The WB and UPN are merging into a single network.
This is huge.
In some ways, it makes sense. They’re both smaller, struggling networks with only part of the schedule full. They’ve competed for projects. Together, they could grow. It’s not going to mean more TV production quickly, it may even mean less.
But what’s overlooked in these brief articles is that most key areas of the country are already served by both networks on separate stations. In merging, presumably they will reduce down to one affiliate in each zone. This means that there will be a lot of newly-unaffiliated station, creating an opportunity for a new broadcast network.
And while the combining of the two networks won’t be opening up significant new airtime overall, it will open up airtime on the more popular TV viewing nights, nights when both UPN and the WB had been separately programming. This might create an opportunity for a new network… or it might create opportunity for new syndicated fiction shows.
The young’uns in the audience may not remember the period when syndicated fiction series were a real market, rather than just a few cheap action shows created mainly for the foreign market being dumped on the local air. Some were network series being continued in a cost-cutting way, such as the later seasons of Charles in Charge and 21 Jump Street. Some were things that had both the foreign action market and the US market in mind, like the syndicated rotating movie slot that spun off Hercules and TekWar as weekly series plus had new Midnight Run and Smokey and the Bandit follow-ups. There were sitcoms like the fine Throb, the easily-ridiculed Small Wonder (she’s a little girl robot!), and the long-running Mamma’s Family. And the king of first-run syndicated fiction was Star Trek: The Next Generation, arguably the best Trek and certainly the thing that drove the existence of the various series since then.
What brought this era to an end was the expansion of the broadcast network world beyond three networks. Much of this material found homes on Fox affiliates back when Fox was programming very few prime time hours; as they expanded toward a full schedule, and The WB and UPN came in to snarf up remaining broadcast networks, there wasn’t airspace for these other shows (and there was too much competition for viewers as well.)
So it’s possible, but I suspect we won’t see that revival of first-run syndication. With the expansion of the cable range the typical home has access to too many other sources of new material. If I had to look into my rather fuzzy crystal ball, I suspect we’ll see syndication of some cable originals, probably hitting broadcast about the same time as the same episodes hit DVD. It’s a way to get non-cable-subscribers to see Battlestar Galactica, Monk, perhaps bleeped versions of Rescue Me and The Shield.
Or perhaps the differences from the current status will be so small that it will be hard to detect. I dunno. I’m no expert, I just watch the dang stuff!
But I will say this: “CW” is a lousy name for a network. For me, it evokes Country Western music, and that’s not a big endorsement for me. For the record, I did think The WB was an interesting name, although I always thought naming a channel “You Peein’?” was a bad idea.