WB and UPN merging?!?

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.

Published in: on January 24, 2006 at 12:39 pm  Comments (7)  

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  1. The name CW is awful, and that’s exactly what it makes me think of, too. Like a new Nashville Network.

    And I’ll gladly put behind me the days of syndication if it means no more Mama’s Family. I still maintain that it was not only the worst TV show of all time, it was quite possibly the worst anything, ever.

  2. I guess I’ve been on too many media-critical political blogs because my first thought was “The Common Wisdom Network”. Heck, Arianna Huffington’s got a post about “The CW” today and I was surprised she was talking about primetime television for a moment.

    Hm, I’m still throwing thoughts out about how this will work, but it just occured to me that this will be a big opportunity for Twentieth Television’s (aka Fox) Desire strip of Telenovellas. There are suddenly a lot of stations in need of primetime programming and that seems like solid counterprogramming considering how well Univision (it’s Univision with the telenovellas, right?) is doing with that sort of programming.

  3. Telenovellas may be what they try. At this point, LA seems to have no shortage of Spanish-language programming. The problem with expanding that may be the same as we see with hip-hop radio in some markets – high ratings but problems with ad revenues. It’s not that there is any lack of Latinos, it’s that the first generation types who are the ones who primarily speak in Spanish don’t have the income that the advertisers most want to chase. (Watching the ads, there are some key advertisers, but a lot of the sort of things you see filling out the ad space on failing cable nets.) The later generations fulfill the American dream of doing better than their parents, but also lose Spanish as a primary language or as a language at all.

  4. Actually, I meant a trio of english-language telenovelas that Twentieth Television is developing for syndication under the banner of “Desire”. If it’s a M-F hourlong product, I can see it being pretty desirble to former UPN/WB affiliates as an alternative to the usual unscripted syndicated fare (talk shows or reality programming like Elminidate and Blind Date) especially in light of the ratings successes spanish-language telenovellas reportedly saw last summer.

  5. I just want to know what this means for Veronica Mars.

    Other than that, there’s not one thing currently on either netlet that I care about. Well, OK, I watch Living With Fran, but that’s in the “guilty pleasure” category, not something I’d recommend as great in any way. If it went away (which I suspect was likely anyway even if this announcement hadn’t come) I would miss it a little bit, but I’d get over it.

    But Veronica‘s gotta survive!

  6. Well, reports are that they will be keeping the WB primetime schedule – 2 hours Mon-Fri, 3 on Sunday, nothing for Saturday. That means that the WB is bringing in 13 hours of primetime programming, while UPN, which is 2 hours per night Mon-Fri, is bringing 10. So at first glance, they’ll be cramming 23 hours of programming into 13, which means giving 10 the ax. BUT if you look more closely at the schedule, WB currently fills 3 hours of its slate with second-runs, while UPN has one such hour. Assuming they’re willing to replace those (likely), they’ll only need to dump 4 hours out of the existing 19. Which isn’t to say they won’t dump more in favor of new shows, since you need to keep pumping blood into the patient, but Veronica`, while not a hit, isn’t the first thing on the cutting block. (In fact, some cancellations have already been announced, such as Seventh Heaven.)

  7. CW aborts Cult, but Aquaman‘s still on course.

    Also, ABC has picked up a Mr. & Mrs. Smith pilot, (based on the movie, of course) and is looking at a mid-’06-’07 or fall ’07 debut. (Not that I particularly care at this time since I haven’t seen the movie, but just thought I’d throw it in here too since it was minor TV news in the same group of SciFiWire updates for today.)

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