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The WB Television Network
The WB Online Logo.png
Type Online Network (2008-Present)
Defunct broadcast television network (1995-2006)
Country United States
Availability United States, Canada, India, Northern Mexico
Founded by Jamie Kellner
Owner Time Warner[1]
Key people Susanne Daniels,President, Jordan Levin, President, David Janollari, President
Launch date January 11, 1995 (Television)
April 28, 2008 (Online)
Dissolved September 17, 2006 (Television)
Callsign meaning Warner Bros.
Official Website http://www.thewb.com

The WB Television Network (The WB) was a television network in the United States that was launched on January 11, 1995 as a joint venture of Warner Bros. and Tribune Broadcasting. On January 24, 2006, CBS Corporation and Warner Bros. Entertainment announced plans to shut down The WB and launch The CW Television Network later that same year. This possibly indicated that compensation and intellectual property rights were part of the network's teething troubles.[2][3] The WB shut down on September 17, 2006, and merged with UPN (which had shut down two days earlier). The WB and UPN merger resulted in the new "CW Television Network".

The WB was "re-launched" as an online network on April 28, 2008 by Warner Bros.. The new website allows users to watch shows of the former TV network. The website can only be accessed within the United States.

Contents

History

Much like its competitor UPN, The WB was a reaction primarily to new FCC deregulation of media ownership rules that repealed fin-syn, and partly to the success of the upstart Fox and first-run syndicated programming during the late 1980s and early 1990s such as Baywatch, Star Trek: The Next Generation and War of the Worlds, as well as the erosion in ratings suffered by independent television stations due to the growth of cable television and movie rentals. The WB can also trace its beginnings to the Prime Time Entertainment Network, a joint venture between Warner Bros. and the Chris-Craft Industries group of stations. PTEN could be seen as the predecessor to both The WB and UPN, as well as the distant ancestor of The CW.

Original WB logo used on the television channel

1995-1997: Humble beginnings

The WB began its life on January 11, 1995, programming just 2 hours one night a week (Wednesday). The classic Warner Bros. cartoon character Michigan J. Frog appeared on-air as the network's official mascot, and would remain in the network's branding in one form or another until 2005. The WB's first programs were mostly sitcoms targeted at an ethnically diverse audience. Even though four of the five shows shown in the netlet's first nine months (The Wayans Bros., The Parent 'Hood, Sister, Sister (picked up after being cancelled by ABC), and Unhappily Ever After) were renewed beyond the first year, none of them made a significant impact.

From 1995-1999, the network received additional national cable distribution through Chicago-based superstation WGN-TV in order to give the network time to find affiliates in markets where the network was unable to find a station to carry the network at launch.

The WB began programming on Sunday nights in the 1995-1996 season, but none of the new shows (including the Kirk Cameron vehicle Kirk and night-time soap opera Savannah) managed to garner much viewing interest. Still, the network continued to expand in the 1996-1997 season, adding programming on Monday nights. This season gave the WB modest hits in the family drama 7th Heaven and comedies The Steve Harvey Show and The Jamie Foxx Show.

The WB also added the Kids' WB programming block in 1995, which mixed Warner Brothers' biggest hit animated shows (Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, and later Batman: The Animated Series, all of which originated either on Fox Kids or in syndication), with new productions and original shows (such as Freakazoid!, Histeria!, Superman: The Animated Series, Road Rovers, and Batman Beyond).

Michigan J. Frog, as seen on The WB

1997-2000: Courting the teen market

The WB first began to taste success with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which became a hit with critics when it appeared as a mid-season replacement in March 1997. It debuted with the highest Monday night ratings in the network's history, attracting not only new teenage viewers, but new advertisers as well.[4]

Inspired by Buffy's success, The WB intentionally shifted the focus of its programming, trying to capture what it perceived to be a heavily fragmented market by marketing to the under-courted teen demographic. While the Fox network, the previous destination for teen television (with shows such as Beverly Hills, 90210 and Parker Lewis Can't Lose), began to court older audiences with shows such as Ally McBeal, The WB began to craft its identity with teen-targeted programs. The network's breakout hit and, arguably, its signature series was Dawson's Creek, which debuted in January 1998 to what were then the highest ratings in the network's history. It quickly became the highest rated show on television among teenage girls, and the most popular show on the network. The popularity of the show helped boost other network shows, such as Buffy, which served as its lead-in on The WB's new night of programming, known as "New Tuesday," and 7th Heaven, which enjoyed a massive 81% increase in viewership that season.

