'Smallville' and 'Supernatural' bump: CW decision may backfire

spn-dean-wtf.jpgOops. When The CW announced on the afternoon of Thursday, Jan 28 that it was making a last minute scheduling change, postponing the Friday mid-season premieres of "Smallville" and "Supernatural" for one week, pandemonium hit Twitter and blogs.

The move, CW reps told Zap2it, was made to protect the network's #1 show, "The Vampire Diaries," from the inevitable ratings hit it would suffer opposite ratings giant "American Idol." The network was anticipating a massive drop in the ratings, possibly in response to the lower-than-expected ratings for the "Vampire Diaries" and "Nikita" reruns aired on Wednesday night. [ Update: Additionally, the Chicago and Baltimore markets - the third and 26th largest, respectively, both pre-empted The CW on Thursday night, another possible ratings hit.]

By airing reruns of "The Vampire Diaries" and "Nikita" 2011 premieres on Friday, without the "Idol" competition, the network would give the episodes a better chance at being seen by the full audience. To TV insiders, the move did make sense -- you've got to make sure the cash cow is well-fed.

Here's the problem: that massive ratings dip that "The Vampire Diaries" and "Nikita" were expected to suffer didn't happen. Both series maintained viewership consistent with the first half of their seasons. Apparently, fans of The CW's Thursday lineup are die-hard enough to stick with their shows, even with the temptation of Steven Tyler and J.Lo on FOX.

In other words... they didn't really need to move "Smallville" and "Supernatural" after all.

Now, The CW faces backlash from the hasty decision. First of all, the uproar from fans on Twitter and blogs shows little sign of quieting. Our article on the subject quickly shot to the top of Zap2it's Most Talked About posts, with angry (and sometimes disturbing) comments flooding our inboxes.

The incessant hashtags like #SaltandBurnCW and #TheCWsucks aren't helping matters (though the latter might be a good idea for a "Vampire Diaries" tagline when the current one gets old). Tweets like the one below -- which has been retweeted so many times Twitter stopped counting -- may betray the troublesome nature of obsessive fandom, but they also have surprising impact in social media circles.

cw-network-tweet.jpg"Supernatural" and "Smallville" have very small but extremely dedicated fanbases -- dedicated enough to boycott other shows on the network if they feel that the Friday lineup is getting shafted in favor of the Thursday lineup. While a threatened boycott didn't have much impact on "The Vampire Diaries" or "Nikita" on Thursday, there are other network series that can't quite afford to lose the viewers who overlap with "Supernatural" and Smallville."

That's not to mention the loss of promotional momentum the series will suffer. Networks release carefully timed previews, clips, and teasers before new episodes air in the hopes that the buzz will help boost ratings. Now, all of that well-calculated publicity is leading toward one big fat anticlimax.

Confusing viewers, in general, is a problem. As late as Thursday night, CW affiliates were still airing previews that announced the Jan. 28 return of "Smallville" and "Supernatural." Though a large portion of viewers will have been notified of the bump as a result of extensive online press coverage, the fans who don't tend to follow TV news online will likely tune in only to be very, very confused when no one shows up in an Impala to hunt the Salvatore brothers.

When "Supernatural" returns on Feb. 4, it'll be its first night up against "Fringe" this season, as FOX has moved its Sci-Fi drama to Friday nights. "Fringe's" first Friday was highly successful, which doesn't bode well for "Supernatural," especially given the similar subject matter. Now that "Fringe" will have yet another Friday to find an audience before "Supernatural" returns, competition may be more troublesome.

Here's the good news, "Supernatural" and "Smallville" fans -- your shows are not in danger. "Smallville's" series finale will air as intended -- and both shows will have a shorter spring hiatus in March so that they can get back on track with the rest of The CW lineup. "Supernatural" fans who are concerned that this shows that the network has poor faith in the series also needn't worry. The likelihood that the Winchesters will return for Season 7 remains strong provided that talent negotiations are successful.

Additionally, the mid-season premieres of both shows now have the support of Wednesday reruns of their winter finales, which "The Vampire Diaries" and "Nikita" benefited from this week.

The bump was also not -- we repeat, not -- the network's way of testing to see how "The Vampire Diaries" and "Nikita" might fare with a Friday market. It's extremely premature for Fall season scheduling discussions, and the chances that the network would ever consider moving its #1 drama to Friday night is slim.

In the end, it appears that the decision was simply a poor one made in haste. CW bigwigs are likely wishing they could hop in a time machine right about now, go back to yesterday, and have a little faith in "The Vampire Diaries." Since they can't do that, "Supernatural" and "Smallville" fans will simply have to console themselves with the fact that they'll have a shorter hiatus come spring.
Photo/Video credit: CW