.

The network is also touting having 10 hours of original programming for the first time, including a full Friday night.

The trailers flipped around my original impression of the CW's new shows.

"Nikita" seemed like the strongest candidate going in. Star Maggie Q was winning during a brief turn on the upfront stage ("You don't understand how good looking it is backstage … I had to push the A-cups up -- yes, they do exist"). Yet the trailer felt cold and familiar. There's something odd about the choice to start Nikita's story where the movie basically ended; there's exposition explaining how Nikita was indoctrinated into a spy agency, trained to be an assassin, escaped and now wants revenge. "Nikita" felt like joining a show during the start of its second season and you wonder how vested viewers will be joining a revenge story in the last act.

"Hellcats" was familiar too -- outsider joins the cheerleading squad. But it played well in the room and felt like a story CW viewers would enjoy.

Summer reality show "Plain Jane" is yet another makeover show, years after makeover shows peaked. Which is why I was shocked how effective the trailer was. The show gives a makeover to a homely girl who has a crush on a guy, yet is produced to feel like a fantasy-fulfilling romantic comedy. Ad buyers, too, seemed to like this one. And isn't that a feel-good story? On a network where every performer looks like a model, the plain Jane steals the show.


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