The WB has decided it's been doing things all wrong. The teens and young adults it has pursued almost exclusively gave the network a strong foundation. However, the WB has been unable to build upon it, largely because the shows have been so precisely aimed. Last season was one of the worst in the network's brief history, so a change, which included replacing head programmer Jordan Levin, was in order.
A transition to a more broadly targeted audience is under way. "It's a new day," said David Janollari, who took over from Levin as WB entertainment president. (The network is partially owned by the Tribune Company, parent of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.)
Most of the network's new series are clearly pointed toward a more mature audience than the WB's norm. Blue Collar TV, featuring Jeff Foxworthy, and Drew Carey's Green Screen Show figure to have extremely limited teen appeal. The sitcom Commando Nanny is based on Survivor/Apprentice creator Mark Burnett's brief period managing a household. The title characters of Jack and Bobby are adolescents but Christine Lahti tops the credits, and there is a lot of talk of politics. Only The Mountain -- think Dawson's Creek and One Tree Hill in the snow -- resembles the shows that gave the WB its reputation as the broadcast home for the MTV generation.
"I think to the degree that we presented ourselves as just a teenage network was a very large mistake on our part," WB Chairman Garth Ancier said. "We were getting a little too derivative in making shows that were cloning each other."
The new schedule is an attempt to "invite more people into the tent," he added. The trick is to do it while not sending the network's core audience fleeing for the exits. Ancier thinks it can be done. "Our business is to be the 18-to-34 network. We don't want to be NBC." (Sure they do; the WB would kill to be NBC.) "We don't want to be CBS." (Ditto.) "But that doesn't mean you say to people, `We don't want you watching our network.'"
In the Shadows
The WB's shift in emphasis came too late for the latest reincarnation of Dark Shadows. The gothic soap opera was considered a sure thing for the fall schedule, so much so that it is widely seen as the reason the network's existing vampire series, Angel, was canceled. Ancier said this isn't so, that they were separate decisions. But he also said if Angel hadn't demanded an early pickup and waited until late spring -- coincidentally, when the network decided not to go ahead with Dark Shadows -- the call might have been different.
Ancier and John Wells, the ER/West Wing executive producer who made the Dark Shadows pilot, have different takes on what happened. "It was wonderfully produced and very well-written," Ancier said. "It just didn't quite gel the way we hoped."
The problem, Wells said, was the network wanted to WB-ize the concept. "We liked it and they didn't. They wanted young and pretty. ... Barnabas was never a handsome leading man. He was a 215-year-old with bad skin. They wanted more Interview With a Vampire. We wanted Dark Shadows."
The idea is dead at the WB, Wells said, but this hasn't driven a stake through its heart. "We are going to take a step back and see what we're going to do. We might take it somewhere else."
Meanwhile, the WB is hoping to keep Angel alive in a series of TV movies. "We have an offer on the table to Joss [Whedon, Angel's creator] to do movies. When Joss and [star] David Boreanaz are interested, I'm sure we will be doing Angel movies. Certainly Joss would like to. David will take a bit more coaxing but I think he will do it."