The niche network : gender, genre, and the CW brand
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In 2006, the merger of the WB and UPN broadcast networks created a new network, the CW. As the fifth major broadcast network, the CW occupies an interesting, hybrid space within the television industry. The CW behaves like a cable channel, yet it usually receives the coverage of a broadcast network. Its target audience is women ages 18 to 34, an extremely small target demographic by any standards. Despite its unique status with the television industry, the CW remains woefully under-studied. This project aims first to provide a context for the CW moment and compare the network's trajectory with that of its predecessors in order to illuminate the myriad of changes that have occurred in the media industries. This project considers how the CW's branding strategies shape perceptions of the network, how the CW brand is produced and how the network's branding practices demonstrate an investment in postfeminism. In order to analyze the CW's branding, this paper examines the network's promotional materials and other paratexts, focusing primarily on print ads, since they are the most circulated. This project also asks how the CW constructs its audience in this age of postfeminism. In order to expose the contradictions and assumptions that underpin the network's project of audience construction, this paper considers both statements from network executives and the network's penchant for reviving 1990s programs with nostalgic appeal. Finally, this paper considers how the category of the "CW show" functions as a genre, and, through textual and narrative analysis, how that genre works to limit the possibilities for female representation on the network. This analysis draws attention to the complicated ways that postfeminist ideas are integrated into young women's programming today, and how conversations about female audiences have changed in the last twenty years. This project draws attention to an as-yet-unstudied site dominated by what Rosalind Gill calls the "postfeminist sensibility" (148).