With three hit shows in its roster, The WB continued to build its teen fanbase the following season with college drama Felicity and the wicca-themed Charmed, both of which set new records for the network when they premiered with 7.1 and 7.7 million viewers, respectively. Charmed had the highest viewed premiere on the WB until Smallville broke its record, debuting to 8.4 million viewers in October 2001. The network also expanded to air original programming on Thursday nights. That season, 7th Heaven garnered The WB the highest ratings it would ever see. The episode airing February 8, 1999 attracted 12.5 million viewers. That season also saw '7th Heaven' overtake Dawson's Creek as the network's highest rated show.

In the 1999-2000 season, The WB expanded once again, adding Friday night programming. New shows that season included Roswell, Popular, and Angel (a spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), which premiered with 7.5 million viewers, the second highest premiere for the net at the time. During this season, The WB was the only network to have gains in its audience and each key demographic.

2000-2002: Broadening the focus

Michigan J. Frog, as he appeared from 2001 to 2004

As the teen boom of the late 1990s began to wane, The WB attempted to broaden the scope of its line-up. Although teen fare like Popular and Roswell had premiered to strong ratings, both series saw serious ratings erosion in their sophomore seasons, leading the network to cancel both (Roswell, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, would end up being revived by rival network UPN). Meanwhile, even though ratings for 7th Heaven, Buffy, and Charmed remained consistent, viewership for flagship series such as Felicity and Dawson's Creek began sagging. The WB realized that it could no longer rely merely on the tastes of young teenage girls, and thus began moving into more family-friendly fare, attempting to launch a successful sitcom, and generally targeting a more diverse audience.

Despite the slight downturn in the network's fortunes, there were a few bright spots during the era. Gilmore Girls, which debuted in 2000, netted meager ratings when it debuted in a tough Thursday time-slot, but subsequently grew into one the network's most successful shows. Also in the fall of 2000, the sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch moved to The WB's Friday night schedule from ABC. The show continued on The WB for three more seasons before ending in 2003.

In 2001, Smallville (inspired by the Superman mythos) debuted with 8.4 million viewers, the highest premiere in the history of The WB. The latter show was also important because it was one of the few shows that drew a substantial male viewership. 2001 also saw the launch of the Reba McEntire vehicle Reba, arguably the network's most successful comedic series. Other series to gain attention during this time period were the family series Everwood, and the short-lived but critically-acclaimed soap satire Grosse Pointe. Meanwhile, two major series characters--Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Prue Halliwell (Charmed)-- both died on-screen at the end of the 2000-2001 television season.

The WB logo from 2003 to 2004, taken from The WB 2003 image campaign

Also in 2001, The WB moved to the Turner Broadcasting System unit from Warner Bros. from 2001 until 2003 when The WB returned to the Warner Bros. unit.

2003-2006: Decline

Despite some early success, the network struggled to shift its focus from the female 12-24 demographic to the broader 12-34 range. In 2005, The WB abandoned its trademark mascot, Michigan J. Frog, as the network's iconic emblem. David Janollari, The WB's President of Entertainment, explained in July 2005 at the network's summer 2005 press tour that "[Michigan] was a symbol that perpetuated the young-teen feel of the network. That's not the image we [now] want to put to our audience."

Still, the move did not seem to help the network. The period from 2003 to 2005 produced only three viable new series, One Tree Hill, Beauty and the Geek, and Supernatural (all of which have since moved to successor network The CW), and even still their ratings paled in comparison to the ratings peaks of Dawson's Creek, which had signed off in 2003. Ratings dropped for shows like Angel (which was canceled in 2004), and the network failed to launch new hit shows to take their places.

Although The WB's well-known inability to launch successful comedy series was nothing new (Reba being the sole exception), this period saw the network struggling to establish new dramas as well. High-profile failures included Birds of Prey (inspired by the Batman mythos), Tarzan, Jack & Bobby, The Mountain, Jerry Bruckheimer's Just Legal, Marta Kauffman's Related, and the Rebecca Romijn vehicle Pepper Dennis.

During the 2004-2005 season, The WB finished behind rival UPN for the first time in several years, and fell even further behind in the fall of 2005. Both networks fell behind the Spanish language network Univision in the overall 18-34 demographic.

