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 V.15 No.6 | February 9 - 15, 2006 

Idiot Box

WB + UPN = CW?

Two networks are gone, but one stands in their place

Fans of The WB and UPN networks (don't laugh, there are a few of them out there) got good news and bad news recently. It was announced in late January, exactly 11 years after The WB and UPN launched, that both networks would be going out of business. This announcement came as a shock not only to viewers, but to just about all the producers at WB and UPN, who hadn't heard a word about this little development. There was, however, some good news in the announcement. Warner Brothers and CBS Corp. would be combining their efforts to create a brand new “fifth network”--and it is this freshly christened CW network (“C” for CBS, “W” for Warners) that will be picking up many of the more successful WB and UPN offerings.

Since they were established in the mid-'90s, The WB and UPN networks have battled each other for roughly the same demographic (hip, young, mostly urban 18-34-year-olds). After more than a decade on the airwaves, neither network had much to show for it. This season, UPN is averaging about 3.4 million viewers. The WB is pulling in about 3.3 million. (By way of comparison, the fourth-place network, FOX, pulls in roughly 8 million viewers.) Each network has a few strong spots in its lineup, however. WB has always done well with “Smallville” and “Gilmore Girls,” and UPN has seen strong critical response to its new sitcom “Everybody Loves Chris.” Even so, neither network could manage to maintain a strong, weeklong schedule. (Like FOX, the networks only provide two hours worth of nationwide programming a night.)

By combining the WB and UPN schedules, CW might actually be able to cherry-pick a halfway decent lineup. So far, the new network is touting “Beauty and the Geek,” “Smallville,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Supernatural,” “Veronica Mars,” “America's Next Top Model,” “Smackdown” and “Everybody Loves Chris” as shows that have made the cut and will anchor the new net when it debuts in September. Needless to say, shows debuting over the summer season or set to premiere in fall on either network are pretty much dead in the water. “This is the first time in my career that I've had my network canceled,” Tom Fontana, executive producer of The WB's midseason drama “The Bedford Diaries,” told Entertainment Weekly.

Both UPN and The WB were operating at a loss. Whether this new joint venture reverses that trend remains to be seen. It does, however, seem to be a prudent cost-cutting move on the part of Warner Brothers and UPN. I'm sure there are a few starry-eyed executives who imagine that CW's ratings will be double those of WB and UPN (which, at 6 million viewers would still strand it in fifth place). Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. If three million people are watching “Beauty and the Geek” this season, those same three million will (most likely) tune in again next season, regardless of what the little logo in the corner says.

Still, this merger does hold the promise of a “Gilmore Girls”/“WWE Smackdown” crossover. And that, my friends, is pure Idiot Box gold.

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