For midseason, ailing WB pulls back
Emphasizing shows appealing to core teens
December 13, 2005
The WB’s much-talked-about strategy to broaden its audience beyond teens and twentysomethings would appear to be a giant bust, judging by its ratings so far this season.
But as it goes into the midseason, the traditionally teen-skewing network is not abandoning that strategy but rather trimming it back.
Chalk it all up to its slumping ratings. The No. 6 network is down 12 percent among 18-34s so far this season, from a 1.7 to a 1.5 rating.
While the WB has not finalized its midseason lineup, it has confirmed which shows will be on the schedule. Most of these were purchased months ago but they all are intended to jack up the ratings by placing an emphasis on the shows’ appeal to the WB’s loyal young viewers.
The reality hit Beauty and the Geek returns on Jan. 12 and will likely go a long way to turn the network’s fortunes around, as it was the network’s highest-rated summer show among 12-34s in years.
But the WB will also re-emphasize shows with both young and relatively old cast members. Such shows have led to some of its biggest hits since launching nearly 11 years ago, most notably Gilmore Girls.
The network’s ratings tumble is the result of pushing that strategy too far earlier this season. It went too old, and with actors or storylines its viewers didn’t relate to.
Case in point is Just Legal, the WB’s only new show to get canceled this season. It co-starred 1980s icon Don Johnson and mostly attracted women over 50 years old. And the WB’s continuing Related, which centers on four sisters in their late 20s and early 30s, has failed to ignite much interest.
When shows like ˜Just Legal’ don’t work, you have to go back to the drawing board and look at the shows that are working, says Scott Haugenes, senior vice president and group director of national broadcast at Initiative, the giant media buying shop. Haugenes was part of the team that launched the WB in 1995.
My bet is that they looked creatively at these [new] shows and they see they are going to reach the younger audience, which will be their strength. I believe that will always be the strength of the WB.
Shari Anne Brill, vice president and director of programming at Carat, says the WB’s gradual move to bring in older viewers makes more sense than last fall’s attempted overhaul.
You can’t flick a switch and reposition yourself, she says. You have to cater to your core while reaching out to people on the periphery. If you want to broaden out, you have to do it show by show and night by night.
The WB will debut Beauty in January, following Smallville and replacing Everwood for eight weeks on the network’s rebounding Thursday lineup. A repeat of Beauty will air on Fridays at 8 p.m.
Smallville’s 18-34 rating on Thursdays this season is up 145 percent over the time slot average last year, ranking No. 2 with a 2.7 rating, despite intense competition from CBS’s Survivor, NBC’s comedies and UPN’s Everybody Hates Chris. Everwood isn’t doing as well at 9 p.m. but it’s up 44 percent, to a 1.3.
This has been an initiative of theirs forever and this year ˜Smallville’ worked, says Initiative’s Haugenes. The fact that Fox didn’t move ˜Idol’ there has ramifications everywhere, whether it’s NBC or the WB.
Later in midseason, the WB will roll out a four-comedy block on Friday, a night the WB says it is experimenting with. Among these sitcoms will likely be the new Misconceptions, which focuses on a teenage girl who meets the sperm donor father she never knew. Modern Men centers on guys in their 20s who have a life coach in older star Jane Seymour.
The WB also has two dramas ready to go. Bedford Diaries focuses on college students enrolled in a sexuality seminar.
Meanwhile, Pepper Dennis with 33-year-old Rebecca Romijn, has generated positive word-of-mouth, even though it is not yet in production. The show is expected to premiere in March and will likely help ease the WB into the older end of the 12-34 demographic.
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