WB versus UPN

This is from the Boston Herald online:

Battle for the sexes: UPN, WB stay the course by dividing and conquering

January 24, 2000
from Gannett News Service

When two mininetworks arrived in January 1995 they faced instant doubts. Did the world really need both UPN and the WB? Wouldn’t they just fight for the same scraps?

Now, five years later, they’re going for opposite sexes.

“Hormonally, we are probably further from UPN than we’ve ever been,” said Jamie Kellner, founder and CEO of the WB network.

Tom Nunan, the UPN programming chief, agreed: “The WB targets young women; UPN . . . targets young men.”

One is the world of Felicity and Buffy and “Dawson’s Creek.” The other is the home of The Rock and The Borg. And they’re happy that way – sort of.

WB programming chief Suzanne Daniels doesn’t want to be too gender-specific. “I think we have widened our base a bit,” she said.

At UPN, however, this specialized world is viewed gleefully. “If it has high testosterone, we’ll air it,” said President and CEO Dean Valentine.

UPN already spends one night on wrestlers (including The Rock and Mankind) and two nights on science fiction (including the evil Borg and the curvy Seven of Nine). It’s a macho mountain.

Now that mountain is growing. Newly added are:

–“I Dare You” (8 p.m. Tuesdays), with lots of scary stunts.

–A monster truck special Feb. 29, which will be hammed up a bit. “We’re going to try to create characters and story lines, not unlike (what) revitalized wrestling,” Nunan said.

–“The Beat” (possibly in March), which portrays young street cops.

That last one is from the producers of “Homicide: Life on the Street” and actually might draw some praise. The UPN doesn’t get much of that.

Mostly, critics have lavished attention on WB. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” made many 10-best lists; also drawing praise are “Dawson’s Creek,” “Felicity,” “Angel,” “7th Heaven” and “Roswell.”

At the same time, critics often jeered UPN. Then the current season arrived and, like a perverse wrestling match, the assigned villain started winning. “Versus last season, UPN is up 35 percent among households,” Nunan said. “And we’re up a phenomenal 90 percent among men 18 to 34.”

How is WB doing? “We are down about 10 percent,” said spokesman Brad Turell.

Ratings figures complied by Nielsen back that up. Comparing the first four months of this season to the same time last year, and including only regular programming, they show:

–UPN jumping 35 percent in overall ratings. WB fell 12 percent, with every other network taking a smaller drop.

–The two micro-networks becoming almost even. At a typical prime-time moment, 2.8 percent of homes are watching WB and 2.7 percent are watching UPN.

–Those two are almost even in average age of viewers. WB went up two years, to 28; UPN dropped five years, to 31. Both are far younger than Fox (35), ABC (41), NBC (44) and CBS (51).

But “Star Trek: Voyager” – the show that launched UPN – is only expected to have one more season after this one; UPN needs to find more of its male-oriented shows. That explains why UPN has ordered pilots from the producers of “Celebrity Death Match,” “Married With Children,” “China Beach” and the “Spawn” comics.

Meanwhile, WB faces the tougher question: After all that growth and praise, why did it stumble?

For all its early years, WB was propped up by the fact that one of its stations was superstation WGN. But other stations wouldn’t have signed up with WB if they knew they would forever be competing with the same signal from WGN. Long ago, a compromise was worked out:

Beginning Oct. 1, 1999, WGN would air WB programs only in its home market, Chicago. The signal that it sent to a satellite would strip out WB and add movies.

In some markets, that worked fine. “Buffy” buffs simply switched to a local station or a separate WB cable channel. Some markets, however, had neither. For them, WB disappeared on Oct. 1.

“When WGN went away, our national coverage dropped from 91 percent to 81 percent of the country,” Turrell said.

And just when they were needed the most, two of WB’s best shows – “Dawson’s Creek” and “Felicity” – ran into creative problems.

“Dawson’s Creek” creator Kevin Williamson returned to doing movies. Also, the show was crippled by plot twists that separated the friends. As for “Felicity,” fans hated everything from star Keri Russell’s new hairdo to the fact that she had split with her friend and both boyfriends.

Both shows were given mid-course adjustments, and “Dawson’s Creek” has switched producers again. Meanwhile, Daniels is stretching for new shows. Coming up for mid-season are three comedies (“Brutally Normal,” the reworked “Zoey” and the cartoon “Baby Blues”), plus an impressive drama (“D.C.”) focusing on young people in Washington, D.C.

There’s also a comedy starring Nikki Cox, the leggy teenager on the “Unhappily Ever After” series.

“Nikki will play a dancer in Vegas,” Daniels said, “married to an aspiring wrestler. Each episode will open with a dance number starring Nikki.”

Maybe WB isn’t so far away from UPN after all.