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With Eye on No. 5 Spot, WB and UPN Duke It Out

July 15, 2002|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Trading statistics and swipes, executives for the WB Network and UPN took turns over the weekend explaining how they each deserve to be regarded as a strong fifth network against the Big Four broadcast networks.

In separate presentations before a group of national television writers gathered in Pasadena, executives for the rival networks told how respective ratings growth in key demographic groups, profitability, hit shows and increasing credibility in the creative community have positioned them to be judged alongside ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

Both networks, backed by major entertainment companies seeking new ways to distribute their products, launched in January 1995, with the intent of becoming broadcast television's "fifth network."

"We're seeking support and respect to be called a Big Five network," said Jamie Kellner, chairman of Turner Broadcasting System Inc., which operates the WB, which is partly owned by Tribune Inc., the parent company of the Los Angeles Times.

Added Jordan Levin, the network's entertainment president, "It's insulting to still call us a 'weblet.' At some point, you want to be treated with the respect others have given you." He added that development deals with major talent and several WB series now in syndication have made the network "a major player."

But executives for UPN, which was taken over by Viacom-owned CBS earlier this year, called the WB's position ridiculous.

"It's extraordinary that they want to be included in the top 5, when they're really No. 6," CBS President Leslie Moonves said Sunday, adding that the WB's ratings statistics apply only to last May.

Said Moonves: "We're the fastest-growing network in 18-34, 18-45 [age groups] and total viewers. They may beat us in [ratings among] 12-year-old girls, but judging from their new shows, that's no longer their target."

Moonves reiterated UPN's goal to become the entertainment destination for 18- to 34-year-old adults. With the transition of ownership and management underway, he called the progress of UPN "an evolution, not a revolution."

In other news, Levin said that while the WB still had interest in producing unscripted shows, he preferred to place more priority on scripted comedies and dramas. He also criticized reality shows such as "American Idol," saying they often show "a side of human behavior that is not admirable."

On "American Idol," which has become a summer hit on Fox, several aspiring singers compete for stardom and a recording contract in front of three judges, including British record executive Simon Cowell, who has drawn controversy for his no-holds-barred insults.

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