It was estimated in 2005 that The WB was viewable by 91.66% of all households, reaching 90,282,480 houses in the United States. The WB was carried by 177 VHF and UHF stations in the U.S., counting both owned and operated and affiliated stations (the owned and operated stations were not actually operated by Warner Bros. or Time Warner; instead, Tribune owned and operated these stations, thus its stake in the network). The WB could also be seen in smaller markets on cable-only stations, many of these through The WB 100+ Station Group - available to TV markets below the number 100 in viewership as determined by Nielsen in a packaged format, with a master schedule; the addition of local advertisements and news were at the discretion of the local distributor, often a local television station or cable television provider.

Network closure

On January 24, 2006, CBS Corporation and Warner Bros. Entertainment announced plans to shut down both UPN and The WB and launch a new network, The CW in their place. Over the next nine months, it was to be seen which shows from UPN and The WB would cross over to the new CW, as well as which stations across the country would become future affiliates of the new network.

In the end, 7th Heaven, Beauty and the Geek, Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill, Reba, Smallville, and Supernatural were chosen to move from The WB to the new CW's Fall 2006 schedule. 7th Heaven and Reba were originally canceled after the 2005-2006 season, but were ultimately renewed at the last minute with 13-episode deals (the former show was later given a full-season order, while the latter served as a midseason replacement and, in spite of becoming The CW's highest-rated comedy of the 2006-2007 season, ended rather abruptly).

Starting on August 14, 2006 with the Daytime WB block, the WB 'bug' was removed from the lower right corner of the TV screen and was replaced with a countdown of days until The CW launched. Some stations which converted to MyNetworkTV or became independent stations received a logo-free feed of the network, while others took the main feed and overlaid their local logo bug over the CW logo.

The WB closed on Sunday, September 17, 2006 with The Night of Favorites and Farewells, a five-hour block of pilot episodes of their past signature series.

Commercial breaks featured reairings of past image campaigns and network promotions. This plan involved promo spots given to the cable networks carrying these shows in off-network syndication, along with ads for each series' TV-on-DVD box set.[5]

The final montage was aired after an old WB promo from the past. Each montage was at least 30 seconds long, while the final montage was about 1 minute. The final image was a silhouette of the former WB mascot Michigan J. Frog. At the end of the montage, he was shown taking his hat off and bowing thanking the audience for watching for 11 years and bringing the network to a close. Michigan J. Frog was shown as a silhouette because he "died" about 2 years earlier.

After the network's closure, The WB's URLs were redirected to The CW's website. As of March 30, 2008, they redirected to the Warner Bros. Studios homepage. As of April 28, 2008, they now redirect to the Beta.TheWB.com website.

The final night of WB programming netted relatively low ratings. The WB scored a 1.0 household rating (1% of total households in the US) and a share of 2, meaning just 2% of viewers were tuned in to the WB on its final night.[6] This may mostly be due to certain areas whose WB affiliates became MyNetworkTV affiliates, leaving The WB's final two weeks of programming unavailable in those areas.

2008 onward: Entering the Internet

Warner Bros.' television arm planned on resurrecting The WB network in the form of a website.

The new logo unveiled for TheWB.com Beta website on Monday, April 28, 2008.

The site streams free episodes of all WB-aired and produced series during the network's 1995-2006 run, including Gilmore Girls, Everwood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson's Creek, and What I Like About You, as well as original series such as Sorority Forever and Childrens' Hospital.

The site — which models that of Hulu — is ad-supported and geared primarily to women ages 15–39. In addition to older full-length series, the site features new short series and vignettes. Each of these episode runs 5 minutes, with 10 installments planned.

Comcast offers over 1,000 episodes from the Warner Bros. Television library on its video on demand service.[7]

The official logo for The WB, unveiled in 2008

TheWB.com made its official launch on August 27, 2008.[8][9] While Warner, a division of Time Warner, has not promoted the site in any multimedia ads, it is drawing about 250,000 unique viewers a month, said MindShare’s Mr. Chapman, who has been tracking the site. Some of its original material is being offered on partner sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Data compiled by comScore Video Metrix shows that 62 percent of current visitors to the site are female.

