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A tag-team Tuesday

The CW hopes the established `Gilmore Girls' from the defunct WB will help ex-UPN laggard `Veronica Mars' find its audience.

September 17, 2006|Kate Aurthur | Times Staff Writer

CUTE sci-fi boys on Thursdays, African American comedies on Sundays, wrestling on Fridays: The CW's schedule is Frankenstein's monster, with salvaged parts from the WB and UPN contributing to the mishmash of a body.

On Tuesdays, the combination of "Gilmore Girls," formerly of the WB, and "Veronica Mars," born of UPN, is designed to provide the new CW network with both brain and heart. The shows are similarly smart and snappy with a dark streak and present sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking insights on coming of age with a single parent. And in a television landscape that is either fueled by testosterone ("24," "Two and a Half Men") or winkingly post-feminist ("Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives"), the spirited, independent-minded female leads of "Gilmore Girls" and "Veronica Mars" offer a rare alternative.

Measured in business terms, the shows are at opposite ends of the success spectrum. And whether one show can help the other find a wider audience is a yardstick by which the success of the CW will be judged.

On Sept. 26, "Gilmore Girls" will begin its seventh -- and perhaps final -- season, having finished Season 6 with an average of 4.4 million viewers. As the second-most-popular show on the WB, there was no question that the mother-daughter fan favorite would be a key asset in the CW's quest to corner the advertising market among 18-to-34-year-olds.

By contrast, "Veronica Mars," entering its third season Oct. 3, has been nothing short of a ratings flop. The girl-detective series was renewed by the skin of its teeth after its first season, during which it attracted a small, fiercely loyal audience that included many television critics. But last year the show performed even worse than it had in its first: It ended Season 2 with an average of 2.3 million viewers.

What went wrong for "Veronica Mars" on UPN? Dawn Ostroff, the network's former entertainment president who now runs the CW, sighed when asked that question in her West L.A. office. "So many things," she said. Its incompatibility with its lead-in show, the reality catfight "America's Next Top Model," was one problem, Ostroff said. Another was that it competed with "Lost," ABC's popular island mystery that appeals to a similar fan base.

Rob Thomas, the creator of "Veronica Mars," suggested a third reason for the show's ratings woes: "I felt like 'Veronica Mars' was asking people who'd never tuned into UPN to tune into UPN," he said in his North Hollywood office recently. "The WB had the corner on that young, and particularly young and female, market."

The glib and boisterous Thomas added with a laugh, "This will either vindicate that theory or shoot it down, being on the CW."



IN the planning meetings before the CW announced its lineup in May, Ostroff said "Veronica Mars" had been very much on the bubble. "It could have been canceled," she said. "It's not like we walked into that scheduling room and it was a lock, it just wasn't."

Ostroff has associated herself closely with the show. When asked why he thought that might be, Thomas said: "Here's an unscripted answer that makes me nervous: Dawn loves the show for the cachet it gives the network. I think she understands from the buzz of all her employees that it's a quality show. And I think there are elements of our show that she loves. At her core, I don't think she quite gets -- or I don't know if 'gets' is the right word but enjoys -- the dark moments of the show."

He was referring to the fact that the character of Veronica was raped, her best friend was murdered, and that in Season 2, a school bus with kids on it went off a cliff. When Thomas told Ostroff about that last plot development, he recalled that she clutched her head, as if in pain. He said: "She was like, 'Oh, my God, Rob, I can't believe you're in here telling me this! You can't be serious!' But to Dawn's credit, she can be convinced. We wouldn't be on the air if it weren't for Dawn's passion for the show. Which I truly appreciate."

When Ostroff not only renewed "Veronica Mars" but gave it the plum spot behind "Gilmore Girls," she asked Thomas to simplify the show's structure. In its two previous years, Veronica (Kristen Bell) pursued a seasonlong mystery, which prevented new viewers from understanding the plot. This year there will be three mysteries. "Rob has done an amazing job at still making the mystery a big part of the show but not making it so complex that it becomes insular, that you can't get in," Ostroff said.

Thomas agreed to the change and wants to do what he can to stay on the air. "I tried to start the season with no previous knowledge required," he said. "The first episode is consciously a plea to the 'Gilmore Girls' audience to join in."

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