Note: Your mind is not playing tricks on you, this is a refresh of a prior Reader Mailbag item that seemed worthwhile to update considering that the CW is running two repeats of Ringer tonight.
Why is the CW is airing repeats so early in the season? Just as we get into the show, we have to wait two weeks. Would this lose viewers as they'd have to couldn't be bothered to keep up with all the breaks/gaps?
How often will these "gaps" be before mid-season?
The CW has 8 scripted shows on their Fall 2011 schedule that they'd normally order 22 episodes of each (assuming they all run the entire season), and four of those shows started a week "early" (90210, Ringer, The Secret Circle, Vampire Diaries) during what is normally a 35 week season (although the last "week" is just 4 days long).
Since the CW doesn't do sports, specials, or mid season only programming, that means that during the season, those CW scripted shows will have 13 (or 14) weeks of repeats. From now on, the CW will mostly air new episodes during the local sweeps months of November, February and May, but outside of those times you'll see lots of repeats.
How long might these repeat gaps last?
Last season the CW didn't air a single original scripted show episode (except the final 2 episodes of the canceled Life Unexpected) in the five week period between December 13, 2010 and January 23, 2011. There was also a substantial repeat period between early March and Mid-April presumably trying to avoid some shows getting crushed by American Idol. There is no word on their gap scheduling for this season yet however.
Why do they do it this way? Why not program the gaps? Or produce specials?
You'd have to ask them, but my guess is that since the conventional wisdom is that the CW runs at an operating loss, and the corporate parents (CBS, Warner Brothers) make it up from licensing the shows they produce for the network and their DVD sales, there is no financial incentive to produce gap programming or air specials.
Update: If the holiday schedule located by commenter david is correct, and I have no reason to doubt it, then it looks like the CW will in fact be airing a handful of old holiday kids shows, a couple special repeats (one CW and one CBS), and four broadcast preimere movies during the long mid-season repeat break.
Although the new Netflix streaming deal, and some public comments by the new CW president lead some to believe that the CW may change this pattern, I will believe it when I see it.