YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Creating CW Shrinks Field for Bad TV

The combining of the WB and UPN amounts to building a better mousetrap for viewers.

January 25, 2006|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

Wait, you mean it's possible to create less television?

Allow me to be a little dumbstruck at what seems a highly sensible move for all concerned -- forgetting the job losses, the conversation between agent and writer that can no longer move to, "If worse comes to worse, we'll take it to UPN." In merging UPN and the WB, a lot of bad TV is not only squeezed into less bad TV, but the playing field for bad TV also shrinks from six networks to five.

The two so-called netlets could never prove that they were anything beyond economic models in search of programming to legitimize themselves, both financially and creatively. And so the air of admission that hangs over the merger is actually kind of refreshing, as if the Golden Globes and the Emmys merged to form the Global Emmys.

The immediate, best-of-both-worlds scenario has the newly formed CW broadcasting a greatest hits from the two shelved networks, "Friday Night Smackdown!," "Veronica Mars," "Everybody Hates Chris" and "America's Next Top Model" from UPN and "Smallville," "Gilmore Girls" and "Beauty and the Geek" from the WB.

This is not exactly an Emmy dream team, but it does give the CW what Fox didn't have when it launched, or any cable network when it launches for that matter: already established programming with a built-in viewership.

And yet, what the programming on both the WB and UPN has established is that slavishly chasing after young eyeballs requires courting what is a more fickle audience -- less conditioned to turn to network television for its entertainment and even less inclined to forge loyalties to any particular brand.

The merger, then, amounts to building a better mousetrap, even if many of the mice are harder to attract, given that they're also surfing the Net or listening to their iPods.

That wasn't so much the case in the mid- and late '90s, when the WB rose to prominence with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Dawson's Creek," establishing a blueprint for the kind of show the network came to be about: highly articulated youth-filled angst wrapped in model-thin actresses such as Katie Holmes and "Felicity's" Keri Russell, who came to represent the scrubbed faces of the network.

The network could seem to be about cloning a new breed of TV star: the perfect hair and skin, the cheekbone just so prominent, but, don't forget, people with woes. Nevermind that the WB also had "Jamie Foxx," "The Wayans Brothers" and "The Steve Harvey Show" on the air.

UPN, meanwhile, was having a hard time expanding beyond its African American base. It took "Smackdown" to suggest the network's fortunes were on the rise, by which time the WB seemed to have won the race between the two to see which could claim an identity amid the Big Four. UPN's strides seemed anecdotal; it signed "Buffy" away from the WB, and here came "Veronica Mars" and "America's Next Top Model," but what was the network about again?

Now, when things work or don't, they truly have each other to blame.


Paul Brownfield is a Times television critic.

Los Angeles Times Articles