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Scott D. Pierce: The CW is struggling

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The family on "Runaway" did its job too well — remaining hidden in plain sight.

The series about a guy (Donnie Wahlberg) who, falsely accused of murder, changes his name and moves to a small town with his wife and children, became the first-ever show to be canceled by the fledgling CW network, getting the ax after only three episodes. The CW is having trouble getting traction for all the shows it picked up from predecessors UPN and The WB, let alone its new shows.

The CW isn't even in fifth place in the ratings, behind CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC. It's in sixth place, trailing those four and Spanish-language network Univision.

The network has renewed its only other new series, the sitcom "The Game," although it moved all four of its sitcoms from Sunday to Monday, flopping them with "7th Heaven" and, for one week only, "Runaway." (Repeats of various shows will air Sundays at 8 p.m. for the time being; a more permanent replacement has yet to be named.)

Overall, the launch of the new network — co-owned by CBS and Time-Warner — hasn't gone particularly well. Ratings for The CW are lower than ratings were a year ago for either The WB or UPN.

That's not unexpected, because viewers in much of the country are looking for shows on different channels. But The CW has lost a big chunk of its target 18-34 audience, in part because of some bone-headed decisions. (It's easy to Monday-morning quarterback these things, but some of them could have been anticipated.)

Picking up another season of "7th Heaven" wasn't smart. CW Entertainment president Dawn Ostroff (who held the same position at UPN) pointed to the large audience that tuned in to see the "7th Heaven" farewell on The WB.

Well, duh. The point she missed was that a lot of those viewers were fans of the show at some point during its run who tuned in one last time because it was billed as the series finale by The WB. It wasn't an indication that they were all going to start watching again if the show returned for another season.

And suddenly switching the show to Sundays after a decade on Mondays? It might have made sense if that had been the plan from the beginning. Certainly, there's an audience that used to watch "Touched by an Angel" on that night. But when you make the switch on a few days' notice, that marketing opportunity is lost.

Canceling "Everwood" still seems stupid. "Runaway" seemed more an effort to prove Ostroff could put at least a couple of new shows on the air than a long-range strategy. And, again, marketing "7th Heaven" and "Everwood" as a family-viewing alternative on Sundays would have made sense.

Obviously, The CW is going to need some new shows to create some buzz and excitement. But waiting until midseason — after viewers have a chance to figure out what the new network is and where to find it — would have made sense.

Viewership among African-Americans has fallen from UPN levels because UPN had two nights of programming featuring predominantly African-American casts; The CW has only one.

Moving the remaining African-American sitcoms to Sunday was a disaster. Ratings have improved since they returned to Mondays.

All is not lost by any means. "America's Next Top Model" is doing its best numbers ever, drawing a bigger audience on The CW than it did on UPN.

But then, isn't The CW supposed to be doing better than either of its predecessors? I mean, if it retained 51 percent of the UPN viewer and 51 percent of The WB viewers, that would be an improvement.

And the mandate from the corporate bosses at CBS and Time-Warner is to do something neither of the predecessor network ever did — show a profit.

With the ratings the way they are right now, there's no evidence of that being the case as yet.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com