Fall TV Forecast: CW Grows Up With ‘Ringer’

Second of a series on the fall season: “Hart of Dixie,” meanwhile, would have a better shot if only its young-looking lead were playing anything but a doctor

Look for CW to grow up a bit with "Ringer," thanks to viewers who grew up with star Sarah Michelle Gellar.

The network's "Hart of Dixie," meanwhile, would have a better shot if only its young-looking lead were playing anything but a doctor. "Secret Circle" is a quintessential CW series, and "H8R" is one of those high-concept reality shows that could spawn a slew of imitators or silently disappear, depending on its execution.

Also read: Fall TV Forecast: Fox

Welcome to the second installment of TheWrap's five-part, network-by-network predictions for the new fall shows, in which we try to determine how they will fare based on ratings trends, scheduling — and whether they're any good.

Today we look at the CW, which is cautiously expanding on its proven model of targeting young, female viewers. It introduced its new season with a preview special Monday, followed by Tuesday's debut of "Ringer."

Here's our look at the CW lineup:

RINGER

As a relatively new, smaller network mainly targeting younger females, the CW's ratings aren't looked at in the same way the bigger, broader-skewing Big Four networks are. CW's biggest hit, "The Vampire Diaries," averages just a 3.0 rating among women 18-34, the main demographic group the network sells its advertising time against. (It averaged a 2.1 rating among the entire 18-34 demo.)

The CW's shows typically combine good-looking young stars, melodrama, mystery and nods to fashion.

"Ringer" has all of them. But it also has Gellar, who amounts to CW royalty after her cult hit, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," aired on both the WB and UPN over seven seasons, before the networks merged to become the CW in 2006.

Her involvement — and the show's amusing straight-from-the-soaps setup — could easily make "Ringer" the CW's biggest hit. If it succeeds, it could inspire more shows that work for people older than the 18-to-34 target demo — without alienating their younger sisters.

The problem is that viewers will have to find it. The type of people who might ordinarily love "Ringer" may not be the ones who usually watch the CW.

The CW's biggest premiere so far was for "90210," which scored a 2.6 rating in 18-49 and a 3.1 in 18-34. The 2008 premiere benefitted both from curiousity seekers and fans of the original "Beverly Hills, 90210."

"Ringer" isn't a revamp, so it won't get the kinds of skeptics who just tune in to see if the Peach Pit is treated with adequate respect. But it will draw Gellar fans, and "Buffy" diehards tend to be devoted. They also have increased in number since the show left the air in 2003.

The show could also connect with fans of soapy, female-driven dramas — if they're willing to visit from their comfort zone, ABC. Whether the show becomes the big CW hit we believe it can be will depend on how many people stop by to give it a try.

It almost became a CBS drama before CBS Corp., which co-owns the CW with Warner Bros., decided it was a better fit in the smaller network.

At 34, Gellar is older than the typical CW star, but still both youthful and familiar enough to provide young viewers a gateway into the show's adult intrigue. She could simultaneously  provide a gateway for older fans to the CW.

Gellar plays two twins, one a broke, recovering addict named Bridget who's on the run, and the other a well-to-do Manhattanite, Siobhan. It's a perfect soap setting so far, with the troubled twin sure to mess up the other's life of luxury. But in a fun twist, rich Siobhan seems to have a shadier past than her struggling sister.

The show is set in the same fabulously rich world as ABC's buzzworthy "Revenge," with Gellar as both fish out of water and jaded insider. She enlists our sympathy as Bridget and harnesses Siobhan's amoral cool. (The rich sister could be a grown-up version of Gellar's "Cruel Intentions" manipulator).

The show's most inspired move, at least in the pilot, is to play it all completely straight.

Created by Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder, "Ringer" also benefits from a capable supporting cast that includes "Lost" vet Nestor Carbonell.

HART OF DIXIE

This Southern-set medical drama reunites Rachel Bilson, one of the stars of "The O.C.," with Josh Schwartz, who created the Fox series. (He and Stephanie Savage created CW's enduring "Gossip Girl.")

It's also part of the network's attempt to reach out past 34-year-olds. Bilson plays a type-A, urban doctor who takes over a small-town practice.

The 30-year-old Bilson is cursed (we should all be so cursed) with looking far younger than her years. Younger viewers may buy her as a doctor, but older ones might feel less comfortable imagining their lives in her hands. She's surrounded by a slew of Southern stereotypes who will inevitably turn out to be better-rounded than they seem. (Or so viewers will hope.)

Though familiar to audiences, Bilson isn't as well known as Gellar. And the "O.C." legacy may not be enough to draw a built-in audience. It's worth noting that Bilson's "O.C." costar Mischa Barton's CW show, "The Beautiful Life," was canceled in 2009 after just two episodes. 

"Dixie" also has one of the least enviable time slots on television: Following "Gossip Girl," it will compete with ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," Fox's "House," and CBS's revamped "Two and a Half Men," as well as NBC's "The Sing-Off."

If the show premieres to wretched ratings, CW will have to ask: Is there anything they can program that won't get crushed against such competition? The network's long relationship with Schwartz and Savage may also keep the show alive.

THE SECRET CIRCLE

"Secret Circle" feels almost like a blend of every other "CW" show. Given a nice lead-in, "The Vampire Diaries," it combines cliquey teen girls ("Gossip Girl"), with supernatural elements (yup, "Supernatural") and the magical-powers-as-euphemism-for-budding-adulthood routine perfected by many a vampire and superhero story ("The Vampire Diaries," the now-departed "Smallville.")

Facing ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," CBS's "Person of Interest," NBC's "The Office" and "Whitney," and Fox's "Bones" on Thursday nights, it should have no problem snagging high school women. (Could it be the rare show that's too young for CW's demo?)

As long as it keeps enough of "The Vampire Audience" — which shouldn't be hard, given their thematic similaries — it should persevere.

H8R

"H8R" may have the best hook of any recent reality show — celebrities try to win over fans who detest them. (The first episode features Snooki, who has her work cut out for her.)

More importantly, it has Mike Fleiss, the evil mastermind between ABC's ruthlessly brilliant "The Bachelor," a show that will stop at nothing to win viewers. We shudder at how many imitators could soon be spawned by "H8R." 

It might also become one of those shows with a weird name that no one ever watches. We could really go either way.