An original series, Sorority Forever, from McG, had its premiere on the site on September 8, 2008. It has recorded more than 7.3 million video views since then from the WB site and partner sites. An original reality series, Rich Girl, Poor Girl from Gary Auerbach, the executive producer of Laguna Beach and Newport Harbor, in which two teenagers from different economic and social backgrounds swap lives (similar to Wife Swap), has ranked among the top 100 programs in the teenage category on iTunes since its October 20, 2008 debut.[3]

Upcoming Web Series

Other TV producers and creators who are developing programming for the site include Jeremy R. Littman (CSI: NY) and Morgan Gendel (Law & Order), whose series Pushed will have its premiere this month, and Josh Schwartz, head writer of The O.C. and Gossip Girl, whose series, Rockville, CA, made its debut on March 16, 2009.

The Schwartz series, about a group of friends who hang out in a rock club, will feature a different band in each episode. Mr. Schwartz expects to tie in the series to live concert appearances by the band.

Internet Advertising

The clothing retailer H&M, not a traditional TV advertiser, sponsored Sorority Forever and had some of its clothing worn by characters in the series. Unilever’s Axe brand has sponsored Children's’ Hospital. ”If an advertiser has an interest in a series we have in production, we can work in their products or even adjust our launch dates if they want to tie it in to a special promotion,” said Craig Erwich, executive vice president, Warner Horizon Television, who oversees TheWB.com.[10]

Children's programming

The WB added the Kids' WB programming block, following its launch, which mixed Warners' biggest hit shows (Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, and later Batman: The Animated Series, all of which originated either on, Fox Kids or in syndication) with new productions and original shows.

After the TurnerTime Warner merger in 1996, Kids' WB formed an alliance with Cartoon Network, and over time, they shared more and more programming.

1997-2000

In February 1999, The WB also launched the American version of Pokémon in the Kids' WB blocks, which they acquired from syndication (TV Tokyo) earlier that year and became a widespread pop culture phenomenon. WB also acquired the English-language version of the second series Yu-Gi-Oh!, also sharing the phenomenon that Pokémon experienced.

2000-2005

The Kids' WB aired mainly animated series but also aired some live-action programming. Kids' WB aired a television version of R. L. Stine's The Nightmare Room in 2001, though it didn't make it past a season. They also aired a live-action movie known as Zolar, as well as the JammX Kids All-Star Dance Specials.

2006-2008

Logo for Daytime WB

As Kids' WB shared more and more of its programming with Cartoon Network, because of the 1996 Turner-Time Warner merger and the fact that Cartoon Network was outrating Fox Kids, airing Kids' WB became financially unattractive as broadcast stations started showing only live-action talk shows and sitcom reruns in the afternoon to compete and go after a different audience, figuring children had all moved to watching cable networks in the afternoons.

On May 31, 2005, The WB announced the discontinuation of the weekday Kids' WB block as of January 6, 2006. Kids' WB continued to air weekdays after this, but with redundant programming and theme weeks until January, and more promotion of Cartoon Network's afternoon Miguzi block and Kids' WB Saturday during the transition. After Daytime WB started, Kids' WB Saturday morning lineup was expanded by one hour.

The block continued on The CW, which replaced The WB in their merger with UPN beginning September 18, 2006 as Kids' WB. It has been unofficially dubbed The CW Daytime, however, on-air promos for the block (which are quite rare) do not give it an actual name.

2008-onward

  • On October 2, 2007, The CW (The WB and UPN's successor) announced that it would end the Kids' WB block starting May 2008, due to the effects of children's advertising limits and cable competition, in a joint decision between Warner Bros. and CBS, parent companies of The CW. Kids WB ended on May 17, 2008. During that time, the programming time has been sold to 4Kids Entertainment. With this deal, in the 2008-2009 season, 4Kids ran two different Saturday morning blocks. 4Kids TV ended on December 27, 2008. Now, 4Kids only runs one Saturday morning block, the current The CW4Kids.[11]

Station standardization

When The WB was launched during the mid-1990s, the network began branding most of its stations as "WB" or "The WB", then the channel number, with the call signs nearby. The call signs were minimized to the smallest FCC-approved size by the end of the decade.

New York and St. Louis

This meant that, for example, WPIX in New York and KPLR-TV in St. Louis were both referred to as "WB11". Fox originated such naming schemes, and CBS uses the CBS Mandate on most of their O&O stations. NBC and ABC utilize similar, but less extreme, naming schemes.

While Fox and UPN mandated their respective naming schemes on all stations, The WB did not.

Chicago and Los Angeles

Thus, not all WB affiliates followed the naming scheme. WGN-TV in Chicago (on the local feed only as the superstation feed stopped carrying WB programming feed in 1999) used the name "WGN 9 Chicago" in its ID with The WB's logo within the right curve of the station's "9 as an upside-down G" logo at the network's start, and next to a boxed "9" after the station's new image in 2001. Most of Tribune's WB affiliates only used the network logo in their station's logo or use "The WB" name after the calls. An example was Los Angeles affiliate KTLA, whose station ID was "KTLA, The WB".

Other affiliates

Most WB affiliates also had another standardization name branding scheme: (City name)'s WB. For example, KIAH (formerly KHWB) in Houston was called "Houston's WB," WLVI in Boston was called "Boston's WB," KDAF in the Dallas / Fort Worth area of Texas was called "Dallas/Ft. Worth's WB" and WDCW (former WBDC) in Washington, D.C. was called "Washington's WB." Some stations which followed this scheme used a regional name instead of a specific city, such as "Capital Region's WB" for WCWN in Albany, New York (formerly WEWB), or "Hawaii's WB" for KFVE in Honolulu, Hawaii and "East Tennessee's WB" for WBXX-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee while others incorporated the channel number, such as WPHL-TV in Philadelphia ("Philadelphia's WB17"), or Mobile, Alabama's WBPG (now WFNA; "The Gulf Coast's WB55"). Many WB 100+ stations also followed either one of these variations on the "The City/Region's WB" scheme.

Legacy

In addition to the web site, The WB lives on in a number of ways:

  • The WB is the only broadcast television network to retain a single children's programming block. Also, Kids' WB continued as a broadcast television block for two years after The WB went off the air, until May 17, 2008 when CBS and Time Warner sold the Saturday morning block time to 4Kids Entertainment. Kids' WB was also relaunched as an online portal.
  • The "W" half of The CW stands for Warner Bros. (the "C" stands for "CBS", which owned UPN).
  • Services offered by The WB carried over to The CW, like Daytime WB (now The CW Daytime), EasyView and The WB 100+ (now The CW Plus).
  • Several shows formally broadcast on the network have been released on DVD and/or continue to air on The CW.
  • Archived copies of how The WB's website looked like when it was a television network are preserved by the Internet Archive.

Resurrection

Warner Bros. Television Group recently revived the network as a website at TheWB.com, where viewers are able to watch free streaming episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, Smallville, Everwood, What I Like About You, One Tree Hill, Roswell, and many other well-known Warner Bros.-produced series, including Friends and The O.C.. Warner Bros. also introduced original serialized web-content produced by such television heavyweight producers as Josh Schwartz and McG for the website when it was launched on August 2008. Unfortunately, the site does not contain episodes of Charmed or Felicity, which were two of TheWB's most popular shows, as Charmed is owned by CBS Television Distribution and Felicity is owned by Disney-ABC Domestic Television.

As of July 27, 2009, series that are currently broadcast on the website include the following:

Warner Bros.-distributed programming

20th Century Fox-distributed programming

Foreign programming

VOD

Series available on Video-On-Demand include:

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ Sources vary as to the exact composition of The WB's ownership. According to at least one source, as of 2001, the ownership was split among Warner Bros. (Time Warner) (64%), Tribune Company (25%), and Jamie Kellner's firm ACME Communications (11%) [1]. Published reports in early 2006, dealing with the launch of The CW, suggested Tribune was at the time the only minority shareholder, with just 22.5% (giving Warner Bros. 77.5%), which it would be relinquishing in order to avoid shutdown costs for The WB.[2]
  2. ^ The WB Rises From Ashes As Competitor To Hulu
  3. ^ The WB.com website
  4. ^ INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE CHRONICLER | Joss Whedon | Television News | News + Notes | Entertainment Weekly | 1
  5. ^ WB revisits glory days - Entertainment News, Front Page, Media - Variety
  6. ^ Football Rules Sunday for NBC - NFL also gives CBS a boost; WB signs off quietly - Zap2it
  7. ^ "The WB" Reincarnate: Online and On-Demand, Multichannel News, April 28, 2008
  8. ^ TheWB.com Set to Launch on August 27th, Mediaweek.com, August 7, 2008
  9. ^ The WB Returns as TheWB.com, The Seattle Times, August 27, 2008
  10. ^ Resurrecting the WB as a Web Contender
  11. ^ CW Turns to 4Kids on Saturdays, Variety.com, October 2, 2007

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