Monday, December 14, 2009

Spotlight on the CW's Music Movement...

Traditional story elements crafted in the minds of writers and carried out by the various departments of production have usually included creations such as costume and set design. Countless papers have been written—and college courses taught—on how these often seen but not always noticed pieces of a show came together to enhance the overall quality of the viewing. More and more these days, though, pieces of the puzzle that have to be added in after wrap has been called (namely FX and music) are being considered as just as integral elements. The latter of those is something that—until now—most shows utilize on a case-by-case basis (see CBS' Cold Case). The CW, the industry’s leading network on trying to stay ahead of the trends, though is revolutionizing the music movement within its programming.

Anyone who watches the CW’s programming can see a clear divide between it and the other major networks. Shows like One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl are notorious for tying in tracks of both the independent and popular artist nature. Fans will literally find themselves on social network sites like Twitter directly after an episode airs trying to hunt down the EP from the particular artist who appeared in the night’s episode. At times they even have artists performing on-air, in scenes set in clubs or parties the characters attend (most recently this was done on Gossip Girl, utilizing the current flavor of the month, Lady Gaga).

Leonard Richardson, the network’s V.P. of Music, admitted that he believed his network to be “a little bit more ahead of the curve in terms of our marketing and in terms of integrating an indie band in a show...That’s our theme and our branding message."

In 2009, the CW thematic that Richardson referenced in his December interview with “My Life, Made Possible By Pop Culture” was “TV to Talk About.” Back in April 2009 they took a then unknown artist, Ke$ha into the studio and had her record a song of the same name to be played over their EPKs and promos. Richardson and his team had no real way of knowing what the future would hold for their young protégé, but they were more than willing to take a risk. “As opposed to a network that would wait and see if the artist is going to pan out or something, we’re pretty aggressive in trying to scout those artists that are going to pop tomorrow and get them on today.”

Though Richardson admits oftentimes it comes down to “trusting instincts” and “being in the moment,” there is also the inevitable push and pull between the creative and the business side to the industry when choosing which artists get placed where. After all, music in a television show is a post-production element, and even though a writer may have written a scene with a particular song in mind, a lot may have occurred between conception and selection that work against their original vision.

Richardson is quick to point out that most of this push-pull back and forth happens “at the very beginning of a show when a show’s trying to get their legs…Our music supervisors, our showrunners are so good that once we determine what that voice will be then everybody’s in the mix.”

However, he, too, most note that sometimes budget more than anything else plays a big part. “[Since so many] of our shows are music intensive, we have to be really creative with how we can get the most and the best music in for the budgets that we work with.”

And this further explains why hard rock classics get featured on a show like Supernatural but One Tree Hill scours the net and local showcases to find up-and-comers who they can sign for a little less of a clearance fee. Yes, the type of show and sentiment of the characters lends creatively to the type of artists they feature, but the business side of things weighs in heavily, too.

So just why is the CW the only network (thus far) to seemingly know how to integrate music so fluidly—so organically? Richardson gives a lot of credit to his demographic; he feels that when trying to attract the 18-34 female target audience one must be willing to think outside of the stereotypical box(es). “We’re a little bit more of a lifestyle network,” Richardson explained. And a lifestyle naturally includes elements like fashion and music, in addition to great stories and good-looking actors.

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