I had a call on my voicemail yesterday from a man trying to find The CW in his satellite-service lineup. My guess is that he is not in the network's target demo. I got many such calls when "Blue Collar TV" was on the old WB, because fans of Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy had managed not to be attracted to anything else on The WB even though it had been around close to a decade at that point. While I don't know what this latest caller hoped to see -- we're playing phone tag -- just getting the call is a reminder that The CW has opted for an audience strategy so narrow that, even five years after it was formed from the remains of WB and UPN, some viewers have no idea what it is.
This a roundabout way of talking about "The Secret Circle," which premieres tonight on The CW. It is resolutely, unapologetically, adamantly, unbendingly a CW show. It ties in not only with "Vampire Diaries," based as it is on books by the same author, adapted for TV by the same adapter (Kevin Williamson). Its supernatural side makes it a companion to "Nikita" and "Supernatural," and its scheming young people make it promotable in "90210," "Gossip Girl," "Top Model" and, sort of, "Ringer." ("Hart of Dixie" may also fall in that area, although it's hard to tell from the pilot how much of it will be grim secrets, and how much more will be "Doc Hollywood"-Meets-"Royal Pains"-And-"Everwood.")
In fact, "Secret Circle" has more than a little "90210" in it -- young woman outsider dealing with an established social order. Of course, there is also more than a little of "The Craft." And other things that Williamson in other times would have made fun of.
In "Secret Circle" the main character, Cassie, is orphaned by the death of her mother in a fire. Cassie then moves in with her grandmother in her mom's hometown -- and is surprised that people there know so much about her. What they particularly know is that Cassie has witchy powers, and she completes a "secret circle" with other young witches so they can all be more powerful.
Need I say that there are old secrets, hidden agendas and lurking villains? In plot terms, I was tired of this show long before the pilot was over.
The one thing that kept me watching was Britt Robertson, who plays Cassie, and who was very good in "Life Unexpected." But not even she is going to make this series more than an attempt by The CW to wield its programming cookie-cutter; apparently the assumption is that the young-adult audience will forgive the redundancy of the show.
But maybe not. Talking to my college students recently, one rather wearily alluded to "about a hundred" vampire movies and programs around right now. So he, and his classmates, may want something more impressive than this.
I will say one good thing for "Secret Circle." It is not "H8R," which premiered on The CW on Wednesday night and is an incredible combination of celebrity sucking-up and tedious